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Raz's The Morality of Freedom: Two Models of Authority

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Seventeenth century philosophers were pre-occupied with the justification for the use of coercion; the nature and scope of the citizen's duty to obey the law was a central concern. The typical philosophical accounts which attempt to articulate the conditions under which a citizen has an obligation to obey the law tend to fall into two camps: those that ground the obligation to obey the law in consent, and those that ground it in benefits received, or possibly a combination of both. More recently, however, some have argued that questions about the obligation to obey the law have been eclipsed by questions about distributive justice. Many leading figures in modern analytic jurisprudence remain concerned with the nature of political obligation. Joseph Raz is a current-day theorist who has recognized the importance of this issue and the need for an answer that is not over-simplistic. Recently Raz has re-examined his account in ?The Problem of Authority: Revisiting the Service Conception, - making an exploration of his theory particularly timely. Raz argues that all governments claim morally legitimate authority, but not all of them actually possess it. His theory seeks to give us the tools by which to distinguish the legitimate claims from imposters. The complexity and flexibility of Raz's understanding of the nature and scope of the individual's obligation to obey the law accounts for its appeal. Upon closer inspection, however, difficulties emerge. I argue that Raz's theory is plagued by a deep-seated tension between his two central theses: the pre-emption thesis and the normal justification thesis. While I explore both theses in further depth, the gist of the pre-emption thesis is that it requires a pre-commitment to authority in order for the law?s mediating role to be performed. Conversely, the normal justification thesis invites a case by case assessment of the bindingness of norms. I argue that instead of offering us a unified conception of authority, Raz vacillates unstably between two models - a consent-based model and a benefits received model. I demonstrate that this tension is ineradicable because the theses are connected to divergent models of law and incompatible methodologies.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2010

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  • Jurisprudence provides a forum for scholarly writing on the philosophy of law. While demanding the utmost intellectual honesty, clarity and scholarly rigour, its editorial policy is distinctively open-minded in relation to philosophical approach. A main purpose of the journal is to encourage scholarship which explores and transcends the categories and assumptions on which contemporary jurisprudential debates are conducted, and to stimulate reflection upon traditional questions concerning the nature of law, politics and society. The journal's unique reviews section will provide in-depth discussion and analysis of major developments in the field. Jurisprudence aims: " to encourage research exploring the relation between questions in the philosophy of law and debates in related branches of philosophy, including but not limited to political philosophy, moral philosophy, the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of mind; " to support study of the intellectual history of the philosophy of law, both for its own sake and in order to shed light on contemporary jurisprudential questions; " to encourage careful research illuminating relations between jurisprudential questions and theoretical debates in anthropology, sociology, cultural and literary studies. Replies and correspondence pieces will be generally discouraged, although may be acceptable if the intention is to deepen and extend an original line of thought, and not merely to reiterate or amplify an earlier argument.

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