Journal of Social Philosophy 29 (2):87-96 (1998)

Mark Tunick
Florida Atlantic University
The natural duty theory holds that "we have a natural duty to support the laws and institutions of a just state" (Jeremy Waldron). We owe this not because we ever promised to support these laws and institutions, nor because fair play requires we support the cooperative ventures from which we receive benefits. The claim is that we have a general duty to promote institutions that do something justice requires wherever these institutions may be, a duty that does not depend on our having special ties to these institutions, special ties of the sort we have to the institutions of our own government. I argue that we do not need to appeal to the idea of a natural duty to justify compliance with many laws. For example, New Zealanders must not murder, rape, or steal while in France, not because they have a duty to obey laws of a just state, but because it is wrong to murder, rape, or steal. If the natural duty theory is taken to be a statement of the conditions necessary for an obligation to exist, it would wrongly conclude there is no duty to obey laws against murder or rape in a state whose institutions and laws are not just. A second class of laws reflect not moral judgments but, rather, local conventions, conventions that are morally arbitrary but which may be useful in coordinating action. For example, New Zealanders visiting France must drive on the right side of the road, as dictated by French convention. Here, too, the natural duty theory fails to provide a suitable account of the relation noncitizens have to such laws. Our reasons for driving on the right side of the road when this is accepted convention have nothing to do with the justice of the institutions of the state. To flout this convention is not to undermine justice since there is nothing just or unjust about driving on one side of the road or another. I question the advantages of the natural duty theory, especially in light of important ambiguities in the theory.
Keywords natural duty  political obligation
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DOI 10.1111/j.1467-9833.1998.tb00109.x
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