Social Philosophy and Policy 4 (1):15-30 (1986)

Like many people these days, I believe there is no general moral obligation to obey the law. I shall explain why there is no such moral obligation – and I shall clarify what I mean when I say there is no moral obligation to obey the law – as we proceed. But also like many people, I am unhappy with a position that would say there was no moral obligation to obey the law and then say no more about the law's moral significance. In our thinking about law in a resonably just society, we have a strong inclination to invest law with a sort of moral halo. It does not feel right to suggest that law is a morally neutral social fact, nor to suggest that law is merely a useful social technique. In this essay, I shall try to account in part for law's moral halo. Because I share the widespread inclination to invest law with this halo, I shall not be interested in a merely historical account of how we come to see law with a halo – a pure “error theory” of law's halo, if you will. I want to justify the halo. On the other hand, the main way to justify the halo is to get clear just what law's moral significance is. It is unlikely that at the end of the process of clarification the halo will have exactly the shape or luminance that it had at the beginning.
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DOI 10.1017/S0265052500000418
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