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Political Obligation


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to:

  • BA students in Philosophy, who have successfully completed their first year, and who have also completed at least 10 EC’s of the mandatory components of their second year, including Political Philosophy.

  • Pre-master’s students in Philosophy who are in possession of an admission statement, and for whom this course is part of their programme.


The “state” is the typical modern form of political organization, characterized by its claim of comprehensive and final authority for all inhabitants of a certain territory. What exactly is the nature of the authority claimed by the state, and under what conditions could such a claim possibly be justified (or how is a tax collector different from a thief)? If it is justified, does that imply that all inhabitants of the state’s territory have a moral duty to obey the state, and what moral principles could possibly be the basis of such a duty? The course examines the main arguments in the contemporary literature concerning the moral requirements to obey the state. Among the topics covered are consent theory; the principle of fairness; the natural duty of justice; arguments from gratitude; associative theories; democracy; philosophical anarchism. The course applies the philosophical arguments discussed in class to issues in political practice such as secession, civil disobedience and uncivil political protest.

Course objectives

This course aims to introduce students to classic and contemporary arguments in the debate on the authority of the state and the obligation to obey the state

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • classic and contemporary theories of political obligation and the legitimacy of the state;

  • the role of moral reasoning in political life.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • analyse and interpret a philosophical text;

  • develop argumentative skills through seminar discussion and analysis of philosophical texts;

  • practice and further develop presentation skills;

  • understand the nature of arguments in political philosophy and of the way they differ from arguments made in political theory or social sciences;

  • reproduce and interpret the arguments used in key debates concerning the problem of political obligation and the legitimacy of the state;

  • articulate arguments and criticisms with regard to contemporary theories of political obligation and the legitimacy of the state;

  • come to an independent judgment about the relative merits of the theories discussed relate philosophical arguments to issues from (current) political and social life such as tax avoidance, law violation, forms of political protest and disobedience.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Presentation in class: 30% of the final grade

  • Final paper: 70% of the final grade


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests (see above).


The resit consists of one examination for all parts at once (100%), consisting of an essay of 3,000 words. The mark for the resit will replace all previously earned marks for subtests. No separate resits will be offered for subtests.
Class participation is required for taking the resit.
Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  • The reading list will be posted on Brightspace.


Enrolment through uSis for this course is not possible. Students are requested to submit their preferences for the third-year electives by means of an online registration form. They will receive the instruction and online registration form by email (uMail account); in June for courses scheduled in semester 1, and in December for courses scheduled in semester 2. Registration in uSis will be taken care of by the Education Administration Office.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the information bar at the right hand side of the page.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc., contact the Education Administration Office Huizinga


Not applicable.