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An Account of Legal Obligation

Final Report Summary - LEGO (An Account of Legal Obligation)

a. Summary description of the project objectives
The project addressed the issue of legal obligation, which is a central legal notion and an idea that is intrinsically, or conceptually, connected to the law. The project purported to arrive at an account of legal obligation by thus elucidating both what enables the law to hold us bound to do anything and why legal requirements should be taken to be binding. In working toward that explanation of legal obligation, the researcher operated on two levels, identifying on the one hand a concept of legal obligation, and on the other the basis of the obligatory force of law. This two-pronged exploration specifically addressed two main questions: in conjunction with the definitional question “What is legal obligation?”—or “What do we mean by obligation and how does it apply to legal contexts?”—it was discussed the issue of “Why ought one to do what the law requires?” and “Whence does the obligatory force of legal requirements come?” or, stated otherwise, “What makes the law binding?”

b. Description of the work performed since the beginning of the project
The work performed during the project was meant to contribute to a better understanding of legal obligation, which forms an essential part of the normativity of law. This required the researcher to critically engage with several different accounts of the obligatory force of the law. In particular, the researcher introduced and rejected as theoretically problematic the three main accounts currently defended within mainstream jurisprudence, namely, (a) formal account, (b) social-fact account and (c) reason-based account. He then passed to theorise an original view of legal obligation. Such novel theory is internal to the reason-based paradigm and yet it significantly differs from the versions of reason-based approach defended by contemporary legal philosophers. Central to this revised reason-based account was the conceptualisation of legal obligation as a two-component notion. Of the two essential components of obligation one distinctively springs from its internal connection with practical reasons and so is rational in nature, whereas the other specifically derives from the conceptual link that can be established between obligation and mandatory force. In a nutshell, what the researcher argued was that, as a result of its connection with practical reasons, legal obligation incorporates a distinctively justificatory quality, and, as a consequence of its link with mandatory force, legal obligation has to be understood as a categorical, or interest-independent, requirement. In their combination, the two components define legal obligation as an inherently justified categorical requirement.

c. Description of the main results achieved and their potential impact and use
The research undertaken produced scientific results that can be summarised as follows:
- 8 seminar presentations at renowned academic institutions;
- 4 working papers openly accessible to the public on the web;
- 1 chapter in an edited volume;
- 8 academic journal articles;
- 9 draft chapters of the research monograph summarising the main contribution of the research;
- 1 two-day workshop providing a general introduction to law and legal studies at the University of Modena & Reggio Emilia;
- 1 international conference providing an opportunity to discuss issues concerning legal obligation, at the University of Leicester;
- 1 year-long interdisciplinary discussion group on “Legal and Moral Obligation”, with regular monthly meetings, at the Goethe University of Frankfurt;
- A 45-minute video-clip (audio combined with power-point presentation) summarising the research results in an accessible language.
- A proposal for a research monograph summarising the overall results of the research project

The proposed research, whilst being best described as basic research, should be expected to be directly beneficial to the public at large and to favourably impact on the general welfare of the society too. For, the outputs of the project invite us to reframe the discussion on legal obligation in such a way as to also make it relevant from the practical standpoint of the responsible, conscientious, and politically self-aware inhabitants of democratic polities. Indeed, the proposed account of legal obligation addresses questions such as “What role do legal statements play in one’s practical deliberation?”, “What reasons, if any, does one have to obey the law?”, and “Do legal obligations hold even for those who disapprove of the legislation in question or think it wrong in principle?”. These questions concern us not only as legal scholars and academics but also as responsible inhabitants of a democratic political community. This is the case mainly because individuals within a democratic regime are not to be understood as passive spectators who uncritically register, regard as justified, and thus blindly obey the decisions made by those who happen to hold power. No democracy can properly function unless the people represented in it are prepared to be concerned with, and critically assess, the decisions made by the public bodies. In treating the questions just mentioned the project can contribute to cultivating in the public a critical attitude to political institutions, an attitude that lies at the very heart of democracy, distinguishing it from authoritarian regimes. So, by getting us to think about legal obligation in a way that is not just academic but relates in practical terms to our lives as members of a democratic polity, the project has the potential to elicit and hone the kind of political interest in us that might strengthen the basis of our civil interrelatedness. In this way, it will enable one to see that we are not just managing to coexist in society, but that we can and should engage one another politically despite our differing views, opinions, and conceptions, all the while forging solutions we might not otherwise be able to see.