The grammar of political obligation

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 13 (3):215-236 (2014)
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This essay presents a new way of conceptualizing the problem of political obligation. On the traditional ‘normativist’ framing of the issue, the primary task for theory is to secure the content and justification of political obligations, providing practically applicable moral knowledge. This paper develops an alternative, ‘pragmatist’ framing of the issue, by rehabilitating a frequently misunderstood essay by Hanna Pitkin and by recasting her argument in terms of the ‘pragmatic turn’ in recent philosophy, as articulated by Robert Brandom. From this perspective, the content and justification of political obligations cannot be determined in a way that is in principle separable from their application. This casts ‘political obligation’ not as a problem to be philosophically resolved, but as a political predicament that calls for a kind of practical engagement. The merit of this perspective is to draw our attention toward the conditions under which the problem appears as a lived predicament

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Thomas Fossen
Leiden University


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