Law and Philosophy

, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 255–278 | Cite as

The Service Conception: Just One Simple Question

  • Nikolas KirbyEmail author
Open Access


It is crystal clear that the Service Conception includes at least three conditions, what I shall call: the ‘normal justification condition’, the ‘independence condition’ and the ‘dependence condition’. The overarching rationale of these conditions is that they ensure that authority is only justified when it provides the best means for the subject to conform to the reasons for action that she actually has. However, it is difficult to clarify whether Raz implicitly presupposes a fourth necessary condition. This condition might be called a ‘reliable belief condition’, that is, that the putative subject must reliably believe that the putative authority-agent satisfies the Service Conception (or more precisely, its other three conditions). In sum, the purpose of this paper is to pose Joseph Raz one simple question: is it a necessary condition of your Service Conception, that the subject believes that the authority-agent satisfies the Service Conception? As a matter of interpretation, different parts of Raz’s work appear to lead in entirely opposite directions: some parts clearly support the reliable belief condition, others do not. Regardless of Raz’s ultimate answer, however, the question reveals a broader inconsistency. Only if the Service Conception does include the belief condition will it support Raz’s claim that authority is consistent with one’s rational ‘self-reliance’, that is, acting upon one’s own judgement (including, as to who has authority). Only if the Service Conception does not include the belief condition will it support Raz’s perfectionist account of government. It seems Raz must choose between one or other.


  1. Enoch, D. (2015) ‘Against Public Reason’, in David Sobel, Peter Vallentyne, and Steven Wall, eds, Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy, Vol. 1, Oxford: Oxford University Press (Forthcoming).Google Scholar
  2. Estlund, D, (2008), Democratic Authority: A Philosophical Framework, (Princeton University Press, Princeton).Google Scholar
  3. Hurka, T. (1993) Perfectionism, (New York: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
  4. Raz, J. (1975), repr. (1999) Practical Reason and Norms, (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
  5. Raz, J. (1979) The Authority of Law: Essays on Law and Morality, (Oxford: Clarendon Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Raz, J. (1985) ‘Authority and Justification’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 14, 3–29.Google Scholar
  7. Raz, J. (1986) The Morality of Freedom, (Oxford: Clarendon Press).Google Scholar
  8. Raz, J. (1989) ‘Facing Up’, Southern California Law Review, 62, 1153–1235.Google Scholar
  9. Raz, J., (1990), Authority, (Oxford: Blackwell).Google Scholar
  10. Raz, J., (1995), Ethics in the Public Domain: Essays in the Morality of Law and Politics, Rev. ed., (Oxford: Clarendon Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Raz, J. (1998) ‘Disagreement in Politics,’ American Journal of Jurisprudence, 43, 25-52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Raz, J. (1999a) Practical Reason and Norms, (Oxford: Oxford University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Raz, J. (1999b), Engaging Reason: On the Theory of Value and Action, (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
  14. Raz, J. (2006) ‘The Problem of Authority: Revisiting the Service Conception,’ Minnesota Law Review, 90, 1003–1044.Google Scholar
  15. Raz, J. (2010) ‘On Respect, Authority, and Neutrality: A Response’, Ethics, 120, 2, 279-301.Google Scholar
  16. Raz, J. (2011) From Normativity to Responsibility, (Oxford: Oxford University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Raz, J. (2012), ‘Is There a Reason to Keep Promises?’, Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 12-320; Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 62/2012. Available at SSRN: or
  18. Wall, S., (1998) Liberalism, Perfectionism and Restraint, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departmental Lecturer in Philosophy and Public Policy, Blavatnik School of GovernmentUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations