Joseph Raz’s Service Conception and the Limits of Knowability

Ratio Juris 34 (3):207-223 (2021)
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This essay criticizes Joseph Raz’s service conception of authority on the basis of its knowability condition. The condition states that for agents to be justified in following authoritative directives, they must be able to know (i.e., form reliable beliefs) that the authority issuing the directives is in fact legitimate. Three grounds for concern are identified. The first is that the satisfaction of the normal justification thesis (NJT), which states that the legitimacy of authorities hinges on whether their directives enable subjects to better conform to reason, only provides agents with reasons to believe that it is justified to act as if an authority were legitimate (i.e., on the assumption that it is). Based on the belief/acceptance distinction, the NJT allows for a gap between what is actually the case and what agents are willing to go along with in order to improve the likelihood of conforming to right reason. The independence condition (IC), which states that for those matters where the NJT obtains it must be better for a subject to improve such conformity than to decide for herself, must be satisfied in conjunction with the NJT, but suffers from its own particular problems. Thus, the second problem identified is that of incommensurable values, which appears when agents are not able to decide between the value of improving right reason—NJT—and the value of deciding for themselves—IC. Finally, the third problem is that of vagueness about right reason, where agents attempting to determine whether an authority meets the two conditions are not able to settle whether reason is improved. Together, these three problem areas of knowability serve to challenge Raz’s position.



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Adriana Placani
Universidade Nova de Lisboa

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References found in this work

The Morality of Freedom.Joseph Raz - 1986 - Philosophy 63 (243):119-122.
Change in View: Principles of Reasoning.Gilbert Harman - 1986 - Studia Logica 48 (2):260-261.
On the aim of belief.David Velleman - 2000 - In The Possibility of Practical Reason. Oxford University Press. pp. 244--81.
Practical Reason and Norms.Joseph Raz - 1975 - Law and Philosophy 12 (3):329-343.

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