Legitimacy and institutional purpose

Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 23 (3):292-310 (2020)
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Institutions undertake a huge variety of constitutive purposes. One of the roles of legitimacy is to protect and promote an institution’s pursuit of its purpose; state legitimacy is generally understood as the right to rule, for example. When considering legitimacy beyond the state, we have to take account of how differences in purposes change legitimacy. I focus in particular on how differences in purpose matter for the stringency of the standards that an institution must meet in order to be legitimate. An important characteristic of an institution’s purpose is its deontic status, i.e. whether it is morally impermissible, merely permissible, or mandatory. Although this matters, it does so in some non-obvious ways; the mere fact of a morally impermissible purpose is not necessarily delegitimating, for example. I also consider the problem of conflicting, multiple, and contested institutional purposes, and the different theoretical roles for institutional purpose. Understanding how differences in purpose matter for an institution’s legitimacy is one part of the broader project of theorizing institutional legitimacy in the many contexts beyond the traditional context of the state.

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N. P. Adams
University of Virginia


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