The Ockham Society (Week 6, HT23)

Ockham Society

In his service conception of authority, Joseph Raz claims that an authority is justified if it is more likely than its subjects to make sound decisions in certain matters concerning them. Conversely, the democratic conception of authority claims that an authority is justified if its decisions are the outcome of a democratic process, i.e., a process in which the people have a measure of influence and control over the government. Although these justifications are not mutually exclusive, they are ultimately independent of one another and thereby generate an aporia [puzzle] when both sides assert that theirs is the primary justification of legitimate authority. 

In my paper, I identify an underlying question framing the conflict between Razian and democratic authority: to what extent is the determination of the normal justification of a social institution dependent on empirical facts, and to what extent on normative reflection on the nature of the institution? After introducing the service conception and a recent democratic objection (Rondel 2012), I move into a direct examination of the aporia of normal justification. I conclude that, although the existence of certain social institutions is dependent on social practices, the justification of such institutions is a matter of normative reflection. This normative reflection, I argue, is best carried out in the presence of others, and democracy under the constraint of public reason provides unique conditions of discussion that facilitate this practice of collective reflection.