Political Ethics and Public Office / Edition 1

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Overview

Are public officials morally justified in threatening violence, engaging in deception, or forcing citizens to act for their own good? Can individual officials be held morally accountable for the wrongs that governments commit? Dennis Thompson addresses these questions by developing a conception of political ethics that respects the demands of both morality and politics. He criticizes conventional conceptions for failing to appreciate the difference democracy makes, and for ascribing responsibility only to isolated leaders or to impersonal organizations. His book seeks to recapture the sense that men and women, acting for us and together with us in a democratic process, make the moral choices that govern our public life.

Thompson surveys ethical conflicts of public officials over a range of political issues, including nuclear deterrence, foreign intervention, undercover investigation, bureaucratic negligence, campaign finance, the privacy of officials, health care, welfare paternalism, drug and safety regulation, and social experimentation. He views these conflicts from the perspectives of many different kinds of public officials - elected and appointed executives at several levels of government, administrators, judges, legislators, governmental advisers, and even doctors, lawyers, social workers, and journalists whose professional roles often thrust them into public life.

In clarifying the ethical problems faced by officials, Thompson combines theoretical analysis with practical prescription, and begins to define a field of inquiry for which many have said there is a need but to which few have yet contributed. Philosophers, political scientists, policy analysts, sociologists, lawyers, and other professionals interested in ethics in government will gain insight from this book.

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Editorial Reviews

Perspective
This is an important book, not only for its ground breaking contribution to the study of political ethics, but also more broadly, for its contributions to democratic theory. It should be of use to a wide range of political scientists as well as members of other academic disciplines.
American Political Science Review
The discussions throughout are careful and measured, conversant with a wide literature, and full of useful distinctions that allow many stalemates and logjams in the public understanding of political ethics to be bypassed or broken through...Even if readers are unconvinced by Thompson's particular views, they will find in the essays indispensable tools for mounting alternative conclusions.
Michigan Law Review
Thompson's book...sensitively and carefully probe[s] the implications of incorporating notions of 'personal responsibility' in our assessment of moral political life.
Political Theory
Immediately upon publication, this becomes the text of choice for courses on the ethics of public officials...The major theme for which the book will be widely noticed and long remembered [is the] aim 'to preserve the essentials of the traditional idea of personal responsibility against the pressures of organizational life.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674686069
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/1990
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,393,919
  • Product dimensions: 0.61 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Dennis Thompson is Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy and Associate Provost at Harvard University. He is the author of The Democratic Citizen: Social Science and Democratic Theory in the Twentieth Century, John Stuart Mill and Representative Government, and coauthor (with Amy Gutmann) of Democracy and Disagreement.
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Table of Contents

Introduction

Problems of the Ethics of Office

Methods of the Ethics of Office

1. Democratic Dirty Hands

The Persistence of the Problem

The Limits of Democratic Distance

The Assumption of Accountability

Reviewing the Decision

Generalizing the Decision

Mediating the Decision

The End of Dirty Decisions

Democratic Deterrence

2. The Moral Responsibility of Many Hands

Hierarchical Responsibility

Collective Responsibility

Personal Responsibility

Alternative Causes

Causing and Advising

Good Intentions

The Ignorance of Officials

The Compulsion of Offices

3. Official Crime and Punishment

The Problem of Moral Responsibility

The Problem of Political Responsibility

Limits of Criminal Responsibility

4. Legislative Ethics

Minimalist Ethics

Functionalist Ethics

Rationalist Ethics

The Particulars of Generality

The Autonomous Legislator

The Pecuniary Connection

The Necessity of Publicity

5. The Private Lives of Public Officials

The Value of Privacy

The Scope of Privacy: Substantive Criteria

The Scope of Privacy: Procedural Criteria

6. Paternalistic Power

The Concept of Paternalism

The Justification of Paternalism

The Paternalism of the Professions

Compulsory Medical Treatment

The Law of Involuntary Guardianship

The Distribution of Public Welfare

The Regulation of Drugs

The Regulation of Safety

7. The Ethics of Social Experiments

The Story of the Denver Income Maintenance Experiment (DIME)

The Ethics of the DIME

Evaluations and Implications of the DIME

Notes

Credits

Index

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