The Ethics of Obeying Judicial Orders in Flawed Societies

Res Publica 26 (4):559-575 (2020)
  Copy   BIBTEX


Many accounts of the moral duty to obey the law either restrict the duty to ideal democracies or leave the duty’s application to non-ideal societies unclear. This article presents and defends a partial account of the moral duty to obey the law in non-ideal societies, focusing on the duty to obey judicial orders. We need public judicial authority to prevent objectionable power relationships that can result from disputes about private agreements. The moral need to prevent power imbalances in private relationships grounds a qualified moral duty to obey judicial decisions. The parties to a dispute are morally required to comply with a judicial order in their dispute if all of the following conditions obtain: the parties’ dispute was in good faith, the court’s resolution of the dispute is more impartial than either party’s own judgment, the order does not call for violation of important natural duties or important artificial duties that the duty-bearer incurred involuntarily, and the primary aim of disobeying the court order would be to advance an ordinary, non-political project, not to call public attention to an injustice. The moral duty to obey judicial decisions can survive significant departures from ideal fairness.

Author's Profile

Robert C. Hughes
University of Pennsylvania


Added to PP

157 (#59,223)

6 months
53 (#38,133)

Historical graph of downloads since first upload
This graph includes both downloads from PhilArchive and clicks on external links on PhilPapers.
How can I increase my downloads?