Postprint version. Published in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, January 1, 2001, pages 978-982. Copyright © 2001 Elsevier Ltd. The definitive version is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/B0-08-043076-7/01829-5.
NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Eduardo Zambrano was not yet affiliated with Cal Poly.
Authority is a relation that exists between individuals, in which one does as indicated by another what he or she would not do in the absence of such indication. With this as background, the article presents the ‘premodern’ notions of authority developed by Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, and Weber; and then the perspective given by Arendt, according to which these notions are grounded in an ontological tradition whose time has passed. This leads to the point of view of Lukes, according to which it is unavoidable that multiple perspectives exist in the understanding of authority. These perspectives are associated with the different degrees of solidity that one can give to social composites such as culture, language, social groups, and individuals themselves. The article then presents the perspectives of Friedman, Flathman, Raz, and Zambrano. They reveal that the authority relation is as solid as the beliefs that justify individual choices that, at the interpreted level, are labeled as ‘ruling’ and ‘following.’ The article concludes by pointing out how our understanding of the authority relation may change as a consequence of recent developments in the cognitive science literature, as pioneered by Varela, regarding the nonexistence of a solid, centralized, unitary self.