Spring 2015

Seminar: The Problem of Political Authority and Obligation

Listed in: Philosophy, as PHIL-477

Moodle site: Course


Daniel A. Koltonski (Section 01)


The problem of political authority and obligation is arguably the central problem in political philosophy, at least in the Western liberal tradition. Arthur Ripstein captures this problem well in his Force and Freedom (2009): “States claim powers that no private person could have. Not only can they collect taxes and imprison wrongdoers; they can impose binding resolutions on private disputes, restrict agents on grounds of public health, and regulate other aspects of social life. Defenders of limited government insist that the state’s power to do these things must be subject to fundamental restrictions. Prior to any question of what factors properly limit the exercise of those powers, however, is the more basic question of the justification of those powers themselves: how can an institution, whose offices are filled with ordinary fallible human beings, be entitled to do things to people, or demand things of them, that none of those same human beings are entitled to do or demand on their own [as private persons]?” (145)

This seminar will consider the main contemporary accounts of the state’s authority over its citizens and the citizen’s political obligations to her state or fellow citizens, as well as the important criticisms of these accounts.

Requisite:  Two courses in Philosophy or consent of the instructor.  Limited to 15 students.  Spring semester.  Visiting Professor Koltonski.

If Overenrolled: Priority will be given to majors, seniors, then juniors, etc.


2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2015