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Moral Responsibility and the Boundaries of Community

Power and Accountability from a Pragmatic Point of View

The question of responsibility plays a critical role not only in our attempts to resolve social and political problems, but in our very conceptions of what those problems are. Who, for example, is to blame for apartheid in South Africa? Is the South African government responsible? What about multinational corporations that do business there? Will uncovering the "true facts of the matter" lead us to the right answer?

In an argument both compelling and provocative, Marion Smiley demonstrates how attributions of blame—far from being based on an objective process of factual discovery—are instead judgments that we ourselves make on the basis of our own political and social points of view. She argues that our conception of responsibility is a singularly modern one that locates the source of blameworthiness in an individual’s free will. After exploring the flaws inherent in this conception, she shows how our judgments of blame evolve out of our configuration of social roles, our conception of communal boundaries, and the distribution of power upon which both are based.

The great strength of Smiley’s study lies in the way in which it brings together both rigorous philosophical analysis and an appreciation of the dynamics of social and political practice. By developing a pragmatic conception of moral responsibility, this work illustrates both how moral philosophy can enhance our understanding of social and political practices and why reflection on these practices is necessary to the reconstruction of our moral concepts.

296 pages | 6 x 9 | © 1992

Philosophy: Ethics, Philosophy of Society

Political Science: Political and Social Theory

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
The Political Context of Moral Responsibility
Beyond Free Will and Determinism
Philosophical Pragmatism and Social Practice
Part One
2. Communal Blame and the Classical Worldview
Why We Cannot All Be Kantians
Aristotle on the Conditions of Voluntariness
The Responsibility of Children
Blameworthiness, Communal Standards, and the Primacy of Moral Luck
Volitional Excuses and the Criteria of Blameworthiness
3. Transcendental Authority and the Damnation of Christian Sinners
Transcendental Authority Threatened
From Communal Accountability to Moral Sin
Religious Ascription vs. Scientific Discovery
4. Internalized Transcendence and the Modern Moral Conscience
Moral Guilt and the Internalization of Social Blame
The Burdens of Free Will
Determinism, Moral Luck, and Insufficient Control
Part Two
5. Moral Responsibility and the Prevention of Harm
Shared Starting Points
A Radical Extension of Moral Responsibility
Traditional Constraints and the Deflation of Radical Theory
The Subjectification of Social Blame
6. Social Expectations, Role Playing, and the Primacy of Moral Agency
A Deontological View of Moral Agency
Moral Agency and Social Norms
Social Norms, Role Playing, and the Collapse of a Conservative Perspective
7. Moral Agency and the Distribution of Organizational Blame
Moral Blame and Democratic Accountability
Organizational Excuses
Moral Tasks and the Distribution of Power
Part Three
8. Actions, Consequences, and the Boundaries of Community
Alternative Approaches
The Practice of Moral Responsibility
Casual Responsibility and Practical Control
Interests, Expectations, and Social Roles
Casual Responsibility and the Boundaries of Community
Shifting Boundaries
The Problem of Omissions
When Do We Become Killers?
9. Private Blame and Public Accountability
Moral Responsibility, Causation, and Blameworthiness
Volitional Excuses and the Question of Fairness
Do We Really Need to Talk about Free Will?
Social Blame and the Regulation of Communal Standards
Blaming, Interests, and the Maintenance of Power
From Public Accountability to Moral Blameworthiness and Back
10. Conclusion: Morality and Power

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