Practical Authority and Self-Knowledge

Forthcoming in Green and Leiter (eds), Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Law, Vol. 4

28 Pages Posted: 9 Feb 2021

See all articles by Michael Sevel

Michael Sevel

The University of Sydney Law School

Date Written: January 14, 2021


This paper develops an account of practical authority with a view to understanding how and why obeying authority has long been thought to be problematic. I argue that while an authoritative directive may provide a reason for action to a subject, as has been widely assumed, it also supplies the content of an intention to act. In this sense, an authority is the author of the content of a subject’s ‘practical knowledge,’ the knowledge with which the subject acts when obeying. As a consequence, under modestly idealized conditions, the person in authority has knowledge of the mind of the obedient subject in a way that breaks down the self-other asymmetries the subject has to her own mind vis-à-vis others, the sort of asymmetries which philosophers have taken as central to the concept of personhood.

Keywords: authority, knowledge, self-knowledge, avowal, Raz, Anscombe, Moran, reasons, anarchism

JEL Classification: K10, K00, K30, K40, K42

Suggested Citation

Sevel, Michael, Practical Authority and Self-Knowledge (January 14, 2021). Forthcoming in Green and Leiter (eds), Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Law, Vol. 4, Available at SSRN: or

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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