In this essay, I will refute the statement that there is natural duty to obey the law even in reasonably decent democratic societies in order to rescue others from the dangerous conditions of the state of nature. To do this, I will explore a world in which there is a natural duty to obey the law to evaluate if it is the best way to protect us from the dangerous conditions. Next, I will explore the ambiguity in the natural theory to sufficiently justified a duty to obey the law simply because it is a law.
Through these analyses, I will address the more important question: under a recent democratic society, what kind of duty do we have to obey the law? Before addressing the claim of a natural duty to obey the law under recent democratic society, there must be an distinction on which category a natural duty will fall under: general, special, nonvoluntary, and voluntary duty. The main difference between general and special is who the duty applies to. In a general duty, this is duty that should be presumptively performed applies to everyone as human beings.
Whereas, a special duty is when one has a relationship with another through promise to carry out a specific task. In addition to being general or special, the duty can be either be involuntary or voluntary. In chapter 7 of the Duty to Obey, Simmons defines the natural theories of duty to obey includes people obeying the law that advances impartial moral goods or moral duty that people are born into (121). In order to accomplish the goals of advancing an impartial moral good or moral duty, the natural theorists argue for a duty to obey.
According to Simmons’ definition of natural theory, it can be reasonably assumed that the natural duty theory to obey laws requires one to carry out general and nonvoluntary duties. Given the claim that there is a natural duty to obey the law in order to rescue others from the dangerous conditions of the state of nature, one must agree these duties are general and nonvoluntary. In other words, everyone does not have a choice to say no to the law, which may not seem problematic for just laws that protects us from the state of nature.
To be clear, the dangerous conditions of the state of nature in the claim refers to a state without laws where behaviours that contribute harm to others exists. Natural theorist who interpreted the duty to obey the law this way will suggests these duties in a nonexhaustive list should include restraining from robbery, rape, and murder. Although in a recent democratic societies, mandating everyone with a natural duty to obey may generated a strong majority who are willing to obey.
In explaining this potential outcome, Philosopher Simmons would mentioned this might be the result of a moral duty, which should not be equivalent to a duty to obey the law (94). According to Simmons, the term “moral duty” refers to general moral requirements duty that people bind themselves (108), which presumably varies by personal morals. If these general requirements may vary by person, interpretation of this moral duty can either be special or general and voluntary or nonvoluntary.
Consequently, the claim for a natural duty to obey law enforces the idea there is always a nonvoluntary duty to obey the law simply because it is a law to protect others from the state of nature. In later paragraphs, I will suggest the insufficiency in the natural theory to justified a duty to obey the law even in the the reasonably democratic society. Given how the claim for a natural duty to obey applies for a reasonably democratic society, I will explored the problems that come with giving a legal system political authority over everyone.
One of the major problems, Simmons mentions, is “even legal systems [that are just] include laws … [with] the most convinced proponent of a general moral duty to obey the law will have some doubts (95). In other words, a democratic society may appear as an institution under high moral standards, but there remains a concern that laws will never fails to carry out what people’s morally want. In the next paragraph, I will use an hypothetical example to illustrate Simmons’ concern that illegitimate laws can be constructed despite its claim to carry out a general moral duty.
Imagine a hypothetical example, in which, the U. S national government passed a law where everyone is to pay a 50k tax in order to fund governmental agency to protect society against the dangerous conditions in state of nature. This service will promise protection to what society generally fears as potential injustices: robbery, murder, and rape. By following the law, one is able to rescue others from the dangers of death, psychological, and physical harms, which can justified a moral duty. The problem with this law is that even in a recent democratic society is the fact people often comes from various socioeconomic background.
If there are division class such as lower class, middle class, and upper class, each making 50k, 100k, and 200k respectively. It will be unjust for the lower class to pay the 50k worth of taxes as they will be left without any money to buy their necessity to survive. Potentially, the middle and higher class may disagree with this sum of tax because of their own individual perception of the moral duty to rescue others. Hypothetically speaking, people regardless of class may disagree by the government’s decision that a tax will rescue society from the dangers of the state of nature.
According to a natural theorist in claiming for a natural duty to obey, all possible disagreements with this law is not considered because it will go against the government’s intention to enforce an impartial moral value. If everyone has a natural duty to rescue others by paying taxes to allow the government to functions remains valid, all other laws must be obey no matter the absurdity. The natural theory comes with the consequence of mandating people to potentially follow a grossly unjust law that is disguised with a moral duty to advance an impartial good.
In this case, the impartial good is the protection from the dangerous state of nature. A quick objection to my views here is that my example does not occur in a reasonably democratic society. The natural theorist can argue that my example is too absurd with unfairness by forcing lower class to become penniless. The natural theorist may further elaborated how such laws under a recent democratic society will not exists as the lower class remains in the dangerous condition of the state of nature.
These points does not defeat my critique on the problems with having a nonvoluntary duty to obey the law because the risks of having an illegitimate law,not limited to mine, pose concerns to the natural theory as a way to justified all laws should be nonvoluntary. Moreover, the absurdity may not lie only in my example, but also in requiring people to obey the law simply because it is a law. Even if the tax is changed to 30k, it won’t take away the injustices for limiting the freedom for people to not consent to such law.
Losing this freedom to disobey may reintroduce people back into another dangerous state of nature. Although the strength in my view can be weaken by using a hypothetical example, I, along with Simmons, remained concerned with any legal systems that claim their laws are just and must be follow. In fact, this concern is valid because reasonably democratic society, for example, the United States may pass unjust laws claiming to enforce an impartial good. A recent example can be Donald Trump passing the law to ban certain people from the Middle East from coming to U. S because of national security concerns with potential terrorists.
The natural theory will require Americans to obey his command because it is the law. This law can be argued as unjust for many different parties, but they will have nonvoluntary duty to not do anything to go against it. It will be scary to think protests or other forms of resistance as disagreements are not even allowed simply because it is a law from a reasonably democratic society. Through these examples, I have side with Simmon’s view on consent theory as the correct account of our duty to obey.
The main reason is consent theory allows for people to have a choice of disobeying or obeying a grossy unjust law. However, I do concede to the flaws in the consent theory as Simmons mentions, “very few people do consent” (120). Conceding to this point does not suggests the natural duy remains as a better alternative in explaining the duty to obey the law for the sake of rescuing others. However, my continual reference to Simmons does suggests that I am promoting philosophical anarchism as a way to rescue others from dangerous state of nature.
This is a challenge that I will not take upon in this paper. In addition, I refrained from making the argument that there is no duty to obey the government, which will force us to many dangerous conditions of the state of nature. The duty I am supporting is a moral duty to obey the law, which does not equate to natural theorist’s claim there is a nonvoluntary duty to obey the law. This purpose of my argument is to gives the people a choice to express their values, which ensures free will is protected.
As Simmons mention, people can be willing to follow their moral duty to obey a law when the law is justs, but it is insufficient to imagine people have to give complete obedience toward the law simply because it is a law. In order to fully defeat my concerns, the natural theorists has to give a comprehensive answer to why a duty to obey the law should be content independent under a reasonably democratic society? In other words, why should there be a duty to obey the law simply because it is a law constructed under a reasonably democratic society?
An attempt to defend against my argument, the natural theorist may claim that even if laws are unjust at first, the government in a reasonably democratic society will reform the law. Theoretically speaking, the natural theorist is correct, and the law is revised: everyone will pays their fair share of taxes based on their income, which is more feasible than the initial law. This power under a reasonably democratic society will weaken my fears that people will be subjected to illegitimate laws.
Nevertheless, even by refraining the right to reform unjust laws, this sets up my second argument on the ambiguity of the natural theory. Since the claim in question is to use the natural theory to explain our duty to obey the law simply it is a law, the natural theorists’ answer does not sufficiently answer the question that the duty to obey the law is content independent. By refraining the right to reform unjust laws, natural theorist can not claim that everyone has a natural duty to obey the law simply because it is a law.
Reforming the law shows potential flaw in the theory as it has to introduce other variables to make the law just. As a results, this will say people will have a duty to obey the law when the government makes the law justifiable by matching people’s moral values. These moral values is similar to the moral duty because everyone has general requirements that bound themselves as human being. As mention earlier, this moral duty does not have to be nonvoluntary. The response that a natural theorist may make is complete content independence is not necessary required as long as their approach protects society from the state of nature.
In making this claim, one has to accept that unjust laws can exists as legitimate laws, but is reversible. This argument may not necessarily defeat my refute as unjust laws being legitimate equates to a restoration of a dangerous state of nature. In this case, one has to balance whether the duty to obey the law simply by being a law outweighs the consequences of potential unjust laws. This questions gets more complicated to answer as it restore the challenge of is there a duty to obey the law simply because it is a law?