H.L.A. Hart makes an interesting point that I think warrants injection into yesterday’s discussion as to whether or not slaves could have been considered agents of their masters in any real or philosophical sense. Hart makes a distinction between being obligated to perform an act and being obliged to perform and act. To steal from Dr. Stephen L. Thompson’s margin notes, one who has been obliged has been forced to act; one who has been obligated has been compelled by their own responsibility to act. The difference comes down to the primary mover – as it were – in the causation of one’s actions.
“James,” you might ask, “how is this related at all?”
“Reader,” I respond, “let me finish, damn it!”
To bring back the notion I introduced yesterday, the principal-agent relationship implies the existence of a contractual obligation between the two parties. Within that context, the slave would be said to owe his service to his master. Anyone out there prepared to make that argument?
If we can agree – and I really hope we can – that the obligation to perform did not exist, then we surely must agree that the primary motivation was a compelling force external of the slave’s sense of duty. The slave was obliged by coercive means to act on behalf of the master; no contract could have existed.