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The Presumption of Special State Moral Authority: How Presumptions Can Be Dangerous And Inhibit Deeper Though

In a prior post I write about circumstances and materials read while also acknowledging that I hold some internal conflict related to current “Authority” of “The State.”  I also write about feelings of guilt and anxiety for having mentally challenged instilled conventional ideas on the moral superiority allocated to State entities, “Personal Adaptation:  Unexamined Assumption To Authority.”

Serious of analogical reasoning (which is a special type of inductive argument whereby perceived similarities are used as a basis to infer some further similarity that has yet to be observed to better understand the world and to make safer decisions) and my discussions with Dr. Gail Bach allows me to further appreciate and diminish some guilt and anxiety for holding mental opposition to Authority.

Unknown Social Conract

Covenant Of A Social Contract

Since birth, the concept of a social contract -in one form or another- has been imprinted onto all.  John Rawls brings out an understanding of what moral principles come after the creation of a social contract.  Rawls designs a hypothetical situation in which everyone is equal to each other, the situation is guaranteed a fair outcome, and concludes that what people will generally agree to in this (or say that) specific situation is therefore deemed to be just.

But consider the same appeal with the abstract concept of the familiar government substitute with a non-government agent as the only variation, the moral principles doesn’t sell as well.

Under a hypothetical “consent of a social contract” and considering I’m currently assisting other’s complete tax returns, I’m able to imagine tax collecting States via IRS revamped tax return forms designed with two little boxes that read,  “Check To Continue Government Entity,”  “Ο -YES”    “Ο-NO,”  and where States that receive checked “Ο-NO” forms forgo and return prior withheld income collected.  Imagine that, such an action would bring legitimacy to the amount of individual “Authority” surrendered to States.

Being broad-minded, I can consider the above and many multiple non-hypothetical and hypothetical contract accounts.  I can also consider another political philosophy as being pro-authority and anti-contractarian in the strictest philosophical sense.

Consider a consequentialist’s attitude to defend the idea of State authority, but with the premise that a contract is not a good way to explain or justify current authority relations: Scenario argument a) to appeal to some more direct consequential considerations, like what would the consequences be if there wasn’t somebody in authority.  Or scenario argument b) known to many philosophers as the “Fair Play Argument,” wherein you and I owe it to others to enter into cooperative social relations and to not be freeloaders because of these relations.   An argument that when someone enters a world where invisible social contracts have already been in existence we’re all morality bound to play along as if there’s really “Authority” regardless of belief or attitude.

The notion of “Authority” is complicated and to break away from consequentialist consideration comes the idea of content-independence theory.  Simply put, the theory means you and I should obey the law even when the government is wrong; even if it’s a bad law we’re still obligated to obey it and the government is still entitled to enforce it.

Social contracts and variations of are puzzling.  As such, these ideas should be scrutinized under the realm of epistemology.  Are social contracts and the theory of knowledge supporting such concepts justified beliefs or are they merely opinions?

The investigation to better understand distinguished and special Presumption of State Authority should be tackled.

Normally I assume that things are the way they appear unless there is a reason for doubting that.  This presumption applies to ethical questions as well as non-value functional questions.  Cases can be described to us wherein a general consensus of a particular activity is viewed as being wrong, then we as a collective assume that that’s the case, unless there’s some pretty strong reason to think otherwise.

Let that premise be the foundation of all moral reasoning.  It might seem like an obvious methodological political philosophy point about that we start from common sense moral beliefs.

When evaluating what States ought to do, I think of society’s shared beliefs about what people ought to do.  And yet, I now see this methodological point of view is not appreciated.  How have I come to conclude this?  By way of observing that successful politicians start from very controversial theoretical claims rather than from commonly accepted values.  The common practice of politicians and political philosophers causes a psychological effect in that each may create the illusion that States are a ‘dis-analogous’ to that of human actors as if there’s something special about Statehood.

How can it be that what might be morally forbidden in the case of interpersonal interaction may be permissible when one of the actors is not seen as a person but rather as a State?


The Unwanted Version Of Utopian Upon Assumption

Why do people advocate for governments to do that which people typically wouldn’t advocate for anyone else to do?  Most don’t offer an account for why “The State” is different from all other agents.

Suppose I don’t want people consuming unhealthy substances and I make an announcement to this neighborhood of a list of items neighbors are no longer allowed to consume.  Then suppose I start hiring armed guards to go around looking for neighbors who are consuming the things I declared unhealthy for consumption.  And then I tell my armed guards to collect fines for first-case offenders and to kidnap second-case offenders for future imprisonment.  I’m pretty sure everyone would consider this to be very wrong behavior.  Even people who agree with my policy to not consume unhealthy foods are not going to agree with my hiring of armed guards.  Yet people commonly advocate for this sort of behavior from governments.  Why?

Holding less anxiety and guilt, I’m going to allow myself to write as if I view “Authority” as this hypothetical moral property.

“The State” is thought to have a kind of special moral status that sets it apart from and above other agents.  This special moral status explains why States are entitled to coerce people in a wide range of circumstances while no other agent would be permitted to coerce people.  That part, that is, the entitlement to coerce other people is known as political legitimacy.  While the other part of authority is generally thought of as people being obligated to obey States’ commands even when people would not be obligated to obey similar commands if issued by anyone else.

The not-so-puzzling question isn’t that people think there’s an obligation to obey States and that States are entitled to use coercion.  Rather, the oh-so-puzzling question is that people think there’s an automatic PRESUMPTION of special State moral authority.

There needs to be some kind of explanation of what’s so special about this one agent.  The advocates for moral authority will make the argument that we should obey the law just because it’s law …Not because it’s a good idea.  Now, these people (to be considered an advocate for moral authority) don’t have to think that we’re obligated to obey every law without restriction no matter what, but these advocates do think that at least there’s some reason for obeying the law just because it’s a law.

And so:

  • forcing someone to do something that they otherwise wouldn’t have a reason to do besides the threat of another,
  • forcing someone to do something that they otherwise don’t want to do,
  • forcing someone to do something that they have a reason to do,
  • and forcing someone to do something that they want to do,

are all ideas of coercion under idiosyncratic mentality.  Meaning, the word “coercion” isn’t used in ordinary English.  The word “coercion” is used as a tool to imagine using some form of threat towards others including physical violence.

“Authority” is a very peculiar alleged moral phenomenon.  As with most good questions I’ll ponder at something that looks peculiar thinking what in the world could possibly justify that, or why should I believe that such property actually exists.

In setting up this question involving presumption, the premise of the conflict starts with “Absolute Moral Principles“, i.e., a difference in moral status can never be justified.

Thanks to chapter 4-7 of Michael Huemer’s “The Problem of Political Authority,” I now have a premise to this “Special Moral Status” with understanding there’s a presumption that certain kinds of behavior are unjustified.  Philosopher Michael Huemer is not stating the premise of coercion is never justified, instead Huemer points out this premise starts with a presumption.

“The presumption” element is the value that brings wonder to challenge “State Moral Authority,” and is the element I finally connected to my own conflict with many beliefs.

There is a presumption that people are moral equals, so it becomes the burden of States to explain why it holds this unusual moral position that seems to set itself above all other moral agents.

Political philosophers distinguish between Philosophical Anarchism and Political Anarchism, but these names are misleading because both views are philosophical and both views are political.

Philosophical Anarchist is usually defined as the view that you don’t have an obligation to obey the law just because it’s the law.  That no acting State officer is entitled to coerce other people just because s/he represents a State.  And that a State agent is entitled to coerce people, but the reason for such authority cannot be based on the mere premise of representing a State.

Political Anarchism is usually defined as the best society without government.

Notice these are distinct thoughts.  You or I can believe that the government doesn’t have a special moral status but still think that the best society would include one with a government.

From my early years at University, I hold a strong understanding of Mr. Robert Nozick’s Theory of Justice (published in 1974’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia“) that seems to advocate from both hands of philosophical and political beliefs.

Articles on economic systems written by Mr. Bryan Capan, as well as Mr. Michael Huemer’s “The Problem of Political Authority,” explain with strong confidence how anarchism can theoretically serve society well.

The psychological connection to “Authority” is also a puzzling phenomenon.  Authority’s power derives from the concept of a social contract.  The traditional version of a social contract written by John Locks claims that in someway human beings agreed to have a “States” and agreed to obey “States.”

I’m not gonna lie, my exposure and study of Adam Smith and modern-day influencers prevented me from really exposing myself to the works of John Locke.  I thought why bother when Adam Smith is to John Locks as Lady Gaga is to Madonna.

Today I know that the conceptual terrain provided by John Lock’s originality better clarifies the main problem with this traditional theory is the alleged social contract doesn’t satisfy the conditions that would be imposed on any other contract in any other content.  Nobody can show us an actual contract with everybody’s signatures on it.  Nobody remembers an event representing John Locke’s theory, whether before the 17th century, during the 17th century, or the present day.

Even if someone uses the argument that we agreed implicitly (taking on the actions that would manifest an actual contract) by the mere fact that we behave in such a way does not imply you and I are in agreement with a social contract.

Most who use the implicit argument use government services or living within a certain territory to solidify a social contract.  There are other arguments involving implicit support of the social contract, but with some thought, you might (as I have) believe arguments as being kind of cray-cray.

John Locke’ “tacit consent theory” brings about this view that it is possible to enter into implicit consent without ever knowing it.  However, that theory does not bring justification as a pillar leading to the creation of social contracts.

Controlled and Totalitarian

Controlled And Totalitarian

Imagine trying to sue somebody by claiming that Person X agreed to pay a thousand dollars.  Now imagine the way you plan to argue the claim is by saying to a judge that person X agreed to pay a thousand dollars by living on your land and that you as the land’s owner – you would have offered the person you’re now using the opportunity to leave the neighborhood if s/he didn’t pay a thousand dollars to you without you ever mentioning it.  And that by NOT making the term of a thousand dollars known that’s how you’re arguing Person X should have known of the thousand-dollar obligation.   I mean really (even with a Wrington, UK 17th century historical context), any person in any other context claiming to have such a contract on that basis …Well that person would be laughed out of court.

As such, it remains unclear how “The State” can claim that we agree just because we’re living in a particular area.  Now States might be able to make that claim if it actually owned all lands …Then again that would mean States would not need to appeal to any agreement based on the condition that they hold property rights.  The only way that claim would work is if you and I have no account on how “The State” owned all this land and would, therefore, have to assume “The State” has all this political authority.

So if States already had this alleged authority then it can pass a law that says that they own everything.  But if States don’t already have authority then it can’t make such a claim.  Guess what, there’s no other account that anyone has been given such moral right to authority.  No other person has ever shown right to demand that everybody leave their own land if people don’t want to have the establishment of a government.

Incidentally, there’s a case to be made that the government doesn’t make obedience to the law on the condition you and I are using government services when -say- there’s a guy living in the woods by himself yet the government still imposes laws on him and others who live a similar lifestyle.  Should any such “loner” happen to be up in the woods smoking Huana-Jane that person could still be arrested.  Therefore, the government does not make for obedience to law conditional on the use of government services.

In fact, there’s no connection at all for the government to claim that we own it the same amount of taxes and have to obey the same laws, or will allow States to do the same things to us (or for us) regardless of independent decisions.  Whether we send your kids to public schools or not we’re still paying some tax for the allocation of others to use public schools.

So, with that same logic, it doesn’t look plausible that you or I agreed to pay the taxes by sending kids to public school – similar to other government services.  These sort of social contract theories, which tries to make use of the concept of either implicit or explicit action as grounds to claim real consent does not work within the realm of logic, reason, or historical context.

Since the late 90’s I’ve been somewhat aware of my “showdown’s” mental attitude towards authority.  In the last 10 years I’ve been dealing with this growing wonder for why I feel entrapment by way of an invisible social contract.  It’s today that I start not being overly anxious when I’m itching to really reflect on this and many other “so-called” legitimacies.  And I’m grateful to the many minds who helped guide me to explore another perspective.

Reference To Post:

Freeman, Samuel. “Original Position.” First published Tue Feb 27, 1996; substantive revision Tue Sep 9, 2014.  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  Accessed June 2016

Dagger, Richard & Lefkowitz, David. “Political Obligation.”  First published Tue Apr 17, 2007; substantive revision Thu Aug 7, 2014.  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  Accessed June 2016

Edmundson, William A. (DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195396577-0194)  “Philosophical Anarchism.”  First published July 24, 2013; substantive revision October 8, 2015.  Oxford Bibliographies.  Accessed January 2017

Gordon, Uri.  “Anarchism and Political Theory: Contemporary Problems.”  First published 2007.  The Anarchist Library.  Accessed January 2017

Mack, Eric. “Robert Nozick’s Political Philosophy.”  First published Sun June 22, 2014.  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  Accessed December 2016

Greenwood, Bowen.  “Tacit Consent: A Quiet Tyranny.”  First published Sun January 1, 1995.  Freedom For Economic Education.  Accessed January 2016

Reference To Post “Personal Adaptation:  Unexamined Assumption To Authority“:

Huemer, Michael. “The Problem of Political Authority.” Accessed January 2017

Capan, Bryan Douglas.  “Humane Studies Review.” and   Accessed Years 2014-2017

Finnis, John.  “Aquinas’ Moral, Political, and Legal Philosophy.” First published Fri Dec 2, 2005; substantive revision Thu Feb 23, 2017.  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed March 2017

Nozick, Robert.   ” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, November 2002: Volume 76, Issue 2.”

Davis, John.  “Rawlsian Individuals: Justice, Experiments, and Complexity.” Published Version. Journal of Economic Issues, Vol. 46, No. 3 (September 2012): 729-743.  Accessed January 2017