Authority and self-knowledge

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Title: Authority and self-knowledge
Author: Sevel, Michael Allen
Abstract: Philosophers have long thought that practical authority is morally problematic. The most familiar explanation is that exercising authority (for example, by the giving of commands) interferes with a subject’s responsiveness to the reasons that apply to her; in this sense, authority is thought to be irrational or somehow inconsistent with autonomy. This explanation of the problem presupposes an account of what it is to exercise authority: to exercise authority over a subject is to intentionally change the reasons that apply to that subject. In this paper, I begin to develop a new account of authority’s problematic nature by focusing on the relation between the content of authoritative directives and an agent’s intention in obeying. In cases of personal authority, the issuing of a command involves the giving of an intention to act to the subject; I argue that this breaks down the self-other asymmetries which theorists of self-knowledge assume exist with respect to the ‘privileged access’ one is said to have of one’s own mind. This understanding of the problem is missed if we think about authority primarily in terms of reasons and reason-giving, as in the case of Raz’s service conception.
Department: Philosophy
Subject: Authority Self-knowledge Reasons Obedience
Date: 2010-05

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