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© Michael Lacewing Authority Michael Lacewing

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1 © Michael Lacewing Authority Michael Lacewing enquiries@alevelphilosophy.co.uk

2 Power The ability to get others to do things even when they might not want to –If persuasion, people cooperate willingly and freely –Or use of coercion - threats, sanctions, force States have power because they can make laws, enforced by the police. When is it right that the state has power?

3 Authority Theoretical authority (expert) Practical authority (authority figure) Descriptive sense: a state has authority if it maintains public order and makes laws that are generally obeyed by its citizens. –Authority goes beyond power because it can secure public order, which depends in part, on people respecting the law. Normative sense: its authority in the descriptive sense is legitimate.

4 Legitimacy Latin for ‘lawful’. In the most basic sense, a state is legitimate if it exists and operates according to the law. But this definition is too shallow. The fact that it has power is right or justified. –If it is right it has power, then we can argue that we ought to obey it.

5 Legitimacy It is morally justified in keeping public order. –But this doesn’t require that it is willingly obeyed, i.e. needn’t be recognised as legitimate. It can impose duties on people, i.e. citizens have an obligation to obey.

6 Plato on authority Good political rule requires knowledge of the good. Legitimate authority is based on knowledge (not e.g. consent). So practical authority depends on theoretical authority.

7 Nietzsche on authority If authority is just ‘legitimate power’, there is no genuine distinction between power and authority. Moral values are themselves expressions of the ‘will to power’. Different types of people express their will to power in different values –Physically strong people express it in ‘heroic’ values, supporting inequality and hierarchy

8 Nietzsche on authority On Plato: metaphysics serves values; values serve the will to power –His arguments are really an attempt to justify philosophers’ power. The ‘slave revolt’: inequality and hierarchy are wrong, and power must be used to help the weak

9 Authority and autonomy Anarchists object that submitting to authority will undermine moral judgment and autonomy –People will do what is morally wrong just because they are told to (Milgram). –Authority replaces moral thinking with self- interested thinking. The reason the person acts is to avoid getting into trouble. –It undermines autonomy - we should always judge what we ought to do, not hand over responsibility for judgment to someone else.

10 Authority and autonomy The authority must respect the individual’s autonomy, e.g. through rights The objection misunderstands both autonomy and authority –Human beings are not individuals alone. –To live together at all, we must submit to communal views about how to act. –But this is no violation of autonomy, because who we are is defined in part by belonging to a community.

11 Reasons to submit to authority 1. The law as a ‘short cut’ –We have independent reasons to act as it requires. –We don’t always know what these are, so we obey the law as an authority.

12 2. Hume on cooperation We need more than we have resources to provide for ourselves. –We lack power and ability and can lose what we have through misfortune. By grouping together, we gain greater power, ability and insurance. But society also increases the temptation to cheat, so we need laws. –Laws increase peace, stability and enjoyment of what we own. –But we can be short-sighted. Laws turn long-term interest into short-term interest.


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