UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Strange anarchy : the philosophical anarchism of Robert Paul Wolff Baugh, Graham James


This thesis presents a reconstruction and critique of Robert Paul Wolff's defence of anarchism. In Part One, the underlying moral theory upon which this defence is based is analyzed. The defence of anarchism is then reconstructed on the basis of this moral theory. It is argued that all claims to legitimate political authority are apparently illegitimate because such claims conflict with an overriding obligation of rational agents to be autonomous. Utilitarian and social contract solutions to this conflict are discussed in relation to the same moral theory. It is argued that some forms of authority are compatible with individual autonomy but that the state, due to its inherently coercive nature, is not. Wolff's anarchist alternative to the state is then discussed as the form of society in which people enjoy the fullest autonomy. In Part Two of this thesis Wolff's arguments for anarchism, his underlying moral theory and his instrumental view of reason are criticized. It is argued that Wolff's argument fails as a defence of anarchism and the anarchist status of Wolff's argument is itself put into question. Wolff's position is held to be a form of moral and political scepticism distinct from the political theory of anarchism. Wolff's moral theory is criticized for failing to provide any basis for meaningful moral discourse or for the rational resolution of moral conflict. Wolff's concepts of autonomy, obligation and moral contractarianism are held to be conceptually incoherent. Wolff's claim that reason functions merely as an instrument for the achievement of nonrational goals is rejected. It is argued that Wolff's instrumental view of reason itself expresses certain moral values typical of modern society. The thesis concludes with a short section outlining some alternative approaches to anarchism which seem more plausible and coherent than the approach taken by Wolff.

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