A Theory of Political Obligation: Membership, Commitment, and the Bonds of Society

Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press (2006)
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Abstract

Does one have special obligations to support the political institutions of one’s own country precisely because it is one’s own? In short, does one have political obligations? This book argues for an affirmative answer, construing one’s country as a political society of which one is a member, and a political society as a special type of social group. The obligations in question are not moral requirements derived from general moral principles. They come, rather, from one’s participation in a special kind of commitment: a joint commitment. This theory is referred to as the plural subject theory of political obligation since, by the author’s definition, those who are party to any joint commitment constitute a plural subject of some action in a broad sense of the term. Several alternative theories are compared and contrasted with plural subject theory, with a particular focus on the most famous — actual contract theory — according to which membership in a political society is a matter of participation in an agreement. The book offers plural subject accounts of both social rules and everyday agreements, and includes discussion of political authority and punishment.

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Margaret Gilbert
University of California, Irvine

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