The Nature of Governmental Authority
Morris, Christopher W
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This dissertation puts forward a series of arguments and theoretical proposals concerning institutional authority—particularly, governmental authority. I attend to conceptual debates regarding the function of legal systems and the nature of authority. Moreover, I cover a normative debate regarding the permissible use of political power. The overall view that I build is that governmental institutions have a decision-making authority over the status of certain normative relations in society, and they were designed to have this decision-making authority to serve the need of making group decisions, despite persistent disagreements about policy outcomes, in order to solve practical problems. Chapter 1, “My Overall Perspective,” provides a guide to my overall view regarding the nature of governmental authority. This PhD dissertation takes the form of the three-paper model, and a reader may not see the conceptual links between these papers. In this chapter, I present the view on the nature of governmental authority that comes out of these papers. Chapter 2, “The Presumption of Liberty and the Coerciveness of the State,” presents a challenge to skeptics who think that nearly all uses of political power is impermissible. I argue that a state can engage in permissible uses of political power over a broad range of domains without possessing any entitlements. Chapter 3, “What Authority Is, What It Is Not,” argues against the orthodoxy that authority is a species of power over others. I then build and defend the view that authority is a status that authorizes a person or entity to change one’s normative status. Chapter 4, “Law’s Function as a Decision-Procedure” provides an analysis of how we can determine the law’s essential function. I use this analysis to argue that the law’s essential function is a decision-making one. Each of these chapters is a standalone paper. None of these papers presupposes another one, and they can be read in any order.