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Volume 30 • Number 3

July 2016



What's the Problem with Political Authority? A Pragmatist Account

by Luke Maring

The dialectic between statists and philosophical anarchists is familiar. Statists try to establish political authority by citing some sort of consent (express, tacit, hypothetical, or normative), fair play, associative obligations, or even gratitude; philosophical anarchists point out weaknesses in statists' arguments. This paper tries to get "underneath" the familiar dialectic: Why is establishing political authority a distinctive problem in the first place?

     Different theorists conceive of political authority differently, but § 1 captures the dominant conceptions: political authority is fundamentally about using speech to give citizens moral reasons (or pro tanto duties). However, as § 2 argues, the use of speech to give moral reasons (or pro tanto duties) is routine among ordinary folk. The standard definition should thus leave us puzzled about why establishing a government's reason-giving powers is not the very same problem as establishing the reason-giving powers of ordinary people. Worse, while the literature contains several strategies for supplementing the standard definition of political authority, these strategies cannot solve our problem. Section 3 shows that none of the current strategies succesfully distinguish governmental from quotidian reason-giving.

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ISSN: 2152-0542