Moral Philosophy Seminar (Monday - Week 6, HT19)

Moral Philosophy Seminar

Moral Philosophy Seminar

We sometimes say that a person legitimates a practice or state of affairs which is formally prohibited in the relevant context. For example, in societies where racial discrimination in the workplace is legally prohibited, we still sometimes want to say that a worker telling racist jokes in the break room legitimates racial discrimination – even where the worker has no recognised authority. What is the best way to understand a statement like this? If such statements are to be understood as something more than polemics, then we will need a credible account of the way (or ways) in which a thing that is formally illegitimate can have a kind of ersatz legitimacy conferred on it, and of how this can occur even when the actor ‘doing the legitimating’ lacks formal authority. I discuss two kinds of social-psychological phenomena that sometimes confer ersatz legitimacy on things, (i) licensed authority, and (ii) normalisation. And I discuss a few comparative advantages in developing an account of the term “legitimation” which adverts to the latter phenomenon rather than the former.


Members of the audience are invited to join the speaker and the convenor for drinks and dinner at a local restaurant following the talk (at their own expense). There will obviously be some limit on the number of people who can attend. Those who wish to attend a particular dinner should write to Ed Lamb in advance to reserve a place. Please note that we will no longer be going to dinner afterwards at Somerville College to continue questioning the speaker. In future terms I may bring the time of the seminar forward to 3 – 5pm which would make it possible for all to go to pre-dinner drinks. Please let me know if this change of time would make you more or less likely to attend.

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