Moral Responsibility and the Boundaries of Community: Power and Accountability from a Pragmatic Point of View / Edition 1

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

Smiley (moral and political philosophy, U. of Wisconsin) develops a pragmatic approach to the study of responsibility that understands morality and politics not as polar opposites, but as mutually determinant aspects of practical life, and provides a basis for open communication about responsibility in cases where there is disagreement about who is to blame for various sorts of harm in the world. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226763279
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/1992
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

1 Introduction 1
The Political Context of Moral Responsibility 1
Beyond Free Will and Determinism 14
Philosophical Pragmatism and Social Practice 21
2 Communal Blame and the Classical Worldview 33
Why We Cannot All Be Kantians 33
Aristotle on the Conditions of Voluntariness 37
The Responsibility of Children 50
Blameworthiness, Communal Standards, and the Primacy of Moral Luck 52
Volitional Excuses and the Criteria of Blameworthiness 56
3 Transcendental Authority and the Damnation of Christian Sinners 58
Transcendental Authority Threatened 58
From Communal Accountability to Moral Sin 63
Religious Ascription vs. Scientific Discovery 66
4 Internalized Transcendence and the Modern Moral Conscience 72
Moral Guilt and the Internalization of Social Blame 72
The Burdens of Free Will 82
Determinism, Moral Luck, and Insufficient Control 92
5 Moral Responsibility and the Prevention of Harm 105
Shared Starting Points 105
A Radical Extension of Moral Responsibility 106
Traditional Constraints and the Deflation of a Radical Theory 117
The Subjectification of Social Blame 121
6 Social Expectations, Role Playing, and the Primacy of Moral Agency 130
A Deontological View of Moral Agency 130
Moral Agency and Social Norms 133
Social Norms, Role Playing, and the Collapse of a Conservative Perspective 137
7 Moral Agency and the Distribution of Organizational Blame 149
Moral Blame and Democratic Accountability 149
Organizational Excuses 153
Moral Tasks and the Distribution of Power 157
8 Actions, Consequences, and the Boundaries of Community 167
Alternative Approaches 167
The Practice of Moral Responsibility 177
Causal Responsibility and Practical Control 179
Interests, Expectations, and Social Roles 185
Causal Responsibility and the Boundaries of Community 195
Shifting Boundaries 205
The Problem of Omissions 212
When Do We Become Killers? 219
9 Private Blame and Public Accountability 225
Moral Responsibility, Causation, and Blameworthiness 225
Volitional Excuses and the Question of Fairness 228
Do We Really Need to Talk about Free Will? 235
Social Blame and the Regulation of Communal Standards 238
Blaming, Interests, and the Maintenance of Power 245
From Public Accountability to Moral Blameworthiness and Back 249
10 Conclusion: Morality and Power 255
Bibliography 273
Index 285
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