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Normative Consent and Authority

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image of Journal of Moral Philosophy

In his recent book Democratic Authority, David Estlund defends a strikingly new and interesting account of political authority, one that makes use of a distinctive kind of hypothetical consent that he calls ‘normative consent’: a person can come to have a duty to obey another when it is the case that, were she given the chance to consent to the duty, she would have a duty to consent to it. If successful, Estlund’s account promises to provide what has arguably so far remained elusive: the basis for the authority of suitably democratic laws. In this paper, I argue that, despite its promise, the account Estlund develops is, in a crucial respect, incoherent: the principle of normative consent that he offers relies on a claim about a hypothetical situation, but the hypothetical situation at issue is one that, according to the principle itself, is morally impossible.

Affiliations: 1: Philosophy Department, Binghamton University (SUNY) Box 6000, Binghamton, NY 13902, USA,


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