Update–from some of the questions (look for the section beginning “The Sam Argument(s)” below), I realized that some students are confused about what Philosophical Anarchism (vs. Philosophical Statism) is claiming. So let me begin with some clarification, distinguishing it from some nearby claims.

To do that, let me pose a series of yes/no questions:

(Q1) Does government have the moral permission to coerce (at least some times) because it is government that’s doing the coercion?

(Q2) Does government have the moral permission to coerce, at least some times?

(Q3) Do citizens have the moral duty to obey the government, at least some times, because it is the government that’s issuing the order?

(Q4) Do citizens have the moral duty to obey the government, at least some times?

(Q5) Does government coercing subjects bring about good outcomes at least some times?

(Q6) Do citizens obeying the government bring about good outcomes at least some times?

For the purposes of the class, Philosophical Anarchism is the position that answers “NO!” while Philosophical Statism is the opposing position that answers “YES!” to Q1. What you need to keep in mind is that answering Q1 in either way does not entail taking a stand an answer to any of the other questions. The converse is true as well. So suppose you have reason to believe the correct answer to Q2-Q6 is “YES!”–this doesn’t constitute an objection against answering “NO!” to Q1 at all.

It’s conceptually possible for someone to answer “NO!” to Q1, and “YES!” to all the other question. Such a person won’t be a typical Philosophy Anarchist (since typically, they would answer “NO!” at least to Q3 as well), but the position she holds won’t be contradictory. (To see this–just imagine a case where you (by the terms of the scenario) have a moral duty to obey someone. So if you don’t obey, you would be morally blameworthy. But by itself, this won’t entail that the someone has the permission to coerce you–to apply force or threaten you with force–to get you to obey. Likewise the reverse.)

Here goes…

What do you think is the ideal method of governance? (Democracy/Communism/Etc)

Most certainly not Communism as it was/is practiced in actual Communist countries (as opposed to imaginary ones). Other than that, probably some sort of representative democracy with a healthy respect for the private sphere and civil association and other qualifications. But what do I know? Let me quote a passage from Plato though–

Socrates: “Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is, until political d power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils, Glaucon, nor, I think, will the human race.” (Plato, Republic 473c-d)

Moving on…

Why is it when there is no coercion, there is no state? Can’t states have another fundamental characteristic outside of being coercive? Like protection?

The fact that when there’s no rice, there ain’t any Chicken Rice is entirely compatible with the fact that Chicken Rice has other fundamental characteristics, like the fact that Chicken is involved. Please revise what a “necessary condition” is in “A Short Lesson on Arguments and Logic”.

Is state moral permission to govern different from the concept of legitimacy given by the people being governed?

One of the attempted justifications for Political Authority is exactly that the people governed confers upon the state that permission to coerce. I’m trying to steer away from using the term “legitimacy” because it has its own set of issues. The thing to keep in mind is that our topic isn’t about a descriptive issue.

For average people, what is the significance to discuss the moral rightfulness of political authority as challenging will be impractical?

For average people, what is the significance of discussing astrophysics since going to the stars is impractical if not infeasible? Sometimes, the way for us to better understand the world and ourselves and the human condition in general will require us to consider things that aren’t immediately actionable.

Also, it’s not like there are no practical implications at all. Maybe it’s not practically feasible for the state not to exist (I believe that). But it does make a difference to our thinking whether we habitually believe that the government has the moral authority to coerce just because it is the government, vs., thinking that they don’t–even though it’s a good idea for us to obey.

When we say “political authority” we are referencing a moral obligation/right to have authority. But, for states to function, is that really required (as compared to, say, authority by fear)?

What is that fear, a fear of? The threat of force, presumably, i.e., coercion. So, on this account, coercion is a necessary condition for the existence of the state. Note, however, that the present issue regarding Political Authority concerns whether government really has the moral permission to coerce. This is a prescriptive issue that should be distinguished from the purely descriptive issue of what will enable a government to exist or function.

Can we say that political authority can exist on certain conditions? Eg, if the state’s authority is exercised to bring out the best outcome (let’s say consequentially) for society.

Yes you can. Any viable form of Statism will be like this.

Doesn’t political authority include moral authority? Aren’t they are qualified for that very reason.

You can think of Political Authority as the moral authority, supposedly possessed by the Government, to coerce. The question of whether Political Authority exists is the question of whether Governments really have the moral authority (I simplified it to just moral permission) to coerce.

The Sam Argument(s):

Can Heumer’s argument on Sam and Mike’s book used to oppose Singer’s argument?

Should we believe that the government has our best interests at heart? Like parents and guardians etc. Hence it is good to obey them?

how do you think Huemer would respond to the Kaur SG “I am sovereign” case

No! Singer’s Argument concludes by saying that we have a moral obligation to do something. It doesn’t say anything about anyone having the moral permission to, for instance, coerce us to do something, let alone the government having such a moral permission. Huemer’s argument, on the other hand, is about whether government has the moral permission to coerce–because it is the government. Just because you have the duty to do X–such that you are blameworthy for not doing X–it doesn’t follow that anyone has the permission to coerce you to do X! And the above is also related to the third question. I don’t really know. I suspect Huemer might think that KSG is an uncooperative person (in philosophical terminology, a “jerk”) who possibly doesn’t have enough of a regard for other people’s wellbeing and comfort. But one can think all that without thinking that anyone has the moral permission to coerce KSG though.

The second question also conceals another misunderstanding. Saying that Political Authority exists–that government has the moral permission to coerce you–doesn’t say anything about whether it is good or bad for us to obey government. These aren’t the same issues. This means that even if you can establish that it is good to obey government, you haven’t shown that government has the permission to coerce you. As I emphasized early on, even Philosophical Anarchists can concede that we have good reasons to obey government. Maybe it’s a good idea because–well, it’s a good idea to obey people who have the capability and willingness to coerce you (like a bandit looking at you in a menacingly way). Maybe it’s a good idea because your welfare is protected or even advanced if you obey. None of these imply that they have the moral permission to coerce you.

Please make sure to get clear on the above!

does the modus tollens form of the sam argument say that it is morally right for citizens to use coercive acts if we think that it’s morally right for the government to do them

Can we employ a Texan challenge and say that what Sam is doing is not morally wrong, hence not wrong for the government?

Wouldn’t then….whether it’s morally permissible just depend on the story being put forth/framed

I discussed this explicitly in class (Slide #23). As mentioned then, the fact that some potential Sam examples are examples of morally permissible coercion doesn’t help the Statist position, since the Anarchist aren’t depending on a position which says that all coercion is morally wrong. Conceivably, there can be circumstances in which it is morally permission for a government agent to coerce–just as it was ok for Sam to coerce. But if that’s how you derive the moral permissibility of coercion for that government agent–as in, through the analogy with a Sam story–you are already conceding the essential point to Huemer that the same moral rules apply to Sam and the government agent! In which case the fact that the latter is the government agent is doing squat in justifying his coercion. This outcome is not a defense of Statism. (See also this.)

So if the government only has the moral authority to coerce when the same coercion is justified by private individuals, then political authority does not exist?

Exactly! Again, keep the difference between the following two clearly in mind (Slide #23):

  • My mom has the permission to coerce me—because she’s my mom, vs.
  • My mom has the permission to coerce me—because I was about to throw someone onto a track to stop a runaway trolley…

Only the first involves Maternal Authority. The second is just a case whether someone, who happens to be my mom, has the permission to coerce given the circumstances. A proper defense of Statism needs it to be the case that government has a special status which makes it the case that it has the authority to coerce, a status that private citizens don’t have.

Is the example of Sam a false comparison? Saying the government coerces people is equivalent to saying that the surgeon stabbed me.

All these Sam scenarios feel like false equivalents tbh

Just as the Consequentialist thinks that the Transplant case is a false equivalent to the Trolley case, and the Deontologists thinks that the Trolley case is a false equivalent to the Transplant case… Or for that matter, Lomasky thinking to himself–“Fred and his puppies :: factory-farming?! False equivalence!” Obviously, if you already believe that Political Authority exists, then you will feel that “something must be wrong”. But this doesn’t mean you are right. Try articulating what the morally relevant difference is. And don’t pick on a weak example. Imagine a case where you think that a type of government coercion is morally justified, and try to construct the equivalent Sam story–then test yourself to see if you think the latter is also morally justified to coerce. If you think that Sam in that story doesn’t have the authority to coerce, try to explain why in a way that goes beyond “but he is a private individual!”

Like these below:

The difference between san pobre and governments is that governments has sovereignty, which gives them the power to exercise power within their borders but sam does not own his neighborhood

Would the idea that (democratic-ish) governments are meant to represent the interests of their citizens as a whole, give it more moral difference/justification?

Huemer has something to say about the “ownership” idea–he thinks it is question begging. Look for the paragraph beginning “A number of suggestions”. We went on to cover the democracy idea in the E-Lecture itself.

I think its not okay for us because we already have government who do that

I’m not seeing this matters though. Suppose there isn’t a government. People live in small scale societies. And Ronin Sam came along with with his gang to do the same things as Springfield Sam–it’s morally justified now?

What do u think is causing the difference in responses for sam example 1 and sam example 2? 🙂

This is surely referring to the Mike’s Book Project thing vs. the Stopping Maria and Jose from entering town thing. An overwhelming majority voted “No” (i.e., Sam doesn’t have moral permission to coerce) for the first: roughly, There are 10x the number of “No’s” than “Yes'”. This contrasts with the second case where there are just under 3x the number of “No”s than “Yes'”. This tells me that more of you think that it is permissible for the government to maintain border controls, coercively if necessary, than for it to use taxes to support academic research, or at least philosophy research. I can’t say I’m that surprised 😀

Won’t it be a paradox to be a public/civic servant since they pay taxes and taxes pay them so essentially they pay themselves to work?

I’m sure that–like the rest of us–their salary is much higher than whatever taxes they are paying. So it’s more correct to say that, on balance, the rest of us are paying them to work–that’s the official story anyway.

But does god has a special authority above normal people?

It’s a very good question–and there are plenty of people who wonder how the fact that X is God makes it the case that X has the moral authority to order us around, or confer upon Y the authority to coerce us, etc. Still, at least if it is God–the all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good being–one might think that we are at least in the ballpark, even though the details aren’t worked out. But as I pointed out, this isn’t a ‘solution’ that would be acceptable to Huemer, or many people in secular societies.

(Bonus material: Incidentally, the passage quoted from the New Testament (Slide #26; Apostle Paul in Romans 13:1-2), by itself, won’t establish that God supports Political Authority–it says that subjects have the duty to obey, even governments that aren’t that nice. The same goes for several other passages often cited in the same regard (e.g., Matthew 22:17-21, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13-17, etc.). Nonetheless, the Christian Bible does contain teachings that seem to support the Statist position, for instance, the context of Romans 13:1-7 (especially v. 4), and of course, the whole set up of the Law in the Old Testament Pentateuch. But especially in the New Testament, the main focus is on the subject’s duty to obey, not in the permission for governors to coerce.)


In a group of friends, if everyone wants to go to a restaurant, but the last 2 don’t….is huemer also saying it’s morally impermissible to coerce the last 2 to join even though it will make the group happier.

Absolutely! Is this even controversial? Do you think it is morally permissible for your group of friends to coerceto apply force, or the threat of force–to get the last two to join so that the group is happier?! (I’m assuming that those last two has never given you the permission to do any such thing, of course.)

but if we don’t go with the majority, then wouldn’t it become a stalemate? and as a result nothing will be done since there is no actual decision, won’t it be worst now that its inaction?

Again, don’t confuse what’s good vs. someone have the moral permission to coerce people.

What will happen if there is no majority, eg. 50% pro, 50% against?

Do you mean to ask what happens to Huemer’s argument? He will tell you–then you don’t even have a majority. If you are asking what happens to the democratic vote–see the election rules in your jurisdiction.

If the government gets a legal right from the majority but not a moral right, does that still make the government ‘right’ in a sense?

Only in the legal sense. But we are exactly asking whether government has the moral permission to coerce, not just the legal permission. The latter is a lot easier to have.

Social Contract, explicit consent version:

Is there a social contract/consent for us to be born in this world then?

An extension to this argument of Huemer, is that did we consent to being born in and having to live through this current era of turmoil? What about having to experience death? Would that make our choice to have children morally wrong?

Obviously no, as far as I can tell; at least no contract to which you are party. And the point here is…?

Remember that Huemer is merely giving the opponent the chance to put forward a case before he knocks it down. He doesn’t think the Social Contract idea justifies Political Authority. While he does think that contracts can confer permissions, they do so only within contexts and when key conditions are met. They aren’t magic. And not even Huemer has to believe that all moral permissions are grounded upon contracts.

are all contracts legitimate? what if you are coerced into agreeing to the contract either through force or through overwhelming circumstances against you? e.g. sign this or we beat you/sign this or we dont give you food/water/shelter

Huemer will say that this wasn’t a contract that binds you–you never actually agreed! You couldn’t have consented under such conditions, and so, your consent–since it was lacking–couldn’t have conferred any authority on the other party.

Can we say that because our ancestor has sign this contract, we inherit this for them

What you need is a general theory about the circumstances under which X is able to enter into a binding agreement on behalf of Y without Y’s own consent or even knowledge. I would be very surprised if Huemer–the libertarian that he is–thinks that such things are morally permissible. (I tend to think that this is possible under constrained circumstances, but I don’t think this idea actually helps the case of the Statist.)

If we do hold the government to the same standards as citizens, won’t the social contract theory be futile? If we gave consent or gave permission for the rare virtuous few to rule us, how can we still pick and choose when we are the same?

You can hold everyone to the same general standards while conferring upon a specific person, say, your floor mate, the permission to coerce you so that you wake up in time. The fact that your floor mate operates under the same general standards doesn’t mean she can’t also have a special status in accordance to those very rules–you gave her, and no one else, the permission. (Think of this analogy. All the volleyball players operate under the same overall set of rules. But those same rules also apply in such a way that someone can have a special statusthis fella, and not someone else, is the libero, and so subject to specific permissions and restrictions that don’t apply to others.)

Social Contract, implicit consent version:

Does accepting the goods and services of the government imply consent to political authority?

That would be what Huemer’s opponent citing the implicit consent version of the Social Contract would like. But as you soon found out, Huemer doesn’t think this works at all–because the cost of opting out is too high.

Can we also say it is impossible to opt out, rather than the cost being too high? If you are a child in a country I don’t think you can leave the country until you become an adult

Impossible to opt out is just the limiting case where cost of opting out is infinite–and surely that is literally “too high”?

How can someone ‘didn’t say no when given the chance to say no’? If I got born into the country, I didn’t implicitly consent but I couldn’t say no to being born in the country right? And if I’m young I legally cannot leave the country until adulthood

Is it really implicit consent if I eat the food that is served? What if I hate the food but I have to eat to survive? Can draw this to how I hate the government but have to listen to them so they don’t execute me, and not because of implicit consent

Huemer will like the two of you. You are definitely thinking along the lines of what he wants to say to the opponent citing the implicit consent version of the Social Contract 😀

isn’t the “cost of opting out” argument already utilitarian

We are talking about the cost to you for opting out, not the cost to the world’s overall happiness.

I get that the pledge part is very likely coerced… what if we kept quiet while the masses were blasting the pledge. Does that mean we consent despite remaining silent?

I should not assume that you implicitly consented. There are just too many other ways to explain what you were really doing than that you really consented. Implicit consent is a real thing; but the context and circumstances matter, and we should always be ready to consider defeating evidence.

Social Contract, hypothetical consent version.

Could you elaborate on the idea of hypothetical consent? I’m still not v clear on the argument and its rebuttal…

I would encourage you to read the relevant section of this.

Is this hypothetical consent similar to the “cleaning-up” process of desire/preference satisfaction theories?

Very good! Yes it is. In fact, we will see another application of this type of thing again in W07. Look out for it.

State of Nature:

isn’t William Golding an exact counter to Huemer’s Anarch-Capt utopia….that private agencies would be so focused on one-uping each other that chaos, rather than benefit would occur

Why would a piece of speculative fiction be a counter? In reply, he can also cite plenty of examples where private individuals got together to provide public goods without any coercion. Don’t get me wrong–In general, I’m pretty Hobbesian in sympathies myself. But it’s not a straightforward thing using it to show that the Anarcho-Capitalist Utopian is an impossibility. And even if it is an impossibility, it might still provide important guidance to the way we can think about the world as an ideal. (Likewise the Socialist version, by the way.)

Do we need to understand what anarcho-capitalism is in depth?

No. Just the basic ideas in the reading.

Is Heumer’s standard for a good society too low, that unless the Hobbesian war is happening, the government should not employ coercion?

His point is that even if you buy  the State of Nature + Hypothetical Consent argument, it at best shows that we can’t reasonably not confer Political Authority upon government, since otherwise, we get into a war of all against all. But if so, then all the argument can hope to establish is that we ought to confer upon government just enough Political Authority as is needed to prevent us from sliding into the war of all against all in the state of nature. That’s all. And he will remind you–so, just because you can get to the “good society” by coercion, it’s now ok to coerce people?

if one justifies the action of the state to exercise coercion to uphold justice in society, would that be supporting the ‘state of nature’ argument ?

If we have moral permission to coerce people on behalf of justice, you don’t need the state of nature argument. On the other hand, plausible versions of the state of nature argument isn’t about “justice”, but the terrible condition of a war of all against all.

If Huemer is convinced of philosophical anarchism, why does he not carry it out hahahaha

What do you mean? Philosophical Anarchism is a philosophical position about Political Authority. Don’t confuse it with “anarchism” as in people going around wrecking stuff, etc.

what is the difference between rule consequentialism and deontology? essentially, wouldn’t I be following rules?

Rule consequentialism sounds like deontology just with extra steps

See this. There is still a difference between Rule Consequentialism and Deontology though, at least given the way we defined them. See if you can figure this out.

Odds and ends:

Hi Prof, can you clarify the difference between a libertarian and an anarchist? If I believe that Governments don’t have moral authority but there is good reason for it to exist, then am I a libertarian or an anarchist?

At least in the way I used these terms, Libertarianism is a broader position within which Anarchism is one sub-variety. In general, Libertarians strongly value individual liberty–though note that this doesn’t mean they are always “individualists” since many Libertarians believe that left to their own devices, people will form their own voluntary associations to cooperate and do things together. The have a corresponding (often broadly Deontological) commitment towards a principle against aggression. They are generally suspicious of what they consider the moral pretensions of the state. But all this is compatible with them being “minimal state Libertarians” who think that Political Authority exists, but only for a much narrower range of things than what most are used to expecting from the modern state. (You can think of such Libertarians as highly qualified Statists.) Libertarians who go all the way to deny the existence of Political Authority are the Philosophical Anarchists. Incidentally, the final Socialist Utopia as described by Marx and Engel is also an Anarchist Utopia where the state has fallen away.

Aren’t neo-liberals and market anarchists the same?

hi prof, could you briefly elaborate on the differences between anarcho capitalism and anarchism in general/anarcho-communism/syndicalism and your views on them

“Neo-liberalism” is one of those catch all labels that don’t have clear meanings, and which, if I can help it, I intend not to touch, even with a ten-foot pole. For the rest, I don’t have strong views. Maybe another time.