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Democracy is often defended on the grounds that it treats the members of society as equals by giving them an equal say in the process of collective decision-making. Yet the question remains of whether there is a human right to democracy or a right that ought to be realized in every society and that ought to receive the protection of the international community. What makes this a hard question is that it may seem that the human right to democracy is incompatible with the legitimate self-determination of peoples, at least when these peoples do not accept the egalitarianism at the heart of democracy (Cohen 2010). Elsewhere I have argued in favor of a human right to democracy by tying it instrumentally very closely with other human rights that are less controversial (Christiano 2011a). In this chapter I want to suggest that the traditional argument for democracy may provide the basis for a limited defense of a human right to democracy and that this argument holds even for those societies that do not accept the principle of equality.
The general argument is very simple. It proceeds in two steps, which correspond to the two dimensions of human rights as I conceive of them. In the first step I give a general argument for democratic institutions in domestic societies. In the second step I proceed from the traditional democratic premise that people have a right to a say in the institutions that have serious effects on their lives, to the thought that individuals ought to have a say in the process of the construction of international institutions and law. But in the absence of the possibility of meaningful global democracy it is a necessary condition of persons participating as equals in the shaping of the international environment that they have an equal say in the political institutions of their society that participate in creating international law and in diplomatic relations with other societies.
Humanity as a whole currently faces a number of fundamental challenges that can only be dealt with on a global scale. Global warming and other environmental problems, severe poverty and the need for a fair system of international trade all call for international solutions that are achieved by means of collective decisions. But these solutions will require sacrifices on the part of all persons and there is likely to be a great deal of disagreement about the optimal solution and the fairest distribution of the burdens imposed by any solution. We need to have means for making collective decisions that all persons and the states of which they are members have good reason to regard as binding upon them.
An institution has legitimacy when it has a right to rule over a certain set of issues. The moral function of the legitimacy of decision-making processes is to confer morally binding force on the decisions of the institution within a moral community even for those who disagree with them and who must sacrifice. This morally binding force is achieved for a decision-making institution when its directives create content-independent and very weighty duties to obey the decision maker. There are three main conceptions of the grounds of legitimacy in modern political thought. One says that the legitimacy of an authoritative decision process depends on the quality of the outcomes of the decision process. A second sees the legitimacy of an authoritative process as based on the consent of the members. And the third sees legitimacy as grounded in liberal democratic processes of decision making. The latter two forms of legitimacy are particularly salient when there is considerable disagreement on how to assess the quality of outcomes.
In this essay, I shall discuss Sidgwick's argument for the claim that pleasure is the good. Along the way I shall point to various problematic points in his argument. And in the end I shall try to show what kinds of amendments might solve the difficulties that I see. The basic problem that arises in Sidgwick's view concerns the motivation for introducing desire as the material element in his theory of the good. Sidgwick never tells us why he entertains a desire-based conception of goodness. This difficulty is related to the question of why Sidgwick thinks that we must concern ourselves with the sorts of objects that are desired, or so I shall show. Finally, one wonders why Sidgwick thinks that he has even come close to solving the problem of the ultimate good when he has conceded that he cannot reduce, to his opponents' satisfaction, the value of some instances of “ideal goods” (such as knowledge, virtue, or aesthetic appreciation) to some function of pleasure. The difficulties that Sidgwick's account encounters are, I think, problems for any view of the good that is desire-based and that imposes formal requirements of rationality on conceptions of goodness. Thus, though I shall focus my attention on Sidgwick's theory, I believe that the problems raised in this essay are significant for many desire-based theories of value.
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