Reading 6: Raz

Raz, Joseph (1988). "The justification of authority" (chapter 3)  and "The authority of states." (chapter 4) The morality of freedom: 38-69 and 70-81.


"Legitimate authorities provide pre‐emptive reasons for action, in that the reasons they provide are not to be added to all other relevant reasons when assessing what to do, but should exclude and replace some of those other reasons. Furthermore, legitimate authorities are dependent in the sense that they ought to issue directives that are based on reasons applying independently to the subjects of the directives. The pre‐emption thesis and the dependence thesis are closely related to the normal justification thesis, which states that the normal justification for authority involves showing that the alleged subject is likely to comply better with reasons applicable to him if he accepts the authoritative directives rather than trying to follow the reasons directly. The chapter ends with a discussion of the nature of the explanatory‐normative reasoning employed in the book."


Why this reading?

Joseph Raz' account of legitimate authority - the "Service Conception" - is a central contribution to the discussions about how we should understand the concept of 'legitimacy', which many other authors refer to. This early presentation lays out the central ideas; later Raz has developed the account to clarify and defend aspects of it against several critics.

Questions for discussion

  1. Raz claims that bodies that have de facto authority - and not just power - claim to have legitimate authority, that is: the right to rule those who are subject to its power. 
  2. The puzzle Raz starts with is how it can be that a directive issued by some body, conostitutes a reason to act - and even a duty to act - for another body.  Which such apparent puzzles arise for international courts? what sorts of duties do their judgment impose on various 'compliance constituencies'?
  3. His answer is in part that a purported legitimate authority must actually issue directives - including judgments - that enable subjects to better conform to reasons they anyway have for acting. One of the points of authorities is that their directives pre-empt the subjects' judgments in a particular case. Does this fit with international courts' judgments and interpretations?
  4. Raz lists five reasons for  when an authority may be legitimate (p. 75). Which of these - if any - might apply to international Courts?
Published Apr. 20, 2016 4:30 PM - Last modified Apr. 20, 2016 4:30 PM