The Constitution of Authority

Jurisprudence, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 430-441, 2014

Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 14/58

19 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2014 Last revised: 14 Jan 2015

See all articles by Michael Sevel

Michael Sevel

The University of Sydney Law School

Date Written: June 17, 2014


This essay reconsiders Joseph Raz’s service conception of practical authority in light of his most recent work in legal philosophy. That work suggests that the normal justification thesis ought to be understood teleologically, as a principle of legitimacy which makes essential reference to the perfection of a subject’s faculty of Reason. The perfection of Reason is in turn characterised as maximal conformity to the reasons which apply to a person. These organizing ideas have not been sufficiently appreciated by earlier writers on the service conception, and they emphasise the theory’s affinity with classical Greek conceptions of authority and action. However, Raz’s excessive reliance on the notion of a reason, as a consideration counting in favour or against an action or belief, obscures other roles an authority can play in the thought and action of an obedient subject. As Raz’s theory of authority has become more refined and sophisticated over the years, its problems have become more salient; but its enduring influence and significance in the history of philosophy is now beyond doubt.

Keywords: Joseph Raz, authority, jurisprudence, legitimacy, philosophy of law, reasons, teleology

JEL Classification: K10, K30

Suggested Citation

Sevel, Michael, The Constitution of Authority (June 17, 2014). Jurisprudence, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 430-441, 2014, Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 14/58, Available at SSRN:

Michael Sevel (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney Law School ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006

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