1. Raz distinguishes orders, requests and advice. When we
do things rationally, we do this by weighing some reasons. For instance, when I
decide to eat one thing, I may weigh its good taste against the fact that
another thing is healthier, and in then end I decide which choice is overall the best one. When someone makes a request of me, she intends to give
me a reason to do that thing, a reason that I should weigh together with all
the other reasons I am weighing. On the other hand, if someone gives me
advice, what she is giving me in the first instance is a reason for belief.
For instance, if a counselor tells me that I am temperamentally unsuited for
going into business for myself, her knowledgeableness about these matters gives
me a reason to believe that I am unsuited for going into business for myself.
And this belief in turn gives me a reason to avoid going into business.
If, on the other hand, my wife says: “Please don’t go into business!”, she is
not giving me a reason for a belief, but she is giving me directly a reason for
- People’s requests are directly reasons for action.
“Please pass the butter” is not, first, a piece of information about what
it is that it is good to do, which only indirectly leads to action, but it
is an attempt to give me a reason to act a certain way.
- However, orders are different from requests. It is not
merely that orders have higher weight than requests. If someone we love
requests a big favor from us, this may have a higher moral weight than a
minor order from a boss. “Please make it possible for me to meet with my
best friend next week” should have a higher weight than “Bring me my
coffee”, even if the latter is an order from a boss.
- The distinction between an order and a request is that
orders are intended to provide not only a “first order” reason to do
something—a reason directly for doing something—but also to exclude
certain kinds of opposed reasons from consideration. For instance, an
army commander’s order is meant to exclude reasons having to do with one’s
convenience or one’s desires. In fact, all orders exclude one’s desires, Raz
thinks, from consideration. Moreover, the commanding officer’s order is
meant to exclude reasons coming from one’s own judgment as to what is strategically
or tactically best. If one thinks that it is probably strategically or
tactically a mistake to attack an enemy unit, this is not a reason for
disobeying orders. A request, however, is not intended to exclude other
reasons. That is why requests sometimes come with softening terms, like “if
you please” or “if you reasonably can”.
- Orders rarely exclude all opposed reasons. U.S.
military law, for instance, has it that one must disobey an order if it is
telling one to act immorally. Thus, a legitimate military order in
the U.S. cannot exclude moral reasons from consideration. But it does
exclude reasons of convenience, etc.
- Orders may be legitimate or not. Whether legitimate or
not, the intention is the same: to exclude reasons and to provide a new
reason to do something.
- We can look at laws as special kinds of orders.
2. By accepting someone as an authority, one accepts
that she can issue certain kinds of legitimate orders. According to Wolff, by
doing this one is abdicating one’s autonomy, one’s ability to weigh all the
reasons for action, since the order forbids one from weighing certain reasons.
And that’s unacceptable, according to Wolff, since one is then abdicating one’s
- But is that really so? It seems that if we do not do this
sometimes, chaos will result. For instance, when deciding what amount of
taxes to pay, if everyone did not pay attention to what the government ordered,
but instead tried to figure out what amount would be best, and to which
agencies it should be directed, bad things would likely ensue. The
paradox is that, of course, I may think that things would be better if I
made up my own mind. But I know that if everyone did this, then things
wouldn’t be as good. Kant’s Categorical Imperative says that we should
act in such a way that we could want everybody to act in this way. This
would be a way of grounding one’s giving up one’s decision-making.
- The same applies in the case of traffic laws. There, too,
we have the issue of us being pressed for time.
- The latter case shows that it is rational in at
least certain cases, say ones where one knows one doesn’t have enough
time to think things through, to give authority to the government. But if
there are any such cases, then there has to be something wrong
with Wolff’s argument.
- One problem with Wolff’s argument is that even if one
accepts an order, one is still rationally evaluating the
situation. One is evaluating whether the order and authority are
legitimate. And if the order doesn’t exclude all competing
reasons, one is weighing these.
- So, in fact, Raz notes that as long as we admit second
order reasons, such “I should ignore all considerations of convenience in
this case”, i.e., reasons about what reasons to listen to and how, we can
see that obedience to orders can be compatible with evaluating all the
reasons. It’s just that obedience makes the evaluation simpler, once one
has evaluated legitimacy.
3. But all this presupposes we have criteria for legitimacy
of orders. And here we may need to fall back on earlier arguments. For
instance, if Aquinas is right, then orders are legitimate only when issued by
someone who is in some way “charged” with the public good, and who is acting
for the sake of it. On one of the arguments in the Crito, laws are
legitimate when they are analogous to parents.