PHIL 41150: Political Philosophy
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Wednesday January 8, 2003

[1.1.] Governmental Control.


Question 1: What is a Political Society? I.e., when does a group of people count as being a political society?


Here's a tentative definition: a political society is one with some system of government

         This is a purely descriptive definition, i.e. it's non-normative, in that it implies no value judgments. In particular it does not imply that a political society is better or worse than a non-political one.

         It implies that a wide range of societies, from relatively free (e.g., our own representative democracy) to relatively repressive (e.g., Iraq's authoritarian dictatorship) count as political societies.

         It implies that a non-political society is, by definition, in a state of anarchy (the absence of government)

         It leaves the following question open:


When is governmental control rightful (legitimate) rather than wrongful (illegitimate)?

         This is a normative question -- it involves the evaluative concepts of rightfulness and wrongfulness (or legitimacy and illegitimacy).

         This is probably just another way of asking question 2 (what is the source of (rightful) political authority). At any rate, it's a very, very closely-related question.



[1.2.] Normative vs. Descriptive Authority.


To better understand what this question is asking, consider these examples of different sorts of non-governmental control:

         rightful (non-governmental): the control parents have over their toddler

         wrongful (non-governmental): the control a kidnapper has over an abductee


DISCUSSION: What are the differences between these two sorts of control? Which one more resembles a government's control over its citizens?


When is government control rightful?

A tentative answer: Rightful control stems from rightful authority:

         an entity with rightful authority is entitled to rule

         those who are ruled have a strong prima facie non-prudential obligation to obey the ruler(s)

         prima facie: "at first look" -- in ethics, a prima facie obligation is a real obligation that can be overridden or "trumped" by other, stronger obligations

         prudential: a prudential obligation is an obligation stemming from self-interest; if you have a prudential obligation to do x, then you will be better off doing x than not doing x.


We need to distinguish the concept of rightful authority from:


(descriptive) authority: actual power -- X does in fact exercise authority over Y (that authority may or may not be rightful/legitimate)


To distinguish normative/rightful/legitimate authority from descriptive/actual authority, I'll use the subscripts "N" and "D": "authorityN" and "authorityD".


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