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  1. Paul Patton

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee476

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Patton, P. 2013. Power. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


Power is a central concern for many fields of social, political, and moral inquiry. For this reason, power is defined and described in many different ways. For some theorists, it is primarily associated with domination, coercion, violence, and other negative forms of action on individuals and groups. For others, power is primarily positive, expressed in the exercise of legitimate collective authority or in the educative and transformative control of children by parents and teachers. Some conceive of power as opposed to the freedom of individuals and groups, while others conceive of it as a condition of freedom. Because of the many conceptual and normative differences in the way that social theorists use the term “power,” it has been suggested that it is an “essentially contested” concept (Connolly 1974; Lukes 2005). Others have argued that there are distinct concepts of power, some of which are related by Wittgensteinian family resemblances (Wartenberg 1990; Clegg and Haugard 2009). A better model is to suppose that there is a core concept of power that is normatively neutral with respect to the character of its effects, which then underpins a number of different conceptions, each characterized by the incorporation of further concepts. This model, which will be employed here, accords with the structure of other moral and political concepts such as justice and equality.


  • ethics;
  • legal and political;
  • philosophy;
  • politics;
  • power