Professor Philip Pettit on “Legitimacy and Justice”

University College of London (UCL) Laws: Inaugural Quain Lecture

Click here to access the video of the lecture.

In the 2012 Inaugural Quain Lecture, philosopher Philip Pettit spoke on the importance of considering the question of legitimacy —  i.e., of just how acceptable the imposing of the social order is — as a distinct from that of justice — i.e., of just how objectionable is the content and form of the legal order itself. He suggests that the distinction between both questions relies on what each one “hangs” on for an acceptable answer: e.g., what makes the law unobjectionable may be “content dependent” reasons or “content independent” ones while for what makes the imposing of an order legitimate may be whether there is a reason for accepting the social order itself — whether you are willing to work within the system to change it. The legitimacy of a regime or social order produces a political obligation and thus a duty that the contestation of laws and so forth will occur within the system (e.g., courts, elections) while a different obligation is produced by the content dependent or independent reasons that can be given for obeying a law, that of a legal obligation or not. Here Professor Pettit argues that within a republican way of thinking one sees the primary problem as that of legitimacy — i.e., of thinking about how a social order imposed can affect individual liberty — rather than what Professor Pettit calls the “second best problem” with legitimacy, one that is characteristic of other approaches that cannot find a way to reconcile coercion of an imposed social order with individual liberty. The lecture is an attempt to show, that in a republican way of thinking, the question of legitimacy is in an important sense a primary good that is not only distinct justice but also one that is not intractable problem as in other approaches.

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