Philosophers usually discuss responsibility in terms of responsibility for past actions or as a question about the nature of moral agency. Yet the word responsibility is fairly modern, whereas these topics arguably represent timeless concerns about human agency. This paper investigates another use of responsibility, that is particularly important to modern liberal societies: responsibility as a virtue that can be demonstrated by individuals and organisations. The paper notes its initial importance in political contexts, and seeks to explain why we now (...) demand responsibility in all spheres of life. In reply, I highlight the distinctively institutional character of modern liberal societies: institutions specify many of the particular responsibilities each of us must fulfil, but also require responsibility to sustain them and address their failings. My overall argument is that the virtue of responsibility occupies a distinctive place in the moral needs, and moral achievements, of liberal societies; and this, in turn, explains why it now occupies such a prominent place in our moral discourse. (shrink)
This paper considers the often-expressed fear that medical research may use children merely as means, and not respect them as ends in themselves – especially insofar as they are deemed less able to consent than adults. The main focus is on large-scale genetic, socio-medical and epidemiological research. The theoretical starting point of the paper is that to be treated as an end in oneself is to be regarded as – and to act as – a participant in cooperative endeavours. This (...) participatory status is certainly connected with individual authority to consent and dissent; and there is no doubt that consent plays an important role when adults participate in many research projects. However, insofar as consent is located within structures of human cooperation, the authority to consent is not a straightforward privilege. Rather, consent is bound up with responsibility for one's choices and commitment to shared terms of cooperation. Given this understanding, it is argued that consent should not be our principal concern when we involve children in research. This is not because of children's (possible) incompetence to consent as such, but rather because children are still learning how to respect and assess the cooperative terms involved in our institutional lives. Instead, our leading concern should be with the terms regulating their involvement in research. Given suitable safeguards, research is one way in which children may learn what it is to bear responsibilities and to act as an end in oneself – that is, to cooperate with others on reasonable terms and for worthy ends. (shrink)
Hannah Arendt’s (1906-1975) conception of power is entirely distinctive. It is rooted in a political philosophy that celebrates the public realm of freedom that emerges when people act with others as citizens or political equals. For Arendt, power is actualized where people act together to sustain or to change the world they share with one another. Her fundamental claim is this: ‘Power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert. Power is never the property (...) of an individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together’. This entry offers some background to Arendt’s account, highlights two important contrasts that she makes between power and violence, and then points to her related notion of authority. (shrink)
Discusses what is involved in describing a person as responsible: she has responsibilities that she is duty-bound to undertake, and may be held responsible when she fails to fulfill these. Considers why societies and organizations divide responsibilities between persons. Also considers how questions of responsibility arise in the spheres of morality, law, organizational life and politics, and how different modes of holding responsible may be appropriate in each. Concludes with a brief discussion of some questions about collective responsibility.
We evaluate people and groups as responsible or not, depending on how seriously they take their responsibilities. Often we do this informally, via moral judgment. Sometimes we do this formally, for instance in legal judgment. This article considers mainly moral responsibility, and focuses largely upon individuals. Later sections also comment on the relation between legal and moral responsibility, and on the responsibility of collectives.
This article considers the charge that citizens of developed societies are complicit in large-scale harms, using climate destabilisation as its central example. It contends that we have yet to create a lived morality – a fabric of practices and institutions – that is adequate to our situation. As a result, we participate in systematic injustice, despite all good efforts and intentions. To make this case, the article draws on recent discussions of Kant’s ethics and politics. Section 1 considers Tamar Schapiro’s (...) account of how otherwise decent actions can be corrupted by others’ betrayals, and hence fall into complicity. Section 2 turns to discussions by Christine Korsgaard and Lucy Allais, which highlight how people can be left without innocent choices if shared frameworks of interaction do not instantiate core ideals. Section 3 brings these ideas together in order to make sense of the charge of complicity in grave collective harms, and addresses some worries that the idea of unavoidable complicity may raise. (shrink)
Two of the most prominent questions in Kant's critical philosophy concern reason. The first, central to his theoretical philosophy, is the unprovable pretensions of reason in earlier “rationalist” philosophers, especially Leibniz and Descartes. The second, central to his practical philosophy, is the subservient role accorded to reason by the British empiricists—above all Hume, who declared, “Reason is wholly inactive, and can never be the source of so active a principle as conscience, or a sense of morals.” Treatise, 22.214.171.124; see also (...) the entry on Rationalism vs. Empiricism .) Thus the titles of two key works: the monumental Critique of Pure Reason, and the Critique of Practical Reason that is middle point of his great trio of moral writings (between the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and The Metaphysics of Morals). (shrink)
Who, in particular, may hold us responsible for our moral failings? Most discussions of moral responsibility bracket this question, despite its obvious practical importance. In this article, I investigate the moral authority involved and how it arises in the context of personal relationships, such as friendship or family relations. My account is based on the idea that parties to a personal relationship not only share responsibility for their relationship, but also — to some degree that is negotiated between them — (...) for one another's lives. In sharing these responsibilities, we grant people a particular authority to respond to us. By highlighting the responsibility that we assume when we hold someone responsible, I also suggest that this analysis contains important lessons for thinking about responsibility in other contexts. (shrink)
This article considers how we should frame the ethical issues raised by current proposals for large-scale genebanks with on-going links to medical and lifestyle data, such as the Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council's 'UK Biobank'. As recent scandals such as Alder Hey have emphasised, there are complex issues concerning the informed consent of donors that need to be carefully considered. However, we believe that a preoccupation with informed consent obscures important questions about the purposes to which such collections are (...) put, not least that they may be only haphazardly used for research —an end that would not fairly reflect the original altruistic motivation of donors, and the trust they must invest. We therefore argue that custodians of such databases take on a weighty pro-active duty, to encourage public debate about the ends of such collections and to sponsor research that reflects publicly agreed priorities and provides public benefits. (shrink)
Biobanks correspond to different situations: research and technological development, medical diagnosis or therapeutic activities. Their status is not clearly defined. We aimed to investigate human biobanking in Europe, particularly in relation to organisational, economic and ethical issues in various national contexts. Data from a survey in six EU countries were collected as part of a European Research Project examining human and non-human biobanking. A total of 147 institutions concerned with biobanking of human samples and data were investigated by questionnaires and (...) interviews. Most institutions surveyed belong to the public or private non-profit-making sectors, which have a key role in biobanking. This activity is increasing in all countries because few samples are discarded and genetic research is proliferating. Collections vary in size, many being small and only a few very large. Their purpose is often research, or research and healthcare, mostly in the context of disease studies. A specific budget is very rarely allocated to biobanking and costs are not often evaluated. Samples are usually provided free of charge and gifts and exchanges are the common rule. Good practice guidelines are generally followed and quality controls are performed but quality procedures are not always clearly explained. Associated data are usually computerised. Biobankers generally favour centralisation of data rather than of samples. Legal and ethical harmonisation within Europe is considered likely to facilitate international collaboration. We propose a series of recommendations and suggestions arising from the EUROGENBANK project. (shrink)
Arthur Ripstein's book Force and Freedom insists that, ‘Freedom, understood as independence of another person's choice, is [all] that matters’. In this paper I suggest that this premise leads Ripstein to an instrumentalization of democracy that neglects a properly public and collective notion of freedom. The paper first criticizes Ripstein's key argument against any extension of public purposes beyond the upholding of persons’ ‘independence of others’ choice’. More constructively, the paper then suggests that a space of public freedom is opened (...) up when people deliberate in order to form and pursue democratic purposes. Citizens may act together to promote ends that they think are worthwhile, without dominating one another or restricting individual freedom. (shrink)
This paper explores some ways in which Immanuel Kant’s ethical theory can be brought to bear on professional and health care ethics. Health care professionals are not mere individuals acting upon their own ends. Rather, their principles of action must be defined in terms of participation in a cooperative endeavor. This generates complex questions as to how well their roles mesh with one another and whether they comprise a well-formed collective agent. We argue that Kant’s ethics therefore, and perhaps surprisingly, (...) requires us to consider the institutions, procedures, and politics that decide who should play what part in a complex collective enterprise. Likewise, professional responsibility involves – alongside a readiness to play one’s individual part – a concern for these collective aspects of healthcare. (shrink)
This paper discusses Kant’s problematic attempts to come to grips with the question of meaning. The first section sets out the problem as Kant discovers it, under the idea of a ‘Categorical Imperative.’ The second looks directly at his thoughts on the question of meaning, in connection with individual dignity, personal fulfilment and hope for our common future. Third, I examine inadequacies in Kant’s account, while the fourth part suggests that these arise through a lack of faith in the practical (...) fruits of reason. In conclusion I raise a lasting concern belonging to post-Kantian philosophy, whether Kant’s equation of autonomy with ‘the moral law’ may not threaten both freedom and meaning in human affairs. (shrink)
The members of any functioning modern society live their lives amid complex networks of overlapping institutions. Apart from the major political institutions of law and government, however, much normative political theory seems to regard this institutional fabric as largely a pragmatic convenience. This paper contests this assumption by reflecting on how institutions both constrain and enable spheres of effective action and responsibility. In this way a society’s institutional fabric constitutes, in Samuel Scheffler’s phrase, an infrastructure of responsibility. The paper discusses (...) three key normative aspects of this infrastructure. First, institutions define roles and rules, alongside forms of sanction and encouragement, so as to realise limited forms of practical, normative agreement. Second, institutions allocate and adjudicate distinct responsibilities. This creates separate spheres of initiative, ensuring responsibilities are fulfilled and providing for structured disagreement and change. Third, because we move through a plurality of institutions and associations, we experience varying responsibilities and forms of recognition. Individual identities thus depend on several different forms of recognition, and are well placed to resist totalising or fundamentalist temptations. In sum, the paper argues that a liberal institutional fabric provides essential moral stability, though not an undesirable fixity. By containing the fragility and dangers of individual moral judgment, our institutional fabric allows such judgment to play a valuable role in human affairs. (shrink)
Negligence reminds us that we often do and cause things unawares, occasionally with grave results. Given the lack of foresight and intention, some authors argue that people should not be judged culpable for negligence. This paper offers a contrasting view. It argues that gaining control is itself a fundamental responsibility, with both collective and individual elements. The paper underlines both sides, focussing on how they relate as we ascribe responsibility or culpability. Following the introduction, Section 2 argues that conscious awareness (...) is neither necessary nor sufficient for control. Control is not a property of deliberate choice, so much as a practical achievement. Section 3 stresses the collective aspects of non-negligence: creating knowledge about risks, structuring environments to guard against them, and developing standards of care. Failings in the collective task, rather than lack of individual control, mean it can often be unfair to pin culpability on a single individual. Section 4 suggests that a basic duty of a responsible person is to acknowledge the ways in which we may do more or less than we mean to, often in ways that create risks. It then sketches an approach to culpability as part of a collective exercise: as we take responsibility for standards of care, and for our own and others’ agency. (shrink)
Like most bioethical discussion, examination of human biobanks has been largely framed in terms of research subjects’ rights, principally informed consent, with some gestures toward public benefits. However, informed consent is for the competent, rights-bearing individual: focussing on the individual, it thus neglects social, economic and even political matters; focussing on the competent rights-bearer, it does not serve situations where consent is plainly inappropriate (eg, the young child) or where coercion can obviously be justified (the criminal). Using the British experience (...) of large-scale biobanking, I argue that the focus on consenting individuals distorts our ways of thinking about biobanks and has serious practical ramifications. This becomes clear if we contrast the case of adult biobanks intended for medical research with two other forms of biobanking. Thus child cohort studies – vital for sound scientific investigation of the interplay of genetics and environment in health – have been very badly funded next to adult studies. On the other hand, forensic databases have attracted massive investment, but little debate – partly owing to a sense that here, at least, is a case where consent is not relevant. Contrasting these central types of biobanking, I will suggest that there are powerful factors at work in limiting ‘ethics’ to individual rights. Projects of this size should direct our attention to more overtly political questions concerning priority setting and organisation of medical research. (shrink)
Hannah Arendt is one of the few philosophers to examine the dynamics of political action at length. Intriguingly, she emphasises the disclosure of who the actor is as a specific distinction of political action. This emphasis is connected with some long-standing worries about Arendt’s account that centre on its apparent unconcern for political responsibility. In this paper, I argue that Arendt’s emphasis on disclosure actually harbours a profound concern with responsibility. I do so by examining three questions. The main part (...) of the paper focuses on how disclosure is bound up with political actors’ attempts to act with one another. It asks: what would it be for an actor to evade disclosure? And: what is involved in an actor acknowledging the fact of disclosure? – Looking at the matter negatively, attempts to evade disclosure and its implications lead to irresponsibility. Positively, for the actor to accept disclosure is to see herself as bound to her fellow actors and audience by relations of joint action and mutual accountability. The conclusion asks a third question: what would it mean for on-lookers to deny the relevance of actors’ disclosure? I argue that Arendt’s historiography – which revolves around stories in which political actors reveal who they are – reflects her conviction that people can and must take responsibility for their world. (shrink)
This paper argues that those critics of Hannah Arendt's thought who have protested at her disavowal of ‘moral standards’ as being appropriate in the judgment of political action have, in fact, misjudged the structure of her thought. My argument is, however, a constructive one: the paper seeks to demonstrate how Arendt arrives at her sweeping rejection of conventional standards of moral judgment, and what solution she proposes. I do this in three stages. First, I address Arendt's understanding of self as (...) opposed to world: especially how the moral absolutes which may be claimed by the former may threaten the very structure of the latter. Second, I draw upon her model of action to discover the idea of a worldly ethics, one of principle. And third, I consider the fate of our goals when we act into the world, paying particular attention to the idea of responsibility and the on-going responsiveness to the world that belongs to action under a principle. (shrink)
Childhood obesity has become a central concern in many countries and a range of policies have been implemented or proposed to address it. This co-authored book is the first to focus on the ethical and policy questions raised by childhood obesity and its prevention. -/- Throughout the book, the authors emphasize that childhood obesity is a multi-faceted phenomenon, and just one of many issues that parents, schools and societies face. They argue that it is important to acknowledge the resulting complexities (...) and not to think in terms "single-issue" policies. -/- After first reviewing some of the factual uncertainties about childhood obesity, the authors explore central ethical questions. What priority should be given to preventing obesity? To what extent are parents responsible? How should we think about questions of stigma and inequality? In the second part of the book, the authors consider key policy issues, including the concept of the 'obesogenic environment,' debates about taxation and marketing, and the role that schools can play in obesity prevention. -/- The authors argue that political debate is needed to decide the importance given to childhood obesity and how to divide responsibilities for action. These debates have no simple answers. Nonetheless, the authors argue that there are reasons for hope. There are a wide range of opportunities for action. Many of these options also promise wider social benefits. (shrink)
Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) is likely to be the first woman to join the canon of the great philosophers. Arendt's work has attracted a huge volume of scholarship. This collection reprints papers from the USA, Germany, France and the UK, where further scholarly work is emerging at an increasing pace. Given that there was vigorous debate of her work in her lifetime, that there have since been several waves of evaluation and re-evaluation, and because a new generation of scholars is now (...) coming to her work, a systematic collection of the critical assessments of her thought is extremely timely. (shrink)
The claim that happiness and virtue ought to be proportionate to one another has often been expressed in the idea of a future world of divine justice, despite many moral difficulties with this idea. This paper argues that human efforts to enact such a proportionment are, ironically, justified by the same reasons that make the idea of divine justice seem so problematic. Moralists have often regarded our frailty and fallibility as reasons for abstaining from the judgment of others; and doubts (...) about our deserving some proportionment of happiness or unhappiness often arise insofar as virtue and vice may be explained on a causal basis. This paper argues that our fallibility and our susceptibility to social influence render judgment and response indispensable, because – given these characteristics – our actions and responses decide the morality that we actually share with one another. In this situation, to ‘judge not’ is to abandon the field to those with no such scruples. (shrink)
Ethical reflections help us decide what are the best actions to pursue in difficult and controversial situations. Reflections on public policy consider how to alter patterns of individual activity and institutional policies or frameworks for the better. The rising prevalence of childhood and adolescent obesity may pose serious health issues. As such, it is related to ethical and public policy questions including responsibility for health, food production and consumption, patterns of physical activity, the role of the state, and the rights (...) and duties of parenthood. (shrink)
Although commentators sometimes mention a link between Kant and Nietzsche, this paper claims that the continuities in their moral thought have been insufficiently explored. I argue that Nietzsche may offer us a profound rethinking of Kant’s morality – one indebted to Kant’s ideal of critique. The paper first considers the wide apparent gulf between the thinkers. The second section seeks to explain this gulf in terms which relate to Kant’s overall project, while the final section deals with Nietzsche’s critique of (...) Kant’s reliance on rules of various sorts. I conclude with two suggestions for contemporary Kantian ethics that we might take from Nietzsche’s engagement. (shrink)
This encyclopedia entry surveys the moral and political thought of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679). Hobbes's vision of the world is strikingly original and still relevant to contemporary politics. His main concern is the problem of social and political order: how human beings can live together in peace and avoid the danger and fear of civil conflict. He poses stark alternatives: we should give our obedience to an unaccountable sovereign (a person or group empowered to decide every social and (...) political issue). Otherwise what awaits us is a “state of nature” that closely resembles civil war – a situation of universal insecurity, where all have reason to fear violent death and where rewarding human cooperation is all but impossible. (shrink)
The methodology of the IDEFICS (Identification and prevention of dietary- and lifestyle-induced health effects in children and infants) study raises a number of important ethical questions. Many of these are already well recognised in ethical guidelines that uphold principles of individual and parental consent, confidentiality and scientific review. There are, however, wider issues that require ethical reflection. In this paper, we focus on a set of problems surrounding the evaluation of complex social interventions, and argue that comprehensive and objective evaluation (...) is a much more ethically charged aim than it may first appear. In particular, we contend that standard scientific measures - of body size and biomarkers - convey only part of the story. This is partly because, when we intervene in communities, we are also concerned with complex social effects. These effects are made even more complex by contemporary social anxieties about fat and physical appearance, as well as about the safety and security of children. Such anxieties increase the risk of undesirable side effects that are themselves difficult to gauge. In the face of these and other complexities, we argue that the evaluation of interventions should involve a strong ethical dimension. First, it must include - as does the IDEFICS study - consideration of the opinions of the people affected, who are subjected to interventions in ways that necessarily go beyond individual consent. Second, we suggest that interventions might also be assessed by how much they empower people - and especially those persons, such as children, who are otherwise often disempowered. (shrink)
[Bibliographic article focussing on compatibilist approaches to responsibility.] Moral responsibility relates to many significant topics in ethics and metaphysics, such as the content and scope of moral obligations, the nature of human agency, and the structure of human interaction. This entry focuses on compatibilist approaches to moral responsibility—that is, approaches that see moral responsibility as compatible with the causal order of the world. This is partly because they have more to say about the nature of moral responsibility and the practices (...) associated with it, and also because there is a seperate entry on free will. The entry also focuses mainly on the debates considered most significant by contemporary analytic philosophers. However, it also points to some earlier contributions and to some significant contributions from outside those debates. In particular, it is interesting that contemporary debates often focus on the agency of the responsible person, without attending to the forms of interaction that person may participate in. However, as Peter Strawson points out in a seminal essay (see Responsibility and the Reactive Sentiments), moral responsibility is intimately related to our reactions to one another. Should those reactions be understood by reference to features of the person held responsible, or by reference to the relationship between persons where some action or outcome is at issue, or even by reference to wider social and political structures? Moral responsibility also borders on a number of topics of great practical importance. These include responsibility under the law, the responsibilities of groups and organizations, accountability within organizations, and how distributive justice and individual responsibility are related. Again, this entry focuses largely on individual moral responsibility and only mentions a few social and legal discussions of responsibility with especial implications for how we think about individual responsibility. (shrink)
This paper looks at judgments of guilt in the face of alleged wrong-doing, be it in public or in private discourse. Its concern is not the truth of such judgments, although the complexity and contestability of such claims will be stressed. The topic, instead, is what sort of activities we are engaged in, when we make our judgments on others' conduct. To examine judging as an activity it focuses on a series of problems that can occur when we blame others. (...) On analysis, we see that these problems take the form of performative contradictions, so that the ostensible purposes of assigning guilt to others are undermined.There is clear evidence from social psychology that blame is especially frequently and inappropriately attributed to individuals in modern Western societies. On the other hand, it has often been observed how suspicious we are about the activity of judging – thus a widespread perception that a refusal to judge is somehow virtuous. My suggestion is that the sheer difficulty of attributions of responsibility, in the face of a complex and often arbitrary moral reality, frequently defeats us. This leads to a characteristic set of distortions when we blame, so that it is no surprise that we have become suspicious of all blaming activities. (shrink)
This encyclopedia entry contrasts three influential philosophical accounts of our everyday practices of praise and blame, in terms of how they might be justified. On the one hand, a broadly Kantian approach sees responsibility for actions as relying on forms of self-control that point back to the idea of free will. On this account praise and blame are justified because a person freely chooses her actions. Praise and blame respond to the person as the chooser of her deed; they recognise (...) her dignity as a rational agent, as Kantians tend to put it. This approach sharply contrasts with two further ways of thinking about the issues. One is utilitarian, where praise and blame are justified in terms of their social benefits. Another, more complex approach is roughly Aristotelian. This approach situates practices of praise and blame in terms of our on-going relationships with one another. This approach stresses the importance of mutual accountability, moral education, and assessments of character in terms of the many vices and virtues. (shrink)
A brief discussion of means and ends in Arendt's political theory, which considers the following quotation from Arendt's essay, 'What is freedom?': "Political institutions, no matter how well or badly designed, depend for continued existence upon acting men; their conservation is achieved by the same means that brought them into being. Independent existence marks the work of art as a product of making; utter dependence upon further acts to keep it in existence marks the state as a product of action.".
Part of a review symposium on Steve Buckler's book, Hannah Arendt and Political Theory: Challenging the Tradition (2011). This short appreciation of Buckler’s book highlights the two guiding features of Arendt’s method that he brings to the fore: its concern with timeliness and its epistemic relevance to political questions. It concludes with a brief note on Arendt’s relation to other ways of approaching political philosophy, as raised by Buckler’s book and my own remarks.
In this first part of the article, I want to sketch two things. First, I will say something about the idea of free will. The paradoxes involved in this idea often occur to people even before they come to philosophy, and these difficulties will be central to Kant’s account. But second, before turning to Kant, I would like to tackle Aristotle’s broad approach, and show that, before free will was invented by Christian philosophers, there was a quite different way of (...) thinking about moral responsibility – one that has much to teach us. -/- In the second part of the article, to appear in the next issue, I ask why Kant’s account continues to attract many people who would not dream of calling themselves Kantians – indeed, many who have never even heard Kant’s name. Kant’s theory involves a powerful idea of moral worth based on choice. This idea, though problematic because of the idea of freedom it seems to depend on, does account for many of our intuitions about moral responsibility. But it is not the only explanation of these intuitions, nor – I will argue – is it the most plausible. (shrink)
This paper explores an internal relation between wrong-doing and the ability to think in moral terms, through Hobbes ’ thought. I use his neglected retelling of our ‘original sin’ as a springboard, seeing how we then discover a need to vindicate our own projects in terms shared by others. We become normatively demanding creatures: greedy for normative vindication, eager to judge others amid the difficulties of our world. However there is, of course, no choice for us but to choose our (...) own principles of judgment, or at least some authority to provide these. Unconvinced by Hobbes ’ remedies, I conclude with one implication for moral philosophy@ a need to look rather differently at agency and responsibility. (shrink)
This paper interprets facts about actions and responsibility in terms of Kant’s category of the ‘intelligible,’ but is also broadly naturalistic in its approach. It analyses intelligible facts in terms of two elements, the institutional and the normative. First, I draw on John Searle’s account of institutional facts. Searle emphasises that neither the meaning of a word nor my possession of something is a matter of empirical facts concerning the entity itself. Instead, to understand the nature of such facts, we (...) must take account of people’s shared beliefs. Kant’s account of property relations can, in part, be understood as an institution in Searle’s sense. Drawing on the work of Tamar Schapiro and Arthur Ripstein, I extend this idea to illuminate our ‘ownership’ of our deeds. Second, and more briefly, I present a normative element. Institutional facts need not, in themselves, be morally compelling. Under conditions of relative freedom and equality, however, I argue that practices of responsibility can be seen as a practical manifestation of critique. This generates a critical self-reflexivity that, I suggest, provides normative warrant to the practices of action and responsibility that we institute among ourselves. (shrink)
Both advocates of corporate regulation and its opponents tend to depict regulation as restrictive—a policy option that limits freedom in the name of welfare or other social goods. Against this framing, I suggest we can understand regulation in enabling terms. If well designed and properly enforced, regulation enables companies to operate in ways that are acceptable to society as a whole. This paper argues for this enabling character by considering some wider questions about responsibility and the sharing of responsibility. Agents (...) who are less able or willing to act well are obviously more likely to face criticism, mistrust, and adverse responses. It will be more difficult to hold those agents responsible, especially so when there are many who fail in their responsibilities or where there are wide-reaching disagreements about those responsibilities. Regulatory standards, like other norms and ways of defining responsibilities, address these problems: by restricting, they also enable social cooperation. Like other forms of holding responsible, ways of enforcing those standards against recalcitrant agents, or encouraging conformity to them, may also seem restrictive. Again, however, these practices play an important role in enabling responsible agency. This is partly because they can bolster readiness to act well in agents who experience or witness such responses. It is also because they free other agents to exercise initiative and commitment in defining their individual responsibilities in line with higher standards. (shrink)
In this article I discuss Geoffrey Vickers’ ideas from the perspective of moral and political philosophy. His thought is presented through three key terms, which I suggest can encapsulate his philosophy: (i) our human capacity to respond aptly to our situation; (ii) the analysis of modern society in terms of institutions; and (iii) the moral importance of responsibility to the maintenance of human culture and cooperation.
Definition of the problem:The frequency and scope of human genetic banking has increased significantly in recent years and is set to expand still further. Two of the major growth areas in medical research, pharmacogenomics and population genetics, rely on large DNA banks to provide extensive, centralised and standardised genetic information as well as clinical and personal data. This development raises ethical concerns. Arguments and conclusion: Our article focuses on the appropriateness of informed consent as a means to safeguard both research (...) subjects’ rights and their good will. It will be argued that information requirements are extensive, with regard to non-therapeutic research, feedback, type of consent and possible breaches of confidentiality as well as possible implications for third parties. Given the demand of these requirements and the danger that research facilitated by these huge DNA banks may not reflect public priorities, it is argued that the research needs be steered by trustees to ensure that the altruistic act of sample donation contributes to the public good. (shrink)
This paper looks at the attribution of moral responsibility in the light of Kant's claim that the maxims of our actions should be universalizable. Assuming that it is often difficult for us to judge which actions satisfy this test, it suggests one way of translating Kantian morality into practice. Suppose that it is possible to read each action, via its maxim, as a communication addressed to the world: as an attempt to set the terms on which we should interact with (...) one another. The paper suggests that respect for the actor requires us to take this communication seriously. When we suppose that an action is wrong, we then have a powerful reason to dispute its message: to hold the actor responsible for her deed. Although we are often unreliable judges ‘in our own case’, our mutual attributions of responsibility show us judging together, what the moral law should mean in practice. (shrink)
As we have seen in the cases of Serbia and Israel, collectives can be mobilised to perpetrate grave wrongs on the basis of patently ideological claims about the harms they have suffered. This article seeks a theoretical understanding of this troubling phenomenon. It does so, first, by contrasting mobilisation based on vicarious victimhood with revenge. The groups in question do not exhibit the contact with reality and clear sense of agency that are prerequisites for revenge. However, these evasions of agency (...) and reality are not specific to group identities centred on victimhood. Second, therefore, the article considers the attractions of such an identity and how it reinforces groups’ tendencies to myth-making and irresponsibility. Among its more harmful effects, it obscures the realities of state power and forecloses meaningful accountability to those outside the group. It also sets in train a vicious circle, whereby the group discovers perverse incentives to harm others – and to harm itself. Yet these harms only reinforce the group’s self-anointed status as victim: as always done by, never doing to. (shrink)
This paper considers a short quotation from near the beginnings of Arendt’s Denktagebuch, dated to August 1950. This epigrammatic formulation presages Arendt’s whole political theory, by situating the political outside of the individual, in-between a plurality of human beings. My concern, however, is not with politics as such. Instead, I ask: cannot what Arendt says of politics be said with equal truth of morality? To make some attempt upon this vast question, I examine Arendt’s own more tentative explorations of the (...) moral sphere, including the importance she attaches to judgment – in particular, our judgment of the company we might keep and the exemplars we should follow. (shrink)
Ethical issues surrounding research are complex and multifaceted. There are issues concerning: the methods used, the intended purpose, the foreseen and unforeseen effects, the use and dissemination of findings, and, not least, what is and what fails to be researched. - In this article we break down the issues into two main categories: (I) how the research itself is done; and (II) how it is determined by and in turn affects a wider context. In the first section we discuss familiar (...) issues such as the need for methodologically sound investigation, appropriate protections for the human subjects of research, as well as issues arising in collaborative research. The second set of issues is less well investigated and, indeed, particularly difficult to address; these are issues that extend well beyond the control of the researcher(s) or, quite often, any one individual or organization. We discuss the selection of research topics, research funding, publication and, finally, the role of external ethical guidelines and their institutional setting. (shrink)