PHIL-755 Authority: Political/Moral
Fall for 2017-2018
Joseph Raz conceives of authority as involving the existence of a type of normative or moral power, a species of speech act (paradigmatically, a command) that both aims at putting others under a duty and (sometimes) succeeds in doing so. Although there are other conceptions of authority and although the seminar will attend to some of these, Raz’s conception underlies the seminar’s design, explaining the sense of moral authority that is in play. Accordingly, we will begin by studying Raz’s conception of authority. We will then turn to debates about political authority, an arena in which Raz’s conception has been a leading contender. In that context, it has been assumed that a legitimate government’s having authority entails that its citizens have a duty to obey it; but such a duty has proven difficult to defend. We will look at the challenges to this duty put forward by the “philosophical anarchist” A. John Simmons as well as some recent attempts to defend it. The second half of the seminar will take up the topic of moral authority, which is somewhat familiar if “authority” is interpreted in terms of expertise or, more broadly, simply as justification, but is not so familiar when interpreted in the Razian way. We will approach the topic of moral authority, interpreted in the last way, via the idea of the division of moral responsibility (something that has been discussed in, e.g., the literature on beneficence and the literature on global justice). From there, we will broaden out to questions about whether there is such a thing as the authorized revision of moral norms—a notion that faces both metaethical challenges and challenges with regard to the perspicuous description and explanation of the moral phenomena.

Assigned text:

Joseph Raz, ed., Authority (pbk., NYU Press, 1990: 0814774156)
Credits: 3
Prerequisites: None
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