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85, LEGAL OBLIGATION IN HUME There is one aspect of the thought of David Hume that seems to me to be important and topical, especially if considered in relation to two reductionist and dogmatic tendencies that are still noticeable in the general theory of law. By dogmatic I understand conceptions that are insufficiently founded on experience. The first of these two dogmatic tendencies is the emphasis placed on the notion of sanction which is viewed by some as prevailing over the concept of obligation to the point of absorbing it within itself. Law is that which the superior bodies of the dominant class impose. This doctrine has been affirmed even recently. But the master example is given by Bentham. To say that a man has the obligation to behave in a certain way is equivalent to saying that if he does not behave so, he will experience pain (or the absence of pleasure) . Legal sanction is the source from which this pain comes. Thus Bentham goes so far as to say that pain is constitutive of 2 obligation in all its forms. This seems to be contrary to experience and common sense. In fact, one can observe a legal obligation independently of the consideration of the consequences inherent in its violation. For this and other reasons the doctrinal tendency to give prevalence to the notion of sanction over the notion of obligation does not take account of experience and is dogmatic. Against this dogmatism one observes even today that the concept of an obligation that arises from a constriction, the concept 3 of Zwangspflicht , is a contradictio in adjecto. Nevertheless, in order to avoid the contradiction inherent in the prevalence of sanction over obligation and the dependence of law on political power and on the power of those who command, it is easy to fall into a second and opposite dogmatism. This second dogmatism consists in affirming the existence of fundamental legal obligations deducible from a priori principles understood platonically 86. as Ol·(fO- T"*) WVXt\S and as vision of the mind. But demonstrative reason, so understood, is determined exclusively through relations of ideas which, in Hume's opinion, cannot themselves constitute legal obligation. A legal system requires modifications and limitations to the passions and interests of individuals. As is well known, Hume argues that a passion and an interest cannot be modified by selfevident rational principles. No criterion that is deducible from demonstrative reason can function as a guide to human behaviour. Now between the two dogmatisms to which I have referred , Hume represents a third way on the basis of experience and of common sense. The advantage offered by Hume's thought is that of showing both the distinction between and the complementary nature of legal obligation and sanction. In what follows I shall discuss what I consider to be the kernel of Hume's legal theory as contained in his conception of human nature, setting aside secondary elements that do not directly concern the subject proposed. First: A legal system is not conceivable without setting up fundamental legal rules which, in Hume's opinion are the rules of justice. Consequently, the discussion of law implies the discussion of justice. And the discussion of justice is part of legal theory. Here I restrict my consideration to the obligations that are expressed by fundamental legal rules which are: stability of possession transference of possession by consent, and performance of promises. We know that, according to Hume, such rules cannot be derived from demonstrative or a_ priori reason but are revealed to empirical knowledge. Second: Hume distinguishes between the setting up of legal obligation and the moral evaluation of the legal obligation. In order to grasp the peculiarity of legal obligation as compared with moral evaluation, I refer here to the constitution of legal obligation. In order to understand the third book of the Treatise, it is in my 87. opinion absolutely necessary to take into account the distinction between the setting up of the legal obligation and its moral evaluation. Third: The obligations expressed in fundamental legal rules do not arise through a natural inclination but by artifice or by convention. The concept of artifice implies in Hume...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 85-93
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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