Does Rawls’ principle of fairness give rise to a general obligation to obey the law?
In this essay I will refute the argument according to which Rawls’ principle of fairness can establish a general obligation to obey the law. It is argued that most people consider the fact that something is against the law to provide them with an obligation not to do that thing and thus restrain their behaviour accordingly; this is supposed to generate a benefit that we all enjoy, namely the necessary benefit of living in a law- abiding society. The argument concludes that because the principle of fairness gives rise to individuals’ obligation to share in the sacrifice necessary to produce benefits available to all, one is obligated to obey all laws in order to share in the sacrifice necessary to have a law-abiding society. I will deny the assumption that it is a necessary benefit to live in a law-abiding society where laws in general are respected; instead, I will claim that the necessary benefit consists in living in a society in which only certain laws are respected, namely those laws which protect presumptively necessary goods (presumptive goods). Thus these are the only laws that we are obligated to obey. I will consider an objection to my argument, namely that one’s general obligation to obey the law derives from the fact that the benefits he gets from everyone’s general obedience to the laws outweighs his efforts in obeying all laws since general obedience to the law includes the obedience to those laws necessary to A. Yet, I will conclude that it is unfair to exploit the fact that a general obedience to the law includes obedience to those laws which are necessary to A in order to get him to obey to all laws despite of whether or not the laws he has to respect protect presumptive goods.