Not bad at all! The median is now 6. A few surprises (to us) though. Click through to see.


  • Question 1

Option A (“Bern only”). A plurality (43%) got it. Many people distracted by Dave.

Bern is right because if all coercive acts, no matter who performs them, are supererogatory, it follows that all acts of coercion are (a) not blameworthy if not done, and (b) praiseworthy. (Don’t forget your W03 stuff; also came up in W05.) Now, from (a) and (b), you can’t get directly to the idea that (c) acts of coercion are morally permissible, i.e., not blameworthy if done (compare (a) and (c). But unless you have a special theory of how these concepts connect with each other, (b) does tend to go together with (c)–because otherwise, you will need to find a way to explain how an action can be both praiseworthy and also blameworthy at the same time. (I’m not saying that this is impossible, but it’s hardly the obvious thing to do.) Now, if all coercive acts, no matter who performs them, are supererogatory, then (unless you want to say that there can be acts that are both blameworthy and praiseworthy) they are also permissible. So Bern’s statement implies that all coercive acts, no matter who performs them, are permissible. Which also means that all coercive acts performed by government are permissible. While this doesn’t directly prove that political authority does not exist (i.e., that no coercive acts performed by government are permissible because they are performed by government), it does make it less likely to be true. (Edited for clarity.)

Saying that every act of coercion is praiseworthy (and so, not blameworthy if done, assuming the more obvious connection), conflicts with saying that the government doesn’t have the permission to coerce people, whether it’s just because it’s the government or not.

Tess is wrong because her statement (“…all coercive acts undertaken by private individuals are morally wrong”) is compatible with Lena’s position (“…government doesn’t have the permission to coerce people just because it’s the government”). Nor will accepting what Tess says make it more likely for what Tess says to be false. (If you accept both their statements, then the probable conclusion is that all coercive acts are morally wrong.) (My bad–should not have explained this with reference to the “Sam” Argument; thanks to a student for noticing.)

More of you were distracted by Dave. Dave is wrong because–as explained in the Webinar itself (Slide #23)–the fact that some coercive acts undertaken by private individuals are morally permissible does not mean that the analogous acts of coercion by government are morally permissible because they were undertaken by the government–and you need that last part if political authority is to exist. In fact, if, instead, those acts of coercion are morally permissible because of the analogy with the morally permissible private acts of coercion, then all the more you are conceding the moral equivalence between private citizens and government, which goes against what is needed for political authority. The fact that so many of you picked Dave (either Option C–31%, or Option D–15%) tells me that this is a pervasive misunderstanding that needs to be worked on.

Additional point: Some of you seemed to have taken the Webinar as saying or implying that–as far as our official position is concerned, at least some coercion is morally permissible. If so, then, when added to what Tess says, will imply that the only morally permissible coercion are by government, which would seem to be a better option than Bern. But if you look at Slide #10, you will see that it isn’t actually committed to the idea that some coercion is permissible. It makes do with a weaker idea–coercion may not always be morally wrong, i.e., it may be that some coercion are morally ok. Hence also “possibly morally acceptable cases of coercion”. The point there was to underline that Philosophy Anarchism need not be based upon a blanket moral prohibition against coercion.


  • Question 2

Option C (Will). Most of you (74%) got this.

Let’s work through each one. Keep in mind the definition of political authority given in the Webinar (Slide #11)–basically, to say that political authority exists is to say that the government really has the moral permission to coerce its subjects–because it’s the government.

Tess’ statement betrays an incorrect understanding of what political authority is–the issue here is a normative one about whether certain people have the moral permission to do something, not the descriptive one of whether certain things would tend to happen (I’d be punished by the government) if certain things are done (I refuse to obey a certain law).

At best, Abe may have the correct understanding of what political authority is; but not “definitely”. Also, given the reading, we don’t really know if Huemer would agree with his reasoning, which is based upon the idea that there’s a disagreement over whether political authority exists. Note–Huemer, of course, agrees that there’s a disagreement over whether political authority exists. But his stated reasoning for why he thinks it doesn’t exist isn’t based upon this disagreement.

This leaves WIll. The bit to focus on is his proposal that “government has a… special moral status granting them the moral permission to coerce, a status that is not granted to private individuals”–which is the correct understanding of what Political Authority is. One student wrote in to ask about this, explaining that the first part of what Will said (“I, for one, believe that political authority exists! This is because–as far as I am concerned anyway, God exists”) makes it sound as if he believes political authority exists because God exists. (He agrees that the correct understanding of political authority in terms of divine mandate theory is found in the second part of what he said. My response is that this is a bit uncharitable as an interpretation of what Will is saying–even in the first part. Maybe if he had stopped with just that, then it would be fair for us to take him that way (at least we won’t be in the wrong to read him that way). But he did continue–and given the rest of what he said, it’s now open to us to go back to the earlier point and see that surely he didn’t mean to imply that political authority exists because God exists. In fact, you can also see what he’s doing as putting forward an argument–the second statement connects political authority with God, and the first premise asserts that God exists–therefore, Political exists.


  • Question 3

Options A and C.

Lena is correct as the point of Premise 2 in the “Sam” Argument is exactly that there’s a moral analogy between government and private coercion. (89% selected this.) (After some consideration, I’m accepting answers that does not include this as there’s a way to read Premise 2 in the “Sam” Argument such that what Lena says as being compatible with what Lena says. As intended, the point of the premise is that there’s a moral analogy between government and private coercion. However, I did formulate it in a more barebones way as if a simple conditional–so in principle, it’s possible to imagine how even when completely different rules apply to the two sides, sometimes, the judgments converge, and those instances of the “Sam” Argument will be sound. Only a few students are affected.)

Tess is wrong. Suppose we grant that if people really did consent to give the government the authority to coerce (because it is a reasonable thing to do) then the government has the authority to cocere. And suppose we say that for every case of government coercion, there will be this difference between government and private coercion–there’s consent in one case but not in the other. Even so, this is not a necessary condition for making an instance  of the “Sam” Argument unsound. (11% selected this.)

Bern is correct–if every instance of the “Sam” Argument is sound, then Huemer wins, Political Authority does not exist. (89% selected this.)

Will is wrong. Even if every instance of the “Sam” Argument is unsound, what this means is that Huemer’s argument for his conclusion fails. It doesn’t mean that the opponent–the Statist–is correct. There could be other arguments, for all we care. So, this argument being sound isn’t a necessary condition for Political Authority not to exist. More generally, suppose you have an argument for X. You can’t conclude from this alone that it’s soundness is a necessary condition for X. (29% selected this.)


  • Question 4 

Option A (“II and III only”). Most of you (91%) got this–good job!

A quick reminder on the “Texan’s Challenge” (see W04 Slide #24). The basic idea is this. Person A argues “P, If P then Q, therefore Q” (notice that I’ve formulated the “Sam” Argument in this way as well; see W06 Slide #16). Person B runs the “Texan’s Challenge” when she goes: “Not Q, If P then Q, therefore, Not P” (watch your Ps and Qs).

Let’s consider each statement in turn.

I. Launching the Texan’s Challenge against Huemer’s “Sam” argument is a necessary condition for concluding that Premise 1 of the argument is false.

Not only is this not generally true, in the particular case of the “Sam” argument, Premise 2 is exactly the one you want to challenge, if you want to challenge the argument! (Running the Texan’s Challenge will require keeping that premise.

II. Concluding that Premise 1 is false is a necessary condition for launching the Texan’s Challenge against the “Sam” Argument.

III. The fact that someone launched the Texan’s Challenge against the “Sam” argument is a sufficient condition for us to conclude that an argument against Premise 1 has been made (ignoring whether the argument is successful or not).

Yes. See the recap above.

IV. The fact that someone concludes that Premise 1 is false is sufficient for us to say that the Texan’s Challenge has been launched against the “Sam” Argument.

Nope–the person could have concluded that Premise 1 is false by some other means.


  • Question 5

Option D, and most of you (93%) got this–good job!

Not Option A because Statists need not claim that every government has political authority. Given Gene’s beliefs about democracy, he is only suggesting that the winning party in his constituency (in particular) doesn’t have political authority. This doesn’t preclude him from being a Statist at all.

Not Option B because the other party not having the permission to coerce you isn’t the same as or imply that you don’t have the duty to obey them!

Not Option C because Gene could happen to believe that winning 75% of the votes–admittedly an arbitrary percentage, after all—is still not sufficient to confer any political entity political authority. In fact, he could believe so even if the party had 99.99% of the votes.

Option D because Gene believes that democracy confers political authority, i.e., government has political authority because their orders are backed by the will of the people, and this is the limiting case. If this is still not enough, then it’s no longer clear what Gene’s position amounts to.


  • Question 6

Option C (“I, II and IV”); most of you (90%) got this–good job!

Statement I is correct–it’s basically an outline of the Rule Consequentialist position for Philosophical Statism. Note that given the Rule Consequentialism, and the empirical stipulation (that the best overall outcome for the world is brought about by–and only by–government coercing citizens, rather than Sam and his ilk-coercing citizens), it’s going to follow that in every case where Sam’s coercion is morally wrong, government coercion is morally right. This secures the falsity of premise 2 in every instance of the “Sam” Argument.

Statement II is correct–it’s a version of a problem we have encountered earlier with respect to Consequentialism, i.e,, if we can’t know for sure whether the best outcomes are brought about by a certain action, or whether that action has the best expected outcomes, then we also can’t know for sure if that action is morally right.

Statement III is the one that is wrong. Generally speaking, from “we can never know for sure if X is true”, you can’t draw the conclusion that “X is false”.

Statement IV is correct–it’s implied by the Webinar itself (see Slide #13). Even if Political Authority doesn’t exists, it can still be rational for the government to coerce citizens and for citizens to obey their orders, let alone if we don’t know or can never know for sure whether it exists!


  • Question 7

Option D (“None of the above”). Most of you (85%) got this–good job!

Option A is incorrect because Dave only gave Lena explicit consent to call him as many times as it takes to wake him up. He didn’t explicitly consented to her breaking his window.

Option B is incorrect because the conditions for implicit consent were not met (see Slide #32.) 

Option C is incorrect because the conditions for hypothetical consent were not met (see Slide #35). There’s no good reason to believe that Dave would agree to let his window be smashed–in fact, he expressed his explicit dissent after seeing that his window was smashed!


  • Question 8

Options, A, B and C.

(Do note that the question isn’t actually asking if the group has the permission to coerce Tess; only whether it has the permission to enforce a rule–e.g., by refusing to associate with her if she refuses to behave a certain way (note that that’s just one way. Try to imagine a real life scenario where your group agrees to play a game together–each time someone says a particular word, he or she is supposed to do a forfeit (think some sort of orientation camp scenario). So, each time someone says that word, the rest “enforces” the rule–how? by reminding, by saying “hey forfeit!!!”, etc.–force or threat of force need not be involved at all. If it’s an orientation camp scenario, force or threat of force had better not be involved! The question doesn’t turn on this, however, just a point to note. Even if you imagine that force or threat of force is involved, the answer will be the same.)

Option A is correct (93% selected). If Tess really did explicitly agree to abide by the terms of the contract, the group has the moral permission to enforce this rule. As Huemer said in the reading:

…it is often said that the government derives its powers from a “social contract,” whereby the people have granted these special powers to the government. The only problem with this theory is that it is factually false–I have not in fact agreed to have a government, to pay taxes, or to obey the government’s laws. (See also Slide #31.) 

Option B is correct (89% selected). If Tess really did continue to participate in the group discussions, knowing full well of the rule that was made by the others in the group, and the cost of not continuing is not high–since she could have easily joined another group that’s not too different from ours without missing anything important–then Tess has implicitly consented to abiding by the rule.

Option C is correct (37% selected) because the other party’s consent through a contract may not be the only possible way to justify enforcing the rule. Do note that Gene has been careful to quality his statement–he’s not saying that they definitely have the permission to enforce the rule, only that they “could have other good reasons”, “perhaps to preserve [their] sanity.”

Option D is wrong because Will has said enough for us to conclude that he is a Statist or Anarchist. (Most of you got this.)