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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S004-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

The notion of authority has two main senses: expertise and the right to rule. To have authority in matters of belief (to be ’an authority’) is to have theoretical authority; to have authority over action (to be ’in authority’) is to have practical authority. Both senses involve the subordination of an individual’s judgment or will to that of another person in a way that is binding, independent of the particular content of what that person says or requires. If a person’s authority is recognized then it is effective or de facto authority; if it is justified then it is de jure authority. The latter is the primary notion, for de jure authority is what de facto authorities claim and what they are believed to have. Authority thus differs from effective power, but also from justified power, which may involve no subordination of judgment. In many cases, however, practical authority is justified only if it is also effective.

Political authority involves a claim to the obedience of its subjects. Attempts to justify it have always been at the core of political philosophy. These include both instrumental arguments appealing to the expertise of rulers or to their capacity to promote social cooperation, and non-instrumental arguments resting on ideas such as consent or communal feeling. Whether any of these succeed in justifying the comprehensive authority that modern states claim is greatly disputed..

Citing this article:
Green, Leslie. Authority, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S004-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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