Consent, epistemic equity and a revised theory of legitimacy
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In this thesis I argue, against prevailing wisdom in contemporary political philosophy, that consent is a sufficient ground of political legitimacy and I argue for a set of necessary conditions that must be satisfied in order for political consent to be valid. I call this a revised theory of consent. This theory focuses on what consenting is. It does so by arguing that what we call consent is a composite of three mental states. These are (i) recognition, (ii) trust and (iii) willingness and I argue that where (i)-(iii) are present we have consent. I then argue that this consent is valid when it is (a) suitably informed and (b) given freely. This applies in ordinary cases and in ‘high stakes’ cases. I argue that prior versions of consent theory (what I call PCT's) have failed to demonstrate that consent is sufficient for legitimacy because they place an insurmountably high epistemic burden on consenters. I argue that subjects cannot consent in line with these theories because they cannot know enough about what their consent will authorise. I call this problem the Epistemic Challenge and I argue that in order to defeat it the authority must satisfy The Principle of Epistemic Equity. They do so through meeting the conditions of the revised theory of consent by satisfying certain epistemic and equitable conditions in order to enable subjects to give valid consent. Where these necessary conditions are met I argue that the consent given is sufficient for legitimacy. In the final two chapters of this work I turn my attention to Joseph Raz’s ‘service conception’. I argue that Raz’s theory implicitly relies on consent — as I define it — and I show that were Raz to embrace the revised theory of consent then the argument of the service conception would be strengthened.
Thesis, MPhil Master of Philosophy
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