Political Instrumentalism and the Justification of Political Authority

Convenor: Joel Chow

Email: joelkenq@email.arizona.edu

In recent years, instrumentalism about political authority has emerged as a challenger to more influential theories of political authority. Per philosophers such as Richard Arneson (2003) Steven Wall (2007), instrumentalism about political authority, in particular democratic authority, has two attractive features. First, it can explain why authority relations are justified without reference to controversial claims about individuals have a moral right to an equal say (Arneson 2003). Second, instrumentalism is in line with Joseph Raz’s influential service conception of authority, which roughly states that an authority relation is justified when obeying the directives of the authority allows the subject to better conform to reasons that apply to her.
Despite its appeal, instrumentalism faces two problems. First, it is unclear if instrumentalism can accommodate the common view that democracy is justified not only because it serves certain fundamental interests of citizens, but because it embodies certain noninstrumental values such as public equal respect (Christiano 2008). Second, it is unclear whether instrumentalist accounts of democratic authority manage to explain certain key features of democratic authority, such as the fact that democratic authority rests upon the claim that the democratic procedure is of noninstrumental value (Hershovitz 2003; Christiano 2008).

Finally, critics also argue that we should reject Raz’s service conception, and consequently instrumentalist approaches upon which they are based (Hershovitz 2000; 2010). In response to these criticisms, defenders of instrumentalism have argued that modifications to the service conception can not only accommodate the claim that the democratic procedure is of noninstrumental value, it can also explain why democratic authority is justified (Viehoff 2012). Furthermore, instrumentalism’s core concern is not with the kinds of values that should justify power relations, but the kinds of reasons that can play a role in justifying power relations (Viehoff 2017).

However, some instrumentalists argue that instrumentalism’s core concern is that
instrumentalism’s core concern is that political relations are justified only with reference to the outcomes that political arrangements are unlikely to bring about (Arneson 2010). Consequently, such instrumentalists reject the view that instrumentalism should explain why the democratic procedure is of noninstrumental value.

Furthermore, there has been a growing body of literature based around Stephen Darwall’s (2006; 2010) criticism of the service conception and his alternative second-personal account of authority. Darwall’s relational account of authority argues that the service conception fails to establish that an authority has a claim-right to rule and also fails to show how the establishment of an authority relation can be compatible with respect for individual autonomy. In response, defenders of instrumentalist approaches to authority have argued that Darwall has either misunderstood Raz’s argument (Viehoff 2016) or develop alternative relational approaches that arguably avoid these problems (Adam forthcoming).

Examining the coherence of political instrumentalism thus raises important and interrelated questions about the justification and nature of practical authority; axiological questions about democratic institutions; and the justification of power relations. In light of the recent developments in the literature, we encourage contributions, on but not reduced, to, the following questions:

• Are there good conceptual, normative or metaethical reasons for holding that
instrumentalism’s core concern is that political authority can only be justified with
relation to outcomes that political institutions are likely to bring about?
• Does an instrumentalist conception of authority properly capture the nature of authority
relations?
• How does a relational conception of authority differ from an instrumentalist approach?
• What institutional implications do either instrumentalist or intrinsic accounts of
democratic authority have?
• How do normative political instrumentalist theories cohere with the empirical evidence
about democratic institutions?