Abstracts for Workshop 1


Listed in likely order of presentation


Thomas Smith, University of Manchester

‘Professionalism: new reflections on Austin’s window cleaner’

J. L . Austin imagines a would-be thief pretending to clean windows through which he spies, by really cleaning the windows (“cleaning ‘em a treat”). I note that in such a case (given plausible assumptions) the agent is heteronomous: his action is directed by an end that he lacks. I explain how heteronomy differs from the more widely discussed phenomenon of akrasia, or acting against your better judgement. I observe that, often, in the modern workplace, one is in the position of Austin’s miscreant: one’s action is organized and guided by an end that one lacks. When the absent end is one that it befits one in one’s professional role to have, such heteronomy constitutes a familiar sort of professionalism. I consider some methods for cultivating or habituating such professionalism, and ask whether this can be done without lapsing into Sartrean bad faith.

Stephanie Collins, University of Manchester

‘Shared Ends and Slack-taking’

Institutions sometimes fail to do what they ought to do, even though all currently existing role-bearers within the institution have done (what looks like) their share of what the institution ought to do. This leaves a remainder, or ‘gap’, between the (unfulfilled) responsibility of the institution and the (fulfilled) responsibility of its role-bearers. I examine two recent proposals to ‘fill in’ these ‘responsibility gaps’, and argue that they both require institutional role-bearers to ‘take up the slack’ for other role-bearers’ failures. I justify such slack-taking obligations by appealing to the normative force of the commitments role-bearers have made to shared institutional ends. The upshot is this: our roles that entail shared institutional ends are perhaps more obligation-generating than our roles that don’t entail such ends. But, I suggest, a broad and non-voluntarist construal of ‘shared institutional ends’ gives us a wide range of slack-taking obligations, within a wide range of institutions.

Sean Cordell, Open University

‘Friends and Friendship’

Suppose that Tina were angrily to rebuke her friend Selina with: ‘but I thought we were friends!’ Tina implicitly but clearly alleges that Selina has transgressed of a standard of friendship. This illustrates an important dimension of their relationship, namely the way in which ‘friendship’ specifies certain obligations for any friends: for a friend per se. That is, there are obligations that a friend has just by virtue of occupying the social-institutional role of friendship. Interestingly, philosophical accounts of friendship and its moral value have tended to deny or overlook this institutional dimension. Michael O Hardimon explicitly rules out friendship as an institutional role, for example. Others have defined proper friendship in terms of the way in which individual friends (should) value each other, non-instrumentally as ends in themselves, generating a debate about whether or not consequentialism can accommodate friendship’s moral value. I defend the institutional role account in light of these accounts, and consider some implications for moral theory.

Reid Blackman, Colgate University

‘The Normative Independence of Institutional Roles’

The question that guides this paper is, ‘What are the relations between institutions, (institutional) roles, and morality?  The question is quite broad, and to attach substance to it I consider an answer that I think both natural and wrong, viz. that one should abide by the institutional guidelines in which one’s roles are embedded, so long as those roles and institutions are morally acceptable. Put differently, the standards of evaluation for roles are institutionally determined (and thus institutionally dependent), while the ability for those standards to generate normative reasons for action depends upon the institution receiving morality’s stamp of approval.  Contrary to this view, I’ll argue that the evaluative standards of roles are institutionally independent.  Roles, on my view, have constitutive ends, and while those constitutive ends require interpretation, there is no reason for thinking that institutions are epistemically privileged in this respect.  I’ll outline three ways in which interpretations can be carried out by extra- and intra-institutional members, and then proceed to argue that a role does not need to be moral in order for it to provide normative reasons for action.

Erin Taylor, Cornell University

‘Role Obligations: Function and Normative Justification’

The fact that we are social creatures, limited in both cognition and motivation, creates challenges that normative moral theories must meet. These challenges include predictable coordination and calculation problems, as well as persistent natural biases and mistaken beliefs about what morality requires. Social roles function as an effective, elegant mechanism for addressing these challenges. I sketch a theory of role obligations that respects this function of social roles. I also show how this theory helps illuminate some seemingly unrelated issues in normative ethics, including: moral dilemma, irreconcilability, ought implies can, cultural moral relativism, and the yawning gap between theoretical and applied ethics.