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Keywords:

  • political obligation;
  • principle of fairness;
  • adapted preferences

It is widely held that an adequate theory of political obligation must be general; that is, it must establish requirements to obey the law for all or virtually all members of a given population. In regard to the principle of fairness (or fair play), generality poses a challenge, because many people claim not to want or to accept major benefits provided by the state. However, because the most important state benefits are public goods and so received even if they are not accepted, the implications of not accepting these benefits differ from those of not accepting excludable goods. Because of complex psychological aspects of rejecting non-excludable goods, rejecting such benefits frees recipients of obligations they would otherwise have only if they can pass an ‘alternative test’, and so explain how they would manage if rejection of the benefits actually prevented their receipt.