The term ‘Jurisprudence’ means ‘knowledge of law’ or ‘skill of law’ in its broadest sense. In its particular meaning, this term means the interpretation of the general concepts on which the true rules of law are centered. It covers almost every term which ought to be used for the interpretation of laws. The “law” is, of course, a concept of different connotations; the term is used here in its explicit way, that is, not in the context of concrete statutes, but in the sense of the principles underlying law. Obligation is one such concept in the field of juridical concepts and jural analysis.

Every layman can understand the term obligation as “an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound to do; a duty or commitment”. The term obligation is used generally in everyday life but it is a much wider concept under jurisprudence.


The word originally derives from the Latin term “obligare” which comes from the root “lig” which suggests being bound, as one is to God for instance in “re-ligio”.[1]

It is merely a class of duties in the legal sense, including those that are correlatives of rights in personam.

Salmond defines obligations as the vinculum juris, or bound of legal necessity which binds together two or more determinate individuals. [2]

According to Savigny, an obligation is “the control over another person, yet not over his person in all respects, but over a single act of his which must be conceived of subtracted from his free will and subjected to our will”.

According to Anson, obligation is a kind of control exercised by determinate persons over certain determinate persons for some specific act or it may also be called a forbearance which has been valued in terms of money.

Obligation under jurisprudence can be perceived differently in juristic sense, such as:

  1. It can be defined as a duty in personam but not a duty in rem. In general, the former requires the obligation to pay a debt, to enforce a contract or pay for damages in tort, while the latter deals with the obligation to refrain from interfering with others’ identity, property, credibility.
  2. It is also defined as a duty clubbed with the correlative right of another person in the same transaction. This denotes the bond of legal necessity which the Roman law called “vinculum juris”
  3. In the third sense, obligation is considered as a proprietary right in personam, which means a duty which corresponds to such a right. But the right which pertains to a person’s status is not an obligation, such as those created by marriage. [3]

Chose in Action: In jurisprudential terms, a technical synonym for obligation is “chose in action”, which means “ a thing in action”. A “chose in action” is thus, a proprietary right in personam, e.g. a claim for damages in torts.


The dominant view of an obligation under jurisprudence is that the creditor is the person who benefits from it, and the debtor is the person who is bound by it. From the point of view of the creditor, the obligation is a proprietary right in personam. Normally, an obligation has only one creditor and one debtor. But there might be two or more creditors or two or more debtors in certain transactions. This scenario of joint tenancy operates in the instance of co-ownership. In turn, this gives rise to the obligation of solidary. It can be better understood by an example, where in case 4 partners owe Rs. 8000 to a creditor. Then it is their joint obligation to discharge the liability as in law Rs. 8000 is seen as a single debt owed by each partner and not the separate debt of Rs. 2000 owed by each. Thus, each of the debtors is bound in solidum instead of pro parte that is, the whole amount of debt and not the proportionate part of it.[4]

Solidary obligation is of three kinds:

  1.  Joint solidary obligation; 
  2.  Several solidary obligations; and 
  3. Joint and several solidary obligations, what we see in India is Joint and Several solidary obligations.



Considered from the point of view of their sources, obligations are divisible into the following four classes:

  1. Contractual obligation ( obligations ex contractu);
  2. Delictual obligation ( Obligationes ex delicto);
  3. Quasi-Contractual obligation(Obligationes quasi-ex-contractu);
  4. Innominate obligation


According to Section 2(h) of the Indian Contracts Act, contracts are the agreements enforceable by law. Contracts typically form an arrangement between the parties who are legally bound by the terms of the agreement; such agreements must therefore be enforceable by law and should thus be called contracts. Under a contract, the contracting parties have the obligation to meet the obligations they have established on each other. It creates right in personam between the parties, but carries some exceptions like promise of marriage, which falls within the law of status. In a contract, in return for the promise made by the other person, a party agrees to or to abstain from doing something. So, we may assume that there are rights and duties that they have an obligation to fulfil on both sides of the contract. In situations where a party is unable to fulfil its duty or actively refrains from fulfilling its obligations, such a condition results in a breach of contract and the party suffering from such a breach has the right to physically enforce the contract. Rights arising out of contract are right in personam as the remedy available against is the party to the contract who makes breach of such contracts. Contracts create mutuality of obligations as both promisor and promise perform their duty and have rights against each other in a contract.


These are the obligations arising out of tort. Torts is the branch of law that is deemed to be civil wrong, i.e. civil in nature. Under Torts, damages are unliquidated (the one wherein the amount of compensation is not pre decided) as opposed to contracts where damages are inherently liquidated. Tortious liability arises from the violation of duty against another individual. Dr. Winfield has defined liability in torts as “tortious liability arises from the breach of duty primarily fixed by law; this duty is towards persons generally and its breach is repressible by an action for unliquidated damages”. It means delictual obligations are the duty of making pecuniary satisfaction for the wrong, i.e. tort committed by the defendant. Such a duty is established by law and individuals are allowed to comply with such a duty and if they do not comply with their duty and cause harm to other individuals, then the person against whom tort is committed has the right to claim unliquidated damages from the one who didn’t comply with such duty. A wrongdoer therefore has the duty to pay unliquidated damages to the person against whom he commits wrong.  Unliquidated damages are not predetermined.


These are the obligations arising out of contracts. These obligations are regarded by law as contractual though they are not so in fact. Primordial in Roman Law such obligations were called obligationes quasi ex contractu, whereas in English law, they are called quasi-contractual. The contracts which are created out of the interference of courts but not by the formal agreement and the parties’ consent are termed as quasi contracts. These are fictional contracts. Quasi-contractual obligations are very precisely defined with examples under chapter V of the Indian Contract Act, 1872. The obligation of a parent towards their child is a well defined illustration of quasi-contracts. The relationship created on trust is yet another example.


Salmond defines Innominate obligation as residuary class of obligation.

Innominate obligations are those which are not purely contractual, delictual or quasi contractual. This means they do not have a particular designation or term. For Instance,   trustee ‘s obligation to the beneficiary. A trustee has a fiduciary obligation with respect to the beneficiary. A trustee is directly responsible for infringement of the obligation he has on the beneficiary’s property.


It can be well framed from the aforesaid discussion that though the area of obligation differs from that of liability, the two are closely interlinked. It can well be understood that where there is obligation, then its default gives rise to liability. Thus, obligation has the same importance in law as is of liability. Therefore, obligation, as its etymology denotes, is a tie, whereby one person is bound to perform some act for the benefit of another under legal duty, which may arise out of a contract.[5]


[1]  Zimmermann, Reinhard, The Law of Obligations: Roman Foundations of the Civilian Tradition  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).

[2] Patrick John Fitzgerald, Salmond on Jurisprudence 446 (Sweet & Maxwell, 12th Ed/1966.).

[3] Dr. N.V Paranjape, Studies in jurisprudence and Legal theory 575 (Central Law Agency, 9th Ed.).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Holland T.E., Elements of Jurisprudence 245 (Oxford Clarendon Press,13th Ed.,2010).


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *