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The concept of autonomy is one of the key concepts of political philosophy. It plays an important role in discussions of the limits of state coercion, in particular in arguments against paternalistic laws and policies, and in questions concerning the legitimacy and authority of the state. Although the term “autonomy” is used in different ways, a common understanding of the concept of autonomy relates to the idea of leading one’s own life: the autonomous person develops her own understanding of how her life should be and acts accordingly, without interference by others. Autonomy plays three main roles in political philosophy. First, autonomy provides a goal, to be realized through political means; this requires that the state protect people from interference with their autonomy, ensure the availability of sufficient resources, and foster the mental abilities necessary for autonomy. Not least, promoting autonomy can entail that the form of government be democratic, as citizens’ autonomy is best protected in a democratic regime. Next, autonomy can impose a set of constraints, limiting the legitimate use of coercion in realizing political goals. First, coercion can only be used for certain purposes. The most well-known constraint of this kind involves the rejection of paternalism: coercion may never be used to promote a person’s own good against her will. Next, there are constraints connected with the kind of justification that can be given for coercive actions: in order to be compatible with autonomy, these must be justified in ways that the coerced have actually accepted or could have accepted. Finally, autonomy can play a role in arguments about the grounds for political authority. Although authority and autonomy might seem to be inimical, autonomy can ground the right to command either through citizens’ consent or through their voluntary actions by which they become committed to follow a common set of rules. Autonomy can only play these roles if it is valuable, and there are several arguments why autonomy is valuable. First, there are instrumental reasons: the good both of individuals and of society is best served if people have a large degree of autonomy. Next, people have an interest in their choices and actions being their own, representative of who they are. Also, there is a strong symbolic and relational aspect to the right to autonomy: being denied this right is insulting and amounts to a denial of one’s equal standing. Finally, there might be an intrinsic value to autonomy, as only autonomy allows us to be fully human.

Article

The publication of John Rawls’s Political Liberalism put public reason squarely on the agenda of contemporary political theory. Ever since, it has been a central topic in the field. Although Rawls developed a distinctive account of public reason, his account is but one among many. Indeed, some commentators have insisted that public reason is a very old notion, one that can be found in the political writings of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant, for example. Public reason has a distinctive subject matter. It applies to the common good of a modern political society and the political institutions that serve that common good, and it contrasts with forms of reasoning that apply to less inclusive associations and communities that exist within a modern political society, such as churches, voluntary clubs, or professional associations. Public reason also contrasts with applications of reason that are not transparent and/or acceptable to adult citizens of modern political societies. The demands of transparency and acceptability have proven to be complex and contentious, and rival articulations of these notions have generated rival accounts of public reason. Public reason informs public political justification, and proponents of public reason often hold that public, political justification of at least the fundamental political arrangements of a political society is necessary for its political order to be legitimate. The reasons for insisting on public reason and the reasons for rejecting it are diverse. Common to all defenses of public reason is the thought that it represents a fitting response to the fact of intractable disagreement in modern political societies.

Article

Nils Holtug

Prioritarianism is a principle of distributive justice. Roughly, it states that we should give priority to the worse off in the distribution of advantages. This principle has received a great deal of attention in political theory since Derek Parfit first introduced the distinction between egalitarianism and prioritarianism in his Lindley Lecture, published in 1991. In the present article, prioritarianism is defined in terms of a number of structural features of the principle. These structural features are also used to distinguish between this principle and other distributive principles such as utilitarianism, egalitarianism, and leximin. Prioritarianism is mostly discussed as an axiological principle that orders outcomes with respect to their (moral) value, but it is also clarified how it can be incorporated in a criterion of right actions, choices, or policies. Furthermore, different aspects of the principle that need to be further specified to arrive at a full-fledged distributive theory are discussed, including the weights that give priority to the worse off, currency (what kind of advantages should be distributed), temporal unit (the temporal span in which one has to be worse off in order to be entitled to priority), scope (whether the principle applies globally or only domestically, and whether, for example, future generations and non-human animals are covered by the principle), and risk. For each aspect, different possible views are distinguished and discussed. Finally, it is discussed how prioritarianism may be justified, for example, by outlining and discussing the argument that, unlike certain other distribution-sensitive principles such as egalitarianism, prioritarianism is not vulnerable to the so-called “leveling down objection.”

Article

In research on authoritarianism, both legitimation and repression have received growing attention since the late 2000s. However, these two strategies of political rule do not form separate pillars of power; they are interlinked and affect each other. Autocrats not only rule with an iron fist, but they also seek to legitimize their use of repression vis-à-vis at least some of their citizens and the outside world. These legitimizing discourses are part of political communication in autocracies and can be studied using the approach of framing. So far, few researchers of the protest–repression nexus have studied how protesters are being framed by officials in autocracies. The communication of repression varies widely across autocracies. Authoritarian incumbents differ in their degree of openness vs. opacity, impacting also on how they publicize, admit to, or conceal certain forms of repression. When choosing to justify acts of repression, multiple factors influence which types of justification are used. One decisive factor is against which targets repression is employed. In framing the targets of repression in a certain way, autocratic elites pursue a twin strategy in that they seek to attain the approval of certain audiences and to deter potential or actual dissidents. Furthermore, justifications diverge regarding which actors use them and towards which audiences. Past experiences and regime characteristics also impact on how repression is justified. This research program offers great potential for studying state–society relations in autocracies. It cuts across research on political violence, authoritarian legitimation, and political communication. For understanding the persistence of autocracies in times of contention, it is an important piece in the puzzle of authoritarian survival strategies illuminating the “dark side” of legitimation.

Article

Contextualism denotes a set of ideas about the importance of attention to context. Here, focus is on contextualism in normative political theory/philosophy, specifically in relation to the part of political theory concerned with systematic political argument for normative claims—evaluative claims about the legitimacy, justice, or relative goodness of acts, policies, or institutions, and prescriptive claims about what we should do, which decision procedures we should follow, or how institutions should be reformed. In terms of what counts as context, it denotes facts concerning particular cases that can be invoked to contextualize a specific object of political discussion such as a law, an institution, or the like. Contextualism denotes any view that political theory should take context into account, but there are many different views about what this means. Contextualism can be characterized by way of different contrasts, which imply that the resulting conceptions of contextualism are views about different things, such as justification, the nature of political theory, or methodology. Here the focus is on characterizations of contextualism in terms of methodology and justification that provide different views about what role context can play in political argument. In the course of doing this, a number of problems facing the different versions of contextualism are identified, including problems of reification and status quo bias, problems of securing that political theory is both critical and action guiding while still being contextualist, and the problem of delimiting the relevant context. Different ways of avoiding these problems are sketched. It is argued that there are forms of contextualism that can avoid the problems, but that these may not be as distinctive as some contextualists think. This also means that contextualism may, in fact, be a more common approach to political theory than is sometimes suggested.

Article

Intersectionality is an analytic framework used to study social and political inequality across a wide range of academic disciplines. This framework draws attention to the intersections between various social categories, including race, gender, sexuality, class, and (dis)ability. Scholarship in this area notes that groups at these intersections are often overlooked, and in overlooking them, we fail to see the ways that the power dynamics associated with these categories reinforce one another to create interlocking systems of advantage and disadvantage that extend to social, economic, and political institutions. Representational intersectionality is a specific application of intersectionality concerned with the role that widely shared depictions of groups in popular media and culture play in producing and reinforcing social hierarchy. These representations are the basis for widely held group stereotypes that influence public opinion and voter decision-making. Intersectional stereotypes are the set of stereotypes that occur at the nexus between multiple group categories. Rather than considering stereotypes associated with individual social groups in isolation (e.g., racial stereotypes vs. gender stereotypes), this perspective acknowledges that group-based characteristics must be considered conjointly as mutually constructing categories. What are typically considered “basic” categories, like race and gender, operate jointly in social perception to create distinct compound categories, with stereotype profiles that are not merely additive collections of overlapping stereotypes from each individual category, but rather a specific set of stereotypes that are unique to the compound social group. Intersectional stereotypes in political contexts including campaigns and policy debates have important implications for descriptive representation and material policy outcomes. In this respect, they engage with fundamental themes linked to political and structural inequality.

Article

To have property rights over X is to have rights to determine, in some respect, what shall happen to X, for example a piece of land. To have territorial rights is to have rights to make, enforce, and adjudicate the law within a geographical area. Property and territorial rights thus seem closely related, and philosophical accounts reveal various interesting connections between these bundles of rights—both in their nature and justification. A significant division, which we find in both old and new accounts—of property as well as territory—originates in the diverging political philosophies of John Locke and Immanuel Kant. Lockean accounts regard property and territorial rights as natural. People may acquire both without the prior existence of an adjudicating political authority. Kantian accounts, however, regard property rights as pure legal conventions. Non-existent outside civil society, they must be fully constructed by a state with territorial (jurisdictional) rights. Further divisions exist within Lockean and Kantian theories, and all the most prominent theories—of property as well as territorial rights—face significant unresolved philosophical challenges.