POLI 231 Lecture Notes - Representative Democracy, Direct Democracy, Majoritarianism
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Lecture 5 January 16
Authority is the right to be able to command others. It’s correlative to the duty of the subject to
obey. This right is a moral notion, not only the mere power (descriptive sense) but the right thing
Authority and obeying command
a. not by virtue of independently good reasons
difference between conforming to the command and obeying the command.
Ex: - the teacher asks us to leave the room because there is a fire. If we leave, we conform to the
command because there is a fire. Our decision is dependent on the content (the fact that there is a
- Leaving the room because the teacher says so. In this case we are obeying the order simply
because it comes from an authoritative figure, the teacher. Our decision is content independent:
we leave not because there is a fire, but obey the command simply by virtue of the person’s
The same can be applied to legitimacy.
Engaging in moral philosophy is a responsibility of every individual and it shows that people
have freedom of will.
You have a duty to reflect ethically on how to live. It is our duty to live an examined life.
Moral autonomy: making your own decision is exercising your moral autonomy.
Authority Vs autonomy:
- authority: one who exercises moral autonomy does not obey any external commands. Your
actions may conform to other’s commands (because they happen to concur with your decisions: I
conform to the law that prohibits smoking because I personally think smoking is bad), but you do
not obey any external commands. If you do, you lose your autonomy (e.g I follow the law that
prohibits smoking even though I want to smoke).
- autonomy: authority is the right to rule, autonomy is the refusal to be ruled.
Wolff argues that there is no such thing as a legitimate authority because authority is only
legitimate when it keeps individual autonomy. Since autonomy is defined as “the ability to follow
one’s own decisions and not others commands”; and that authority is defined as “the right to
command”, these two are fundamentally incompatible. Therefore, legitimate authority cannot
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