In defense of content-independence

Legal Theory 23 (3):143-167 (2017)
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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 their source or container. I then solve the long-standing puzzle of whether the fact that laws can constitute content-independent reasons 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. Content-independence highlights that it is some feature of the law or law-making process in general that is supposed to generate moral obligations for citizens, not the merits of particular laws.

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N. P. Adams
University of Virginia


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