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Fairness, Political Obligation, and the Justificatory Gap

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image of Journal of Moral Philosophy

The moral principle of fairness or fair play is widely believed to be a solid ground for political obligation, i.e., a general prima facie moral duty to obey the law qua law. In this article, I advance a new and, more importantly, principled objection to fairness theories of political obligation by revealing and defending a justificatory gap between the principle of fairness and political obligation: the duty of fairness on its own is incapable of preempting the citizen’s liberty to reciprocate fairly in ways other than obeying the law. This justificatory gap is unaffected by the ongoing debate between the voluntarist and the nonvoluntarist accounts of fairness, and it cannot be bridged by the two arguments that are perhaps implicit in Klosko’s account, namely the presumptive benefits argument and the democratic procedure argument.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Hong Kong,


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