Western Legal Tradition

According to Austin, legal obligation is a kind of prudential obligation (rather than a kind of moral obligation). This means that valid laws provide us with prudential (rather than moral) reasons to obey them. For Austin, a prudential reason to obey the law is to avoid sanction or punishment for disobedience. On page 14, Austin writes: ‘The greater the eventual evil, and greater the chance of incurring it, the greater is the efficacy of the command, and the greater is the strength of the obligation.’ This means that that the strength of our obligation to obey any particular law depends upon the severity and likelihood of punishment for disobeying that law. Do you agree with Austin’s model of legal obligation as prudential obligation? Why or why not? (Think critically about his view, especially as applied to legal regimes that harshly punish minor infractions or where the laws themselves may be considered unjust.)

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