"Political Legitimacy as Grounded in the Wills of Citizens: A Reply to Peter" in the Journal of the American Philosophical Association (online first 2023)
"Medical Necessity, Mental Health, and Justice" in Clinical Ethics (online first 2023)
"In Defense of Wishful Thinking" in Moral Philosophy and Politics (online first 2022)
Works in Progress
"The How and Why of Mentorship in Undergraduate Philosophy Teaching" (Invited essay for The Art of Teaching Philosophy, ed. Brynn Welch, under contract with Bloomsbury Academic)
"On Justification in Moral Education" (under review)
"Is Concerted Cultivation Good Parenting?" with Harry Brighouse and Lindsey Schwartz (in preparation)
"The Influence of Parenting Styles on College Student Success & What Universities Should Do In Light of It" with Harry Brighouse and Lindsey Schwartz (in preparation)
Precis of "The Moral Authority of Citizens":
Political authorities have a special normative power. They make decisions that structure the world around us, enact policies that shape our behavior, punish us for wrongdoing, and collect taxes to pay for it all. Anarchists have long expressed skepticism about the arrangement, arguing that states are like criminal organizations who wrongfully wield coercive power over us (Casey 2012; Huemer 2013). When the IRS collects taxes, we think we are obliged to write the check—but when the mafia engages in similar behavior, demanding that we pay up, we call it extortion. What, if anything, gives the IRS (but not the mafia) the right?
This question is one of legitimate political authority, and in answer we seek the moral justification of political leaders, institutions, and decisions. As a starting point, we might say that a political authority is legitimate if and only if it is ethically justified in exercising political power (Buchanan 2003). But what explains why the state has a right to rule, and what explains why citizens have a duty to obey? In the history of political thought, we can find some candidate answers. According to the divine right of kings, the ultimate source of a monarchy’s right to rule (and everyone else’s duty to obey) comes from God. According to the Enlightenment era notion of popular sovereignty, it is not God, but the people who grant authorities the right to rule (Locke 1689). Finally, according to some contemporary accounts, the power of authority is a matter of objective moral truth that stands apart from the consent of the governed (Enoch 2014; Peter 2020).
My dissertation, The Moral Authority of Citizens, seeks to answer such questions about political authority. My thesis is that the legitimacy of political rule is grounded in facts about the practical reasons shared by citizens in virtue of constitutive features of human nature. This is an account that vindicates the notion of popular sovereignty—the source of legitimate political authority is the will of the people. My dissertation creates a bridge between the literature on normative concepts (such as legitimacy) in political philosophy and the literature on grounding in metaethics. This bridge is important in that it exposes political philosophy to new conceptual tools for theorizing and creates inroads in metaethics for theorizing about other normative concepts in politics—including concepts such as rights, justice, and oppression.
In chapter 1, “Political Legitimacy as Grounded in the Wills of Citizens,” I respond to an emerging literature that combines meta-normative considerations with theorizing about political legitimacy. My view is that political legitimacy is grounded in the attitudes of citizens, and political authorities ought to make decisions that reflect the will of the people. Others disagree, instead claiming that legitimacy is grounded in moral truths about what should be done and that these truths are independent of the attitudes of any citizens. I compare and defend my conception against this one and consider puzzles that arise when the wills of citizens come into conflict.
In chapter 2, “The Service Conception and Our Internal Reasons,” I defend Joseph Raz’s influential service conception of political authority, which holds that legitimate authority must serve the reasons that citizens already have independent of that authority. I give a new interpretation of Raz’s service conception that accepts the internal reasons thesis—the view that all reasons for action are dependent on what Bernard Williams calls an agent’s “subjective motivational set,” which includes her desires, goals, projects, dispositions, and commitments.
In chapter 3, “Lessons from Anarchism,” I consider the service conception of authority in juxtaposition with anarchism. The chapter centers on the “anarchist camping trip” thought experiment, put forth by Brennan and Freiman (2022) as an argument for ideal anarchism. Through consideration of the notion of authority alongside the argument for ideal anarchism, I argue that there is an important place for authority even in stateless circumstances.
In chapter 4, “In Defense of Wishful Thinking,” I turn to a notion that has importance for legitimacy—political feasibility, or the collective will necessary to bring about political outcomes. I raise a puzzle that emerges from the fact that our judgments regarding which political projects are politically feasible becomes part of the story of what is politically feasible. In light of the puzzle, I pose a notion that I call ‘political grit,’ arguing that we sometimes ought to adopt an attitude of hopeful belief regarding our political ideals even when those ideals seem unrealistically optimistic.
Center for Ethics and Education Graduate Institute ("Philosophy Camp") alums meeting at the North American Association for Philosophy and Education Annual Conference, Oct. 2022, Mundelein, IL (Photo credit: Carrie Welsh)