Real Institutions and Really Legitimate Institutions

In David Mark, Bary Smith & Isaac Ehrlich (eds.), The mystery of capital and the construction of social reality. Open Court. pp. 331-347 (2008)
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This essay develops a thesis regarding the manner through which social institutions such as property come to be, and a second thesis regarding how such institutions ought to be legitimated. The two theses, outlined below, are in need of explication largely because of the entrenched cultural influence of an erroneous reading of social contract theory concerning the historical origins of the state. In part A, I introduce that error. I proceed in parts B and C to present two central theses about institutions: Thesis 1: The construction of social institutions can be understood clearly only if that topic is distinguished from the topic of their normative status, or legitimacy. Thesis 2: The normative status of such institutions can be understood properly only if their legitimacy is distinguished from the legitimacy of government. With the distinction of Thesis 1 in place, an informative socio-technical account of the construction of institutions can be formulated with little ado. This allows for clarity concerning how institutions might be legitimated (Thesis 2), and consequently, legitimation can proceed. Some fundamentals of legitimation from a Kantian perspective are outlined in Part C.

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Eric Palmer
Allegheny College


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