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POSTPONED – School of Political Science & Sociology Seminar Series: ‘Conflicting political obligations: A response to philosophical anarchism’

March 26 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm


March 26
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm


Room 333, Aras Moyola


Niall Ó Dochartaigh

by Allyn Fives (Power, Conflict and Ideologies)

This paper addresses two key aspects of A. John Simmons’s philosophical anarchism. First, as a value pluralist, he maintains that obligations are not conclusive reasons for action, whereas overridden obligations are nonetheless genuine obligations. As a result, we can be faced with genuine moral conflicts concerning our political obligations. Second, according to his anarchist position on the grounds of political obligation, citizens have obligations only when they have voluntarily entered into cooperative arrangements which they benefit from. Therefore, most citizens of most modern states do not have political obligations. And that means actual conflicts between obligations will be extremely rare.

In response to Simmons, Jonathan Wolff and George Klosko have each argued that most citizens of modern states do have political obligations, and this can be shown by considering the diversity of grounds for obligations, including mutual self-interest, fairness, justice, and the common good. However, they also conclude that, although there is a plurality of obligations, conflicts between them are extremely rare.

In this paper, I try to show that Wolff and Klosko succeed in rejecting Simmons’s anarchist position on the grounds of political obligations, but fail to reject his value pluralist position on moral conflict. The implication is that citizens are bound by diverse requirements, including obligations to protect citizens from harm, to promote the common good, and to diminish unjust inequalities. Not only that, conflicts between such obligations are not rare but are, instead, one of the characteristic features of political life for citizens of modern states.