Ethics 109 (4):739-771 (1999)

A. John Simmons
University of Virginia
In this essay I will discuss the relationship between two of the most basic ideas in political and legal philosophy: the justification of the state and state legitimacy. I plainly cannot aspire here to a complete account of these matters; but I hope to be able to say enough to motivate a way of thinking about the relation between these notions that is, I believe, superior to the approach which seems to be dominant in contemporary political philosophy. Today showing that a state is justified and showing that it is legitimate are typically taken to require the very same arguments. I will argue that this contemporary stance obscures the difference between two central ways in which we should morally evaluate states, and it generates confusions about other serious practical issues, such as those surrounding our moral obligations to comply with law. I begin with brief discussions of the ideas of justification and legitimacy and with an attempt to capture what ought to be most central in our concerns about these ideas. I turn then to two basic ways of thinking about the relation between justification and legitimacy that I want to distinguish: what I will call the Lockean and the Kantian approaches. Next, I argue that the minority Lockean approach to this issue captures essential features of institutional evaluation that the majority Kantian approach does not; and I add brief mention of one further complication facing any adequate account of political evaluation
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DOI 10.1086/233944
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