Nov 20 - Freedom Center Colloquium Series: Micha Glaeser


Thu, 11/20/2014 - 12:30 to 13:45

On Thursday, Nov 20, Micha Glaeser, PhD Candidate in Philosophy, Harvard University, will be giving a talk in the Freedom Center Colloquium Series.  His talk is entitled "Two Distinctions In Authority."  (Abstract below.)  Mr. Glaeser's research interests lie in moral, legal and political philosophy.  In his dissertation he explores the distinction between reasons and duties, which he argues is more significant than most (other) philosophers seem to believe.

Thursday, Nov 20, 12:30-1:45pm, in the Kendrick Room at the Freedom Center, Marshall 280 (right above Paradise Bakery).  Feel free to bring lunch.

For further information, please visit the Arizona Freedom Center at


   It is commonplace among philosophers working on authority these days to assume that there is a distinction between theoretical and practical authority. Practical authority is the kind of authority that parents have over their children, bosses over their underlings, sergeants over privates, and the state over its citizens respectively the law over its subjects. Theoretical or epistemic authority on the other hand is the kind of authority possessed for instance by experts or able advisers.
   How are we supposed to conceive of the difference between the two kinds of authority? A natural approach is to start with the idea that theoretical and practical authority share the same normative structure and differ merely in the content that enters said structure. H.L.A. Hart’s account of authority as the normative power to create content-independent and peremptory reasons constitutes the standard account of the structure of authority.  Since theoretical authority concerns belief and practical authority action, it follows that theoretical authority is the power to create content-independent and reasons for belief and practical authority the power to create content-independent and peremptory reasons for action, or so the commonly held view goes.
   In this paper I argue that, however structurally neat, the picture of the relation between theoretical and practical authority is misleading at best and misguided at worst. Specifically, I argue that the picture obscures the difference between two separate distinctions, neither of which is happily described as the distinction between theoretical and practical authority. Much confusion in the debate on authority lifts once the difference between these two distinctions is in place. Part of my argument consists in revisiting Stephen Darwall’s critique of Joseph Raz’s “service conception” of authority, to which critique I am largely but not wholesale sympathetic, as well as the debate over whether authority is a normative power or a claim right.

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