given the existence of any group of persons, can it be argued that it is necessary to have a process where a member can appeal decisions when one is stonewalled by members of the group who hold decision making power over other members of the group?

Disclaimer: i am not a philosopher AFAIK.

Generic pattern scenario
(where N is empowered only to comment;
M is empowered to comment and to moderate comments,
including the power to delete comments;
T is a "team leader" and has M's empowerments
plus is empowered to overrule M):

in a forum, Q asks a question;
N replies,
M deletes N's reply,
N on appeal to M and T is stonewalled.

I want to start from the premises of a basically democratic system that operates on a principle of fairness and has a commitment to fair play.

I think given these assumptions there is moral requirement that there be an objective and fair appeals process, i.e., where N could "go over T's head". (unfortunately, in day to day life, often N has no recourse beyond agreeing to disagree which often means simply to capitulate.)

We emulate this in the legal system with higher and higher levels of court ~~ we have these under the idea that detached sober thought and consideration is possible from empowered parties who are not directly involved in the process that led to an appeal.

Are there any philosophies that speak to my intuition? What sort of argument is offered in favor of something like this?

  • 1
    Formally, I see no reason whatsoever why a social group must necessarily include such a process. While it may not be optimal to not have such a process, cultural standards tend not to be carefully assessed for utility before being adopted. If you are asking whether an informal appeals process may nevertheless exist, due to humans being social animals, that is a question of psychology/anthropology, not philosophy. Aug 13, 2015 at 8:29
  • @NieldeBeaudrap ~~ i'm not asking whether a formal appeals process does exist, rather i'm asking "should a formal appeals process exist in all cases where there is a power hierachry" ~~ sets include {parent, progeny}, {principal, teacher, student}, {warden, guard, inmate}, {general, major, sergeant, private}, {CEO, manager, employee}, {vendor, customer}, ...
    – gerryLowry
    Aug 13, 2015 at 8:40
  • 1
    You should probably reword the title and first half of your question, to clarify that you are asking about whether one ought to embrace the possibility of explicit and formal 'appeal' (or more generally, 'negotiation'), as it is not obvious from the choice of wording there. As for a partial answer, you may wish to consider how the community must choose how to spend the resources (such as time) that it has available. Aug 13, 2015 at 8:49
  • I think if you reword things more along the lines Niel suggests, this will be closer to a question we might be able to answer. One tricky aspect is that the "should" is going to depend on a great deal on what we take to the basis of morality. Please make explicit as possible the bases that you want answers to function under (something like "Working from the assumption that an egalitarian democracy as our ideal model of governance" or "In a social contract approach to community" would seem fitting starts for where you are coming from).
    – virmaior
    Aug 13, 2015 at 8:52
  • @NieldeBeaudrap ~~ i did intend formal appeal, not negotiation; one nuance is whether availability of resources is relevant; i think that there is a moral requirement that associations of people have an appeals process even if it is not immediately possible to have such a process. Example: i doubt that today such a process has any chance of being implemented by the current governing regimes of North Korea or Syria.
    – gerryLowry
    Aug 13, 2015 at 17:29

3 Answers 3


May I suggest a proof by contradiction? Military hierarchy offers no such appeal process in combat situations. One may question the morality of combat, but if it was a moral requirement that people have an appeals process, then the mere structure of people within the military would be amoral. That strikes me as a tough stance to defend.

If you feel that the hierarchical structure of the military is not inherently amoral, as I do, then that points strongly to appeals not being a morally mandatory part of the process.

There are strong pragmatic reasons to consider an appeals process, but pragmatic reasons are out of scope of this question.


The need for appeals is an aspect of authoritarianism. If stable authority is not an aspect of the group structure, there is no moral obligation to question any decision even once, much less revisit it. Contrary decisions can simply be made later with no element of correction to the original actor. Absent excessive scarcity, the wrong decision becomes a source of data, and making it both ways may simply be seen as scientific, rather than wasteful.

From a point of view like Starhawk's in "Truth or Dare", authority is optional as a component of governance, and only truly productive in the presence of a level of genuine scarcity that has not existed for centuries, if ever. An artificial scarcity that is merely the effect of poor allocation is what sustains the apparent value of authority. (For example, we could feed everyone tomorrow, if we could coordinate it. But we are thwarted by tribalism and fear.) Absent the illusion that some minimal efficiency is mandatory because of scarcity, we are free to allow errors in our decision processes, and simply fix their consequences as they arise.

If leaders are motivated to serve group goals, but the community maintains trust in adequate providence, the participants in power-struggles can play them out in a transparent way that can be judged experientially by those led.

So moral systems that do not in themselves favor authority as a moral value would not impose any obligation to an appeals process. Moralities that go farther in favoring autonomy and challenge the value of authority itself would encourage clear and stable decisions with traceable consequences upon which the leaders can be judged. An appeals process simply dilutes responsibility for the consequences. Seeing the effects and being actively thwarted may motivate people to ignore unnecessary authoritarianism and displace authority from those who impose inappropriate conditions on the group.

This then returns authority to its real value as 'power-with' by allowing it to ebb and flow according to the talent and reliability of its holder.


There is another, much shorter, answer that avoids choosing a moral system at all.

If it is immoral for you to be stonewalled at one level, it will be immoral for you to be stonewalled at a higher level. This really cannot be avoided. Everyone else really might be wrong.

If every hierarchy requires recourse to appeals, then no hierarchy is ever complete. There must always be another layer, or another set of peers to reconsider every decision.

Since there are only finitely many people in any social institution, at some level there must fail to be an appeal.

Nothing logically impossible is morally necessary.

Based on this logic, Agile processes generally lack recourse to appeal. Decisions are made, and those making them negotiate with whomever they need to involve. Mistakes are corrected, and decisions may be reversed once there is more data, but work proceeds until that call. Even if the reversal makes the intervening work a complete waste, a policy of appeals routinely creates enough waste that it is never worthwhile, by creating either constant delay or hesitation due to fear of reprisal.

Of course these kind of processes do not take place in life-or-death situations, and they tend not to involve single acts that can have huge costs. They originate on car assembly lines and predominated in software engineering. But production or maintenance work is the normal course of human activity, and is free of momentous decision points like those faced by courts, or in diplomatic interactions. Most normal human activity does not need to be modeled on the State.

One might argue that if a decision is critical in a given range of ways: extremely costly, threatening life, completely irreversible, etc. then a critical fraction of those affected should be involved in making it, and the easiest way to involve that critical fraction is via chosen representatives of larger segments of the group.

But most human associations very seldom make this kind of critical decision, or if they do, make them seldom enough they can be addressed via direct democracy or group consensus.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .