Political Obligation by John Horton (auth.)

By John Horton (auth.)

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A rather different strategy which has been adopted in reconstructing consent or contract theories is to claim that such concepts should be understood as logical constructs. Such an approach is to be found, for example, in the contractarianism of Kant (Kant, 1991). One recent version of it is that of Hanna Pitkin, who writes: '[Y]our personal consent is essentially irrelevant to your obligation to obey, or its absence. Your obligation to obey depends upon the character of the government - whether it is acting within the bounds of the (only possible) contract ...

In particular, three issues will be considered. First, there is the basic assumption that political obligation must be the result of a voluntary undertaking. Second, there is the underlying model of a polity as a voluntary association. Finally, there is the conception of the person implied by voluntarist theories. Voluntarist accounts claim that political obligation is generated by some voluntary act, the performance of which creates the obligation for the person who so acts. Proponents of such accounts often seem attracted by Hobbes' assertion that there is no 'Obligation on any man, which ariseth not from some Act of his own' (Hobbes, 1968, p.

220). These seem reasonable conditions to require of an action or utterance if it is to be legitimately interpreted as an expression of consent, in anything like our ordinary understanding of the term. These requirements will subsequently be referred to respectively as the 'knowledge', 'intention' and 'communication' conditions. However, there are some preliminary observations on these conditions which need to be made. First, the knowledge condition, which requires that a person know what it is that he or she consents to, is more complex than it might appear.

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