Practical Philosophy Seminar: Colin Rowe

"A comprehensive theory of competency placement"

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Colin Rowe, KU Leuven, Belgium


For as long as there has been political philosophy, it has examined the question of, ‘who should be in charge?’ For the last few hundred years, this has centred on what legitimizes a state. While this is a complicated and difficult question, there is a consensus that in one way or another, it is ‘the people’ of the state that generate state legitimacy and therefore, through the state, should ultimately be in charge.

However, the state is not the only locus of government, there are towns, cities, regions, transnational governments and every variation in between. Each has its own areas of jurisdiction: a town may be in charge of waste disposal and local policing, while a region may be in charge of healthcare and education, the state might have jurisdiction over defence and immigration, and a transnational entity such as the EU may be in charge of the monetary currency and food standards. These distributions are often the result of historical chance. However, with the rise of entities like the EU as well as urgency of global issues such as climate change, the question of how these competencies should be distributed has become more heated (though the normative justifications underlying competency placement remain unclear). The classic answer of ‘the people’ should be in charge provides little assistance, at each level of government a ‘people’ exist.

In order to answer these questions it is not enough to rely on political horse trading or appeals to practical considerations such as efficiency or effectiveness unless we are willing to accept that any government may take control of a competency simply because it does a better job. We must, therefore, investigate whether there are normative reasons that justify particular competency placements. I argue that there are. In this seminar I will focus of a chapter of my doctoral thesis where I present two sets of criteria which show when a government may (is allowed to) have a competency and, secondly, justifications for when a government should have jurisdiction over a particular competency.

Published Sep. 14, 2021 11:23 AM - Last modified June 28, 2022 10:10 AM