Advanced Political Philosophy I: Political Authority and Obligation

Course Description: 

States claim to have authority to govern within their jurisdiction. Authority is generally understood as entailing a right to be obeyed correlative with a moral obligation incumbent on the subjects of authority to obey (provided that certain conditions obtain). The obligation to obey is said to be general (although capable of being defeated if the relevant conditions do not obtain). It is said to hold with regard to (almost) all directives, (almost) all subjects, on (almost) all occasions. This is the claim of political obligation. It needs to be justified. Is there any strategy to justify it with a chance to succeed? Anarchists and classical Marxists answer the question in the negative. Liberals, traditionally, defend a positive answer for a subclass of states (constitutionally limited democracies). The traditional justifications are, typically, voluntaristic in the following sense: they assume that for a person to be politically obligated, s/he must perform an act that counts as undertaking an obligation (consent, acceptance of benefits from a cooperative scheme, etc.), and that act must be performed voluntarily (acts performed under coercion, manipulation, duress, or hypnosis, for example, are not obligation-generating). However, in the last couple of decades, an increasing number of liberal philosophers came to adopt a skeptical view on the possibility of justifying political obligation. In an attempt to meet the skeptical objection, other liberal philosophers try build the justification of political obligation on some moral duty that applies to the subjects independently of whether they have performed any voluntary act of undertaking an obligation (associative duties, natural duties of justice, etc.).

 This course will ask the question why the issue of authority is a problem for political philosophy at all. It will also examine the direction in which the justification was traditionally sought and the reasons why this direction has been taken, the skeptical arguments against the traditional strategies, and the more recent attempts at meeting those arguments.

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