(these are draft versions, please refer to official versions)

7. Authority, Illocutionary Accommodation, and Social Accommodation, Australasian Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming), doi: 10.1080/00048402.2019.1621913

By appeal to the phenomenon of presupposition accommodation, Rae Langton and others have proposed that speakers can gain genuine authority over their audiences when they implicitly claim such authority and the audience accommodates them. I address this argument in two ways. First, I explain where and why we should expect authority within particular conventional practices to be able to be gained by accommodation, considering the balance of values and norms that authority claims implicate. Second, I argue that audiences will often have good reason to accommodate the speaker without recognizing a claim of authority over them. To explain how audiences can accomplish this, I propose the mechanism of social accommodation. In social accommodation, audiences exercise control over the context in order to bring speakers and their utterances into conformity with background social norms, including moral, legal, and religious norms. In this way audiences can impose their understanding of the prevailing valid norms onto speakers.

This is a preprint of an article whose final and definitive form will be published in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy. The Australasian Journal of Philosophy is available online at:


6. Legitimacy and Institutional Purpose, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy (forthcoming), doi: 10.1080/13698230.2019.1565712

An institution's purpose matters at a fundamental level for its legitimacy. We usually theorize purpose in combination with a specified bundle of features that describe a particular institution. While this is useful and necessary for coming to a final theory of legitimacy for that institution, it is often unclear what role any given feature plays on its own. In this article I theorize the role of institutional purpose on its own, clearing the way for a more general theory of legitimacy that is especially useful when applied to novel institutions. I consider three sets of issues. First, it matters whether the institution's purpose is impermissible, merely permissible, or morally mandatory (although precisely how it matters is more complex than it may appear). Second, sometimes it matters how close to achieving its purpose an institution gets and it matters whether we are considering a hypothetical justifying purpose or an extant purpose. Third, considering extant purpose raises a variety of its own problems which I suggest can only be solved by adopting a more minimalist conception of legitimacy of the sort I defend elsewhere.


5. Grounding Procedural Rights, Legal Theory 25 (2019), 3-25, doi: 10.1017/S1352325218000186

Contrary to the widely accepted consensus, Christopher Heath Wellman argues that there are no pre-institutional judicial procedural rights. Thus commonly affirmed rights like the right to a fair trial cannot be assumed in the literature on punishment and legal philosophy as they usually are. Wellman canvasses and rejects a variety of grounds proposed for such rights. I answer his skepticism by proposing two novel grounds for procedural rights. First, a general right against unreasonable risk of punishment grounds rights to an institutionalized system of punishment. Second, to complement and extend the first ground, I more controversially propose a right to provision of the robust good of security. People have a right to others' protecting for avoiding wrongfully harming them: when I take an action that is reasonably expected to threaten the protected interests of others, I must take appropriate care to avoid setting back those interests. Inflicting punishment on someone--intentionally harming them in response to a violation--is prima facie wrongful, so I can only count as taking appropriate care in punishing when I follow familiar procedures that reliably and redundantly test whether they are liable to such punishment, i.e. whether they have forfeited their right against punishment through a culpable act.


4. The Relational Conception of Practical Authority, Law and Philosophy 37 (2018), 549-575, doi: 10.1007/s10982-017-9323-3

Traditional approaches to authority focus on the problem of the subject sacrificing her autonomy by deferring to the will of another. Yet authority is ultimately a relationship, making demands upon both parties. In particular, a relational approach highlights 1) the vulnerability of the subject to the authority and 2)the authority's paired demand that the subject make herself vulnerable and the acceptance of responsibility for that demand and its consequences. I argue for an instrumentalist conception of authority according to which one party only has genuine authority over another when four conditions are met: the duty, precedence, acceptance, and trustworthiness conditions. 


3. Uncivil Disobedience: Political Commitment and Violence, Res Publica (forthcoming), doi: 10.1007/s11158-017-9367-0

"Civil" disobedience is consistent with violence, in particular violence directed at property. It is inconsistent with violence directed at persons because such violence directly contradicts the core commitment of the disobedient. Namely, disobedients necessarily commit themselves to an understanding of the political according to which others are understood as co-participants in the common project of living together. Such a commitment means that disobedients must address others as reason-respecting beings and so cannot do violence to them. Violence against property, however, does not per se undermine the commitment to the political. Focusing on the commitment to the political is a helpful corrective to the mistaken Rawlsian focus on fidelity to law and allows political disobedience to be understood as a coherent contestatory practice in a wider variety of contexts.


2. Institutional Legitimacy, The Journal of Political Philosophy 26 (2018), 84-102, doi: 10.1111/jopp.12122

There is an underlying general notion of legitimacy that applies to all institutions, political or otherwise. To see this we must get away from the statist focus on the right to rule and instead, following Allen Buchanan, focus on how legitimacy functions practically. Legitimacy identifies those institutions which have the right to function and need only correlate with a duty not to coercively interfere with that functioning or with institutional insiders' fulfillment of their institutional roles. This general idea can then be applied to any kind of institution, from the local bakery to the state to the European Union, depending on each institution's constitutive functioning and what demands it makes on individuals.


1. In Defense of Content-IndependenceLegal Theory 23 (2017), 143-167, doi: 10.1017/S135232521700009X

Discussions of political obligation and political authority have long focused on the idea that the commands of genuine authorities constitute content-independent reasons. Despite its centrality in these debates, the notion of content-independence is unclear and controversial, with some claiming that it is incoherent, useless, or increasingly irrelevant. I clarify content-independence by focusing on how reasons can depend on features of a source or container. I then solve the long-standing puzzle of whether laws constituting content-independent obligations is consistent with the fact that some laws must fail to bind due to their egregiously unjust content. Finally I defend my understanding of content-independence against challenges and show why it retains a place of special importance for questions about the law and political obligation.


edited special issues

(I co-edited these volumes and at least co-wrote the introduction) 

Special Issue: Legitimacy Beyond the State, Critical Review of Social and Political Philosophy (forthcoming, expected 2020)

with Antoinette Scherz and Cord Schmelzle

Introduction abstract: The essays collected in this special issue explore what legitimacy means for actors and institutions that do not function like traditional states but nevertheless wield significant power in the global realm. They are connected by the idea that the specific purposes of non-state actors and the contexts in which they operate shape what it means for them to be legitimate and so shape the standards of justification that they have to meet. In this introduction, we develop this guiding methodology further and show how the special issue’s individual contributions apply it to their cases. In the first section, we provide a sketch of our purpose-dependent theory of legitimacy beyond the state. We then highlight two features of the institutional context beyond the state that set it apart from the domestic case: problems of feasibility and the structure of international law.

Special Issue on Philip Pettit’s The Robust Demands of the Good, Moral Philosophy & Politics 5 (2018)

with Susanne Burri

Introduction: Is there anything that unites the diverse goods of love and friendship, of the virtues of character, and of respect? In The Robust Demands of the Good: Ethics with Attachment, Virtue, and Respect (RDG, Oxford University Press, 2015), Philip Pettit argues that the goods of attachment, virtue, and respect all share a common basic structure: they are all, in Pettit’s terminology, ‘robustly demanding’ (RDG, p. 2). Pettit puts forward a novel way of thinking about important goods that he plausibly suggests sit at the core of the good life for a human being. Along the way, he offers a partial defense of a non-orthodox consequentialism that incorporates elements of virtue ethics and Kantianism, as well as offering insights into moral psychology, philosophy of action, and philosophy of mind. In this special issue, five philosophers grapple with the arguments and the implications of Pettit’s book, and Pettit engages with their contributions in a careful and extensive response. In this introduction, we outline the core idea of a ‘robustly demanding’ good, we explain how Pettit employs it, and we sketch the main arguments of the five contributing authors.



(contact me for a draft, or check out my page)

The Concept of Legitimacy

The concept of legitimacy is commonplace and central, especially to political philosophy, but undertheorized on its own terms. I take a conceptual engineering approach and ask what function deploying the concept of legitimacy serves. I propose a novel understanding of the concept, according to which it serves the function of enabling social practices to operate by governing the domain of role occupation. In short, to call an entity legitimate is to say that it occupies a particular role in a social practice. Occupying a role grants the entity normative standing, defining how it should be treated and how it should act, thus coordinating behavior between role occupants. This identifies a specific and constrained role for the concept of legitimacy, rejecting the view that legitimacy simply amounts to justification or validity. On my account, legitimacy plays an “entry-level” function for social practices. This explains both why legitimacy is crucially important for social practices but also why it is undertheorized. I conclude by showing how my proposal coheres with theories of political legitimacy.

On the State's Right to Function

It is generally assumed that states which lack the right to rule do not possess any rights qua states. However, this ignores the possibility of an intermediate state standing that grants states a more limited set of claims, makes more limited demands on subjects, and is attainable according to more limited standards. Theorizing such an intermediate standing is an important part of conceptualizing states as inherently fallible creations that are necessary for the incredibly difficult task of realizing justice. I propose the right to function as such an intermediate state standing. The right to function entails claims against revolution, usurpation, and coercive interference with individual state agents and it correlates to subjects’ reformative obligation. The right to function recognizes the achievement of states that have made important progress towards more justice and achieving the right to rule and protects them in order to enable further improvement. Political philosophy that includes the right to function alongside the right to rule better accounts for states as we actually find them and their role in the pursuit of justice.

The Regulatory Account of Obedience

Obedience is not merely a matter of doing what the authority commands, it is a matter of doing what the authority commands because she commanded you to. However, this latter clause has been widely misunderstood as necessitating a motivational claim. Yet we often obey when we are not motivated to obey by the command. Instead we allow the command to play a regulatory role, using our inconstant motivations as it must in order to protect for obedience even under circumstances where we are not directly motivated to obey. This regulatory account better captures the phenomenology of obedience and better explains our practices of obedience in all their nuance.

[This paper is on hold following a Revise and Resubmit as I reconsider it in light of recent literature.]



(in descending order of progress)

(contact me for more information

Social Accommodation

David Lewis argued that scorekeeping in a language game is importantly different from scorekeeping in games like baseball because language follows a rule of accommodation. Accommodation is the phenomenon where a speaker's utterance apparently violates some norm but the audience changes the conversational context such that the speaker is no longer in violation of the norm, allowing the conversation to proceed. This has most commonly been investigated with respect to presuppositions and the norm not to rely on unshared information. Rae Langton and others have extended Lewis' idea to cover the accommodation of illocutionary acts and the norms governing felicitous illocution. I argue that we should continue this extension to the case of what I call social accommodation. Audiences will change the context, negotiating the speaker's utterance, in order to render the speaker in conformity with social norms beyond those governing speech acts per se, including moral, religious, prudential, and many other types of norms. Social accommodation is one way that norms are implicitly imposed and sustained. This is especially important to see in the case of systemic injustice, as one mechanism that contributes to an overall explanation of how norms structure our interactions without intentional imposition by individual oppressors.

Covert Exercitives, Practical Reasons, and Normative Orders

Mary Kate McGowan argues that all moves in norm-governed activities change the permissibility facts of the local social context and so count as covert exercitives. Whenever such moves abide by oppressive norms, those moves enact that oppressive norm and, because they are exercitive, thereby impose that norm and are themselves oppressive. This opens up the possibility of much more wide-ranging regulation of speech and other acts. I argue against this conclusion by showing that not all norm-governed moves change permissibility facts. They do always give others practical reasons but not all practical reasons change what is permissible, even in local normative orders, so not all acts that abide by some norm make it permissible for others to abide by that norm as well. This is good news for the construction of sub-cultures that reject prevailing norms and their ability to create normative orders that effectively resist intrusion.

Institutional Separation and Legitimacy

I argue that international institutions which perform limited political functions but are not a part of an overarching institution that takes up the other core functions face a distinct legitimacy challenge. In particular, drawing on the idea of a constitutional crisis, I argue that questions about the legitimacy of such institutions put those institutions very easily into a legitimacy crisis. The constant threat of a legitimacy crisis means that such institutions are of necessity more limited in their appropriate functions and scope than unified institutions.

How to Theorize Institutional Legitimacy

We need theories of legitimacy for institutions of all kinds, from the United Nations, through the state, to the local book club. While political philosophy has given a great deal of attention to state legitimacy, theorizing the legitimacy of other institutions is still in its relative adolescence. When considering other institutions, theorists have tended to either apply theories of state legitimacy or directly theorize the institution de novo. By disaggregating the features of any institution that potentially matter for its legitimacy--most importantly including an institution’s purpose, methods, effects, internal structure, and place within a broader institutional ecology-- I am able to theorize each element independently, providing a general template that guides theories for particular institutions

A Capacious Conception of Civil Disobedience

The philosophical debate over civil disobedience often takes Rawls' account as canonical. This is unfortunate because Rawls' purpose in discussing civil disobedience was extremely narrow. If we are concerned with more than the limits of political obligation, for example if we are concerned with accurately characterizing a robust political practice of contestation under a variety of different circumstances and regime types, then Rawls' discussion is a misleading place to begin. I argue that we should have a more capacious conception of disobedience, rejecting several Rawlsian elements, including non-violence and willingness to accept punishment. 

Trustworthiness, Authority, and Expertise

Trustworthiness is central to both the authority-subject relationship and the expert-novice relationship. In both cases the reason-giver (the authority or the expert) must be sufficiently trustworthy in order to successfully give reasons (practical or theoretical) to the reason-receiver (the subject or the novice). I articulate this central feature of these relationships and trace implications of foregrounding trustworthiness in our understanding of authority and expertise.

In Defense of Justificatory Exclusion

Joseph Raz famously and controversially proposed exclusion as a novel form of defeat among reasons. Exclusionary force is especially useful for explaining how rules, like laws, operate in practical reasoning. But Raz interprets exclusion motivationally: excluded reasons are ruled out as motivators for subjects. This is, I argue, incorrect. The more natural, and more plausible, interpretation of exclusion is justificatory: excluded reasons do not count in the balance of reasons that determine what subjects ought to do all things considered. Interpreting exclusion as justificatory raises a variety of problems, though, which I attempt to address.


INchoate Ideations

(we could have a pretty good chat!)

How Can Police Brutality Justify Breaking Traffic Laws? The Puzzle of Indirect Civil Disobedience

Piecemeal Authority and the Right to Function

Dynamic Institutional Legitimacy

The Legitimacy of Enforcement Institutions

How Institutional Design Matters for Genuine Political Authority

Civil Disobedience and Political Trustworthiness

Make Room for Free Riders

Obedience as a Robust Good

On the Institutional Right to do Wrong

Robust Harms and Reconceptualizing Criminal Liability

On the Good of Being Trusted


future research pathways

(eventually, maybe)

(let's toss ideas around!)

Political Corruption


Epistemic Injustice

Humility as a Political Virtue

Community-Building Virtues

Self-Effacing Consequentialism


Long form

A General Theory of Institutional Legitimacy

Using some of my published papers as a foundation, I am writing a monograph on institutional legitimacy that combines the promise of a template from "How to Theorize Institutional Legitimacy," the normative core of "Institutional Legitimacy," and the detail of "Legitimacy and Institutional Purpose." I first show what unique work a theory of legitimacy performs and why we need one for institutions of any type. I then disaggregate each of the individual components identified as relevant to legitimacy, focusing on three broad categories: what an institution does, how it does it, and where it does it. I theorize the components independently, then consider how they fit together in likely combinations and how they change when combined. This template can then be applied to relevant specific cases.

Dissertation (2014)

My dissertation was atrociously (in retrospect) entitled "Evidential Modern Political Authority." Under what conditions can a government justifiably punish citizens for disobeying its laws? Many philosophers today think that the government has the moral authority to impose laws only if the citizens actually consent. This amounts to philosophical anarchism because no extant government meets this condition. But we can provide conditions for justifiable punishment and the authority of governments without appealing to moral obligation. I focus on what people may be blamed for doing, and I argue that when the government has trustworthy expertise, it has the moral authority to issue laws that citizens may be justifiably punished for disobeying. This condition, unlike actual consent, can be met. My dissertation advisor was Christopher Heath Wellman.

I now think the theory of authority presented in my dissertation is incomplete at best. For my most recent understanding of authority, see my papers.