Michelle Madden Dempsey (Villanova)

Authority, Obedience, and Justification

4 October 2021 | 12:00 EST | 17:00 BST

We have a duty to think for ourselves. The law claims authority over us. We have a duty, at least sometimes, to obey the law. Alone, each of these premises is fairly uncontroversial. Combined, they create some intriguing puzzles. Can law’s claim of authority be justified? If so, does justified legal authority entail an obligation to obey? If not, are we nonetheless justified, and perhaps even obligated, to act as if such an obligation exists? While this essay is hardly the first to address these questions, it is the first to do so by combining elements of Joseph Raz’s prominent “service conception of authority,” along with John Gardner’s influential account of justification, to defend a modest version of philosophical anarchism. These philosophical resources illuminate important considerations regarding the justification of law’s claims to authority, and the justification of our obedience to those claims.

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