14th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Guillery

Daniel Guillery

Legitimacy, obligation and justification

Legitimacy, obligation and justification (Abstract, Pavia) In this paper I give some reasons to doubt that, as seems to be often assumed, states’ general moral permission to enforce (which I call ‘legitimacy’) is on safer ground than their ability to create obligations or duties. Many have denied that states have any such general ability to create obligations or duties, but this denial is often coupled with the assumption that their legitimacy is not similarly threatened. In this paper I address what is a seemingly plausible reason to think that state legitimacy is on safe ground: that it follows from a property that at least some states possess reasonably uncontroversially, justification. I consider the most obvious interpretations of what might be meant by the claim that a state is justified, and argue that none of the properties identified are such that we are warranted in assuming both that some states possess the property and that legitimacy follows from the property. We can get to claims about what a state can permissibly do from claims about that state’s being morally good by either narrowing the comparison class too much or making unreasonably strong claims about how comparatively good the state is. This can be avoided with the aid of premises about feasibility or likelihood of alternatives to the state in question, but it should not simply be assumed without argument that the necessary feasibility premises are true. We will need to know exactly what feasibility premises are needed to licence the permissibility claim and, once we know that, whether or not they hold.