Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 431–448 | Cite as

Problems in the Theory of Democratic Authority



This paper identifies strands of reasoning underlying several theories of democratic authority. It shows why each of them fails to adequately explain or justify it. Yet, it does not claim (per philosophical anarchism) that democratic authority cannot be justified. Furthermore, it sketches an argument for a perspective on the justification of democratic authority that would effectively respond to three problems not resolved by alternative theories—the problem of the expert, the problem of specificity, and the problem of deference. Successfully resolving these problems is at least evidence for the viability of a justification of democratic authority. This perspective integrates procedural concerns with those about the quality of democratic outcomes. It shows that democratic authority, if there is such a thing, requires reliable democratic procedures as the only sort citizens could rationally accept.


Authority Consent Democracy Duty to obey Epistemic 



The author would like to thank Rob Talisse for commenting on earlier versions of this manuscript and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful criticisms.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ChicagoUSA

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