A Deliberative Conception of Moral Complicity
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A Deliberative Conception of Moral Complicity

  • Author(s): Donohue, Jenna L
  • Advisor(s): Julius, A. J.
  • et al.
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Abstract

Suppose Agatha tells her roommate Brianna that she plans to cheat on her upcoming midterm exam, going so far as to explain her plan in detail. Agatha explains that many of their fellow students cheat and not to do so is to put oneself at a disadvantage. Brianna nods along as Agatha shares her plan. Though Brianna hopes that Agatha will not cheat, she does not tell Agatha of this hope nor does she raise any of the reasons that cheating is wrong. As it happens, Agatha would have cheated even if Brianna had raised her concerns. It seems to me that Brianna is complicit in Agatha’s cheating, and that her failure to responsibly talk through with Agatha what Agatha what should do is what grounds her complicity. In this dissertation, I develop and defend this pretheoretical intuition—that failing to discuss with others what’s to be done and why can make you complicit in their wrongful actions. According to what I call the deliberative view of complicity, an agent B’s failure in her deliberative duty regarding another agent A’s φ-ing is sufficient for and explains B’s complicity in A’s φ-ing, if A φ’s. Deliberative duties are obligations we have with respect to the practical deliberations of other agents. Examples include speaking sincerely, meeting a reasonable person standard of accuracy in one’s speech, and exercising due care that others’ false beliefs are not formed nor confirmed on the basis of one’s conduct. Violating these duties opens an agent up to moral complicity when others go on to act wrongly. The deliberative view can explain cases that other philosophical accounts of complicity cannot, including silence as complicity, complicity without difference-making, and complicity without intentional participation.The deliberative view can also explain cases of complicity that do not involve speech. Suppose Betsy drives Adam to a bank so that Adam can rob it. Betsy intuitively seems complicit in Adam’s bank-robbing, but this can seem like a difficult case for the deliberative view. Even if Betsy had told Adam that robbing a bank is a wrongful action, it still seems like his driving Adam to the bank makes him complicit in Adam’s bank-robbing. To help explain this kind of case, I defend a theory of action according to which our conduct expresses our stance on moral issues. When Betsy drives Adam to the bank, he acts-as-though Adam’s bank-robbing is permissible and so expresses that Adam’s bank-robbing is permissible. In so doing, he violates his deliberative obligation with respect to Adam’s bank-robbing and so opens himself up to complicity in the robbery. More generally, when an action acts-as-though an agent A’s (wrongful) φ-ing is morally permissible, she opens herself up to complicity in A’s φ-ing because she has violated her deliberative duty in expressing its permissibility. A deliberative account of moral complicity can help us to reimagine our understanding of our moral impact on the world and so help us make progress on difficult questions of our complicity in an increasingly global society. By helping others to see the moral truth, I can not only avoid complicity in wrongdoing but also support others who are aiming to act rightly. Through my speech and action, I express my stance on moral issues, and ensuring that those stances are both correct and in line with my actual thinking is important not only to my own moral flourishing but also the moral success of those around me.

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This item is under embargo until May 27, 2022.