Research Seminar

Political Philosophy Mini-Workshop

Date: 5 December 2014
Time: 13.15–16.00

This is an open event with pre-circulated papers, including a presentation of the first paper but not the second. See abstracts below.


13.15 Coffee

13.30 “Legitimate Authority and Social Ontology”
Author: Laura Valentini, LSE
Commentator: Aaron Maltais, Stockholm University

15.00 Coffee

15.20 “Practices and Principles: On the Methodological Turn in Political Theory”
Author: Eva Erman, Stockholm University
Commentator: Christian List, LSE

16.20 Coffee

The workshop will be held at the Institute for Futures Studies at Holländargatan 13 in Stockholm.

For registration and access to the papers, please send an e-mail to [email protected] before Thursday the 4th of December at 15.30.

The workshop is organised in cooperation with the Franco-Swedish Program in Philosophy and Economics at Collège d’études mondiales in Paris.

Abstract: Legitimate Authority and Social Ontology
The question of political authority, of whether and, if so, under what conditions, the law has the power to obligate us by virtue of being the law, is at the core of both legal and political philosophy. Anarchists have long insisted that political authority does not, or cannot, exist. Friends of political authority have sought to justify it by appeal to a variety of different moral grounds, each of which has invited several criticisms. The emergence of a consensus is not in view. I argue that we can make progress in understanding political authority as a moral phenomenon by better appreciating its nature as a social-scientific one—namely by drawing on insights from social ontology. Once the nature of the law as a distinctive social object is appreciated, a simple explanation for the obligation to obey it becomes available: Breaches of law, provided the law is reasonably just, are disrespectful towards those subjected to it. And since we all have an obligation not to disrespect others, we also have an obligation to obey reasonably just law “because it is the law.” This view, I suggest, offers a coherent moral vindication of the phenomenon of political authority as we experience it, and interestingly situates itself in the middle ground between anarchism and traditional defences of political authority. It sides with the latter in insisting that genuine political authority exists, but concedes to the former that authority-based obligations are less weighty than often assumed.

Abstract: Practices and Principles: On the Methodological Turn in Political Theory
The question of what role social and political practices should play in the justification of normative principles has received renewed attention in post-millennium political philosophy. Several current debates express a dissatisfaction with the methodology adopted in mainstream political theory, taking the shape of a criticism of so-called ‘ideal theory’ from ‘non-ideal’ theory, of ‘practice-independent’ theory from ‘practice-dependent’ theory, and of ‘political moralism’ from ‘political realism’. While the question of the practical use of normative theory lies at the heart of these concerns, these critics from otherwise diverging quarters also share a number of methodological assumptions about how to better go about when doing normative theory. Above all, their methodology is practice-dependent in the sense that an existing (social, political or institutional) practice is assumed to put substantial limitations on the appropriate normative principles for regulating it. In other words, we cannot formulate and justify an appropriate principle without first understanding the practice (or its point and purpose) this principle is supposed to govern. This paper investigates how this pregnant claim may be understood and motivated. In particular, we will point to challenges that must be met in order for the position to remain both interesting and attractive. It must distinguish itself from mainstream theories (otherwise the position is not distinct) while at the same time avoiding the problem of suggesting merely marginal adjustments of the status quo (otherwise the position is not attractive).

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