Public Reason: Vol. 8, No. 1-2, 2016
Political Legitimacy and the Unreliability of Language
Eva Erman & Niklas Möller

Many political theorists in current debates have argued that pragmatist theories of mind and language place certain constraints on our normative political theories. In a couple of papers, we have accused these pragmatically influenced political theorists of misapplication of otherwise perfectly valid ideas. In a recent paper, one of the targets of our critique, Thomas Fossen, has retorted that we have misrepresented the role that a pragmatist theory of language plays in these accounts. In this paper, we claim that Fossen’s attempt to chisel out a role for his account in normative political theory rehearses the same problematic view of the utility of theories of language as his previous iterations. We argue that Fossen’s account is still guilty of the fallacious claim that a pragmatist theory of language (in his case Robert Brandom’s account) has implications for the form and justification of theories of political legitimacy. We specifically focus on three flaws with his current reply: the idea that criteria and conditions are problematic on a pragmatist outlook, the idea that a pragmatist linguistic account applied to a particular political context will have a distinct political-theoretical payoff, and the idea that a fundamental linguistic level of analysis supplies normative guidance for theorizing political legitimacy.

Key words: political legitimacy, pragmatism, Robert Brandom, theories of language.


Erman, Eva, and Niklas Möller. Political Legitimacy and the Unreliability of Language. Public Reason 8 (1-2): 81-89.