Journal of Philosophy 91 (7):333-363 (1994)

Michael Hardimon
University of California, San Diego
Argues that role obligations are not marginal, "that they are central to morality and should be taken seriously." "A 'role obligation' is a moral requirement, which attaches to an institutional role, whose content is fixed by the function of the role, and whose normative force flows from the role." Rejects what he calls the doctrine of perfect adequacy which holds that role obligations are both comprehensive and transparent. Although this may have been plausible at earlier times, it is clearly implausible now. It is the implausibility of this doctrine which has led theorists to accept the standard view: which holds that role obligations that are noncontractual are extremely problematic. Once we reject the doctrine of perfect adequacy, however, we can see the significance of role obligations more clearly. [The content of role obligations, Hardimon admits, is indeterminate in the sense that it is subject to constructive interpretation. This suggests, however, that the obligations are not the source of their normative power, rather it is their justifying value which explains why some role requirements are obligatory. This is confirmed by the rest of the article.] One thing that should lead us to question the notion that we do not have obligations of this sort by considering what it would be like to have no noncontractual role obligations. [This, however, does not establish that the force of role obligations flows from the obligations themselves.] One objection to NCR obligations is that they may require acting in accordance with an unjust institution. However, the solution here is the same as with contractual obligations: unjust institutions and contracts do not bind. Moves on to identity. "What I am assuming is that most of us do at least tacitly conceive of ourselves as family members and citizens, that these self-understandings are central to our own general self-conception, and that we can, through reflection come to recognize that we do in fact conceive of ourselves in these ways. If this is correct, then abandoning the idea that we have noncontractual role obligations would require radical revision of our self-conception, for we cannot give up the idea of nonctractual role obligation without also ceasing to conceive of ourselves as family members and citizens. What, after all, would it mean to say that we conceive of ourselves as family members but regard oursleves as having no familial obligations whatsoever?...The upshot of the last two paragraphs is that the cost of abandoning our conception of ourselves as family members and citizens would be enormous." [The moral significance of identity is unclear here - is the only normative element loss of identity with rejection of role obligations? What of the case when one's identity is caught up in a role which requires one to act immorally in other ways?] If impressment is our concern, it shouldn't be, for role obligations are not like impressment - one is born into them, not impressed [how does this make a difference?]. Role must be reflectively acceptable to produce genuine obligations. "Determining whether a given social role is reflectively acceptable involves stepping back from that role in thought and asking whether it is a role people ought to occupy and play. Determining that a given social role is reflectively acceptable involves judging that it is meaningful, rational, or good." [Hence, some independent value is going to do all the work for role obligations - the normative force of a role does not flow from the role itself.] Concerning voluntary roles - even if we agree that voluntary acceptance is essential, this omits important elements of role identification. "The key component of the idea of identifying with a role is that of conceiving of oneself as someone for whom the norms, that is, the evaluative standards associated with a role, its rights, duties, virtues, ideals, and supererogations, have reason-giving force. Here is the idea. If you identify with a role, its norms will function for you as reasons. If you are a judge who identifies with the role of judge, the fact that this is something judges do will give you a reason for doing it." [Clearly a non-sequiter - conceiving of oneself as having a reason does not give oneself a reason for doing - there must actually be a reason for doing something. Moreover, the content of the role may be in question - and here we are to engage in constructive interpretation, which is just to say that we are to identify some underlying value and this will serve to justify and determine the content of the role. Refers to usage of "look, its your job" as basis for substantiating claims about the normative force of identity. "But here a basic point of similarity emerges between contractual and noncontractual role obligations. People can and do identify with their noncontractual roles and not just with their contractual roles. And when they do, assuming that the appropriate background moral conditions are in place, the fact taht they occupy these roles will provide them with reasons for carrying out the tasks of their noncontractual roles...The basic form of motivation provided by identification with contractual and noncontractual role obligations is the same."
Keywords Analytic Philosophy  Contemporary Philosophy
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ISBN(s) 0022-362X
DOI jphil199491719
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