The normal way to establish that a person has authority over another requires a rule-governed institutional setting. To have authority is to have power, in the juridical sense of the term, and power can only be conferred by norms constituting it. Power conferring norms are essentially institutional, and the obligation to comply with a legitimate authority’s decree is, first and foremost, institutional in nature. Thus, the main argument presented in this essay is that an explanation of practical authorities is a two-stage affair: the special, practical import of an authority can only be explained on the background of an institutional setting which constitutes the authority’s power and the corresponding obligation to comply. However, this obligation is not an all things considered obligation, it is conditioned on reasons to participate in the relevant institution or practice. A complete account of the reasons to regard authoritative decisions as binding must also rely on the reasons for having the institution or practice in question and the kind of authoritative structure that it has. This argument is presented here on the background of a critique of two alternative accounts, Joseph Raz’s service conception of authority and Stephen Darwall’s second personal standpoint account.


Jurisprudence | Legislation

Date of this Version

April 2010