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Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy, Volume 3$
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David Sobel, Peter Vallentyne, and Steven Wall

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198801221

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198801221.001.0001

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Authority and Harm

Authority and Harm

(p.252) 10 Authority and Harm
Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy, Volume 3

Jonathan Parry

Oxford University Press

This paper argues that certain common views about, respectively, the justification of harm and the moral limits of legitimate authority require revision. It defends two main claims. The first concerns agents who are commanded to inflict serious harm on others. It is argued that agents can be morally required to obey such commands, including in (at least some) cases where harming would be morally prohibited in the absence of the command. The argument thus defends a novel ‘authority-based’ justification for harm. The second claim concerns the permissibility of using defensive force against ‘authorized threateners’. It is argued that an agent’s possessing an authority-based justification does not, in itself, raise the justificatory burden on defensively harming them. In doing so, an alternative explanation is provided of why resisting authorized agents is often intuitively impermissible, which holds that authoritative commands can also impose constraints on causing harm, in addition to creating justifications.

Keywords:   authority, harm, legitimacy, political obligation, commands, war, agent-relative reasons

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