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Topics in Moral and Political Philosophy

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1 Topics in Moral and Political Philosophy
Political Obligation I: Consent and Fair Play

2 State legitimacy and Political Obligation
Problem of state legitimacy: do states have a right to rule over all persons within their claimed domain (generally coinciding with their territory)? If yes, what justifies this right? Problem of political obligation: do individuals have a duty to obey the law and support the political institutions of their own states? If yes, what justifies this duty?

3 Legitimacy A state has the right to rule when it has legitimate authority, i.e. when it has the exclusive right to impose “binding duties on its subjects, to have its subjects comply with these duties, and to use coercion to enforce the duties” (A. John Simmons, Justification and Legitimacy, 2001, p. 130)

4 Authority Individuals are subject to the authority of the state when they take its laws as providing content-independent peremptory reasons for action, i.e. when they perform the acts commanded by the state for the reason that they are commanded by it. Peremptory: they “cut off deliberation, debate or argument” (Hart). The reasons provided by these commands are not to be balanced with the other reasons that agents have, but rather exclude these reasons. Content-independent: their force does not depend on the merit of what is commanded. The reasons for doing what is commanded do not bear on the content of what is commanded.

5 Autonomy vs Authority Every person has a duty to take responsibility for their actions. Taking responsibility involves attempting to determine what one ought to do. Whenever we act without assessing the merits of what we do, we fail to take responsibility for our actions, and therefore we violate our duty to act autonomously. “For the autonomous man, there is no such thing, strictly speaking, as a command” (Robert P. Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism, 1999, p. 15).

6 Robert Paul Wolff (In Defense of Anarchism, 1970, p. 9)
“Obedience is not a matter of doing what someone else tells you to do. It is a matter of doing what he tells you to do because he tells you to do it”

7 Paradox of Authority Political Authority is either unjustified or redundant. Political Authority is unjustified whenever it attempts to impose new moral obligations on us. In these cases we have no moral reasons to obey. Political Authority is redundant whenever we do have moral reasons to do what we are commanded to do. For these reasons exist independently from the command issued by the authority.

8 Tacit Consent Ways of giving tacit consent
continued residence within a political community (together with the enjoyment of the benefits provided by the political community); voting in democratic elections. Note: Hypothetical Consent should not be confused with Tacit Consent

9 Fair Play (Hart, Rawls) Everyone who participates in a reasonably just, mutually beneficial scheme of social cooperation has an obligation to bear a fair share of the burdens of the scheme provided that: a) the benefits produced by the scheme can be obtained if everyone, or nearly everyone cooperates; b) cooperation requires certain sacrifice from each member of the scheme (at least a restriction of one’s liberty); c) the benefits produced by the scheme can be received, at least in some cases, by those who do not do their part in maintaining the scheme.

10 Do we need to accept the benefits?
Rawls and Simmons: Benefits can be said to be accepted only if two psychological conditions are satisfied: participants in the scheme must try to get (and succeed in getting) the benefits; participants must take the benefits ‘willingly and knowingly;’ (they must understand the source and the cost of these benefits, and still want to receive them).

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