In this seminar course, entitled Political Authority and Political Obligation, we will be examining, from a philosophical perspective, the related questions of whether and under what circumstances the state possesses the legitimate moral authority to govern, and whether and under what circumstances citizens possess a general moral obligation to obey the law. Theorists often treat these two questions as though they are theoretically interchangeable, but, as we shall see, there are good reasons to doubt that this is so. We will begin with Robert Paul Wolff's famous anarchist thesis that the state never has legitimate moral authority to govern, and, relatedly, that citizens never have a general obligation to obey the law. We will then examine a number of well-known theories that claim to show that, under certain circumstances, the state is capable of possessing at least partial moral authority to govern. We will look at, inter alia, A. John Simmons' version of the so-called principle of fair play, Joseph Raz's so-called service conception of authority, John Finnis "natural law" theory of political authority, Jeremy Waldron's version of John Rawls' theory of the duty to support just institutions, David Estlund's theory of democratic political authority, and, if there is time, Ronald Dworkin's theory of associative obligations. In addition to examining
these specific theories, we will also inquire into the more abstract set of conditions that any theory of legitimate political authority or legitimate political obligation must meet if it is to have any chance of being successful, either in whole or in part. In this regard, the work of Leslie Green and David Copp, among others will prove particularly helpful.