Ethics for Adversaries

Ethics for Adversaries: The Morality of Roles in Public and Professional Life

ARTHUR ISAK APPLBAUM
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7stv6
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  • Book Info
    Ethics for Adversaries
    Book Description:

    The adversary professions--law, business, and government, among others--typically claim a moral permission to violate persons in ways that, if not for the professional role, would be morally wrong. Lawyers advance bad ends and deceive, business managers exploit and despoil, public officials enforce unjust laws, and doctors keep confidences that, if disclosed, would prevent harm.Ethics for Adversariesis a philosophical inquiry into arguments that are offered to defend seemingly wrongful actions performed by those who occupy what Montaigne called "necessary offices."

    Applbaum begins by examining the career of Charles-Henri Sanson, who is appointed executioner of Paris by Louis XVI and serves the punitive needs of theancien régimefor decades. Come the French Revolution, the King's Executioner becomes the king's executioner, and he ministers with professional detachment to each defeated political faction throughout the Terror and its aftermath. By exploring one extraordinary role and the arguments that can be offered in its defense, Applbaum raises unsettling doubts about arguments in defense of less sanguinary professions and their practices.

    To justify harmful acts, adversaries appeal to arguments about the rules of the game, fair play, consent, the social construction of actions and actors, good outcomes in equilibrium, and the legitimate authority of institutions. Applbaum concludes that these arguments are weaker than supposed and do not morally justify much of the violation that professionals and public officials inflict. Institutions and the roles they create ordinarily cannot mint moral permissions to do what otherwise would be morally prohibited.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2293-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Little Deer Isle
  4. PART I: NECESSARY OFFICES

    • Chapter One ARGUMENTS FOR ADVERSARIES
      (pp. 3-14)

      Ethics for adversaries is a philosophical inquiry into arguments that are offered to defend adversary roles, practices, and institutions in public and professional life. The adversary professions in law, business, and government typically claim a moral permission to harm others in ways that, if not for the role, would be wrong. I shall argue that the claims of adversary institutions are weaker than supposed and do not justify much of the harm that professional adversaries inflict. Institutions and the roles they create ordinarily cannot mint moral permissions to do what otherwise would be morally prohibited.

      Adversary institutions are pervasive, and...

    • Chapter Two PROFESSIONAL DETACHMENT: THE EXECUTIONER OF PARIS
      (pp. 15-42)

      The executioner of Paris did not write these words, though the satirist who did captured with dead-on accuracy and prescience much of what can be reconstructed about how Charles- Henri Sanson, perhaps the least understandable figure of the French Revolution, understood himself and was understood by his contemporaries.¹

      At the risk of causing squeamishness, I invite you to explore with me one extraordinary professional career and the arguments from the morality of roles that can be offered in its defense. The uneasiness this will cause is not merely an affront to delicate feelings, for the claims that can be made...

  5. PART II: ROLES AND REASONS

    • Chapter Three DOCTOR, SCHMOCTOR: PRACTICE POSITIVISM AND ITS COMPLICATIONS
      (pp. 45-60)

      Sanson the executioner appeals to various arguments from roles to justify the gravest violations of the humanity of persons. Through his apologia to Mercier, he asks us to take his institutional role seriously: to understand it to have independent moral force and, perhaps, independent moral grounding. When professional adversaries invoke their institutional roles to justify some nasty behavior, they too are asking us, in some way, to take their roles seriously, to grant that acting in a role may change the moral reasons one faces, and so change the way that the role actor should be evaluated.

      Should we take...

    • Chapter Four THE REMAINS OF THE ROLE
      (pp. 61-75)

      If practice positivism is correct, providing a good or exercising a skill does not by itself morally obligate the actor to comply with the obligations of a conventional role. Schmoctoring is possible. This implication of mediated moralization is troubling because it is a bad state of affairs that schmoctors are not morally obligated to comply with the role obligations of doctors.

      Roles can demand too little. Roles also can demand too much. When the conditions for mediated moralization are met, a role claims to morally obligate occupants to defer to its authority and comply with its rules, even when the...

    • Chapter Five ARE LAWYERS LIARS? THE ARGUMENT OF REDESCRIPTION
      (pp. 76-110)

      I concluded the chapter on the executioner of Paris with the cheap and some would say libelous suggestion that lawyers might accurately be described as serial liars, because they repeatedly try to induce others to believe in the truth of propositions or in the validity of arguments that they believe to be false. Good lawyers respond with some indignation that, in calling zealous advocacy “lying,” I have misdescribed the practice of law.¹ But it is the practice of lawyering that engages in misdescription.

      Professional roles are said to change the morally relevant description of actions. When our Sanson argues that...

  6. PART III: GAMES AND VIOLATIONS

    • Chapter Six RULES OF THE GAME AND FAIR PLAY
      (pp. 113-135)

      The notion of a game has two complementary senses: a game as strategic interaction, and a game as rule-governed social practice. As a strategic interaction, a game invites players to engage in harmful tactics that are presumptively wrong, such as deception, coercion, or violence.¹ In defense of at least some use of such tactics, players commonly claim that they are engaged in a game as a rule-governed social practice as well, and that the rules of the game permit the use of tactics that would otherwise be morally impermissible. This chapter explores various arguments that might be offered in support...

    • Chapter Seven ARE VIOLATIONS OF RIGHTS EVER RIGHT?
      (pp. 136-174)

      The principle of fair play puts stringent conditions on the moral permissions an adversary game can mint. But the conditions might be stronger still. Perhaps some ways of treating others—killing, lying, coercing—are unjust no matter how we organize our collective life. Some ways of being treated might persist in their moral wrongness, despite the victim’s voluntary participation in a mutually advantageous social institution whose rules permit such treatment. Rawls distinguishes an obligation, which is created by social interaction, from a natural duty, whose force does not depend on any actual practice, institution, convention, or agreement.¹ If there are...

    • Chapter Eight ETHICS IN EQUILIBRIUM
      (pp. 175-204)

      Part of what adversaries in public and professional life do for a living is violate persons by deceiving and coercing them. This is so because the constituted redescription that the role player wishes to invoke fails on conceptual grounds (natural descriptions persist) and the consensual redescription that the game player wishes to invoke fails on factual grounds (targets resist). Always a presumptive moral wrong, person violation is in need of justification: the violator must have reasons that reasonable targets would accept. But the justifications at hand—varieties of actual consent, fair play, selfdefense, and varieties of self-defeat—for the most...

  7. PART IV: AUTHORITY AND DISSENT

    • Chapter Nine DEMOCRATIC LEGITIMACY AND OFFICIAL DISCRETION
      (pp. 207-239)

      In the struggle to make and carry out public policy, the substantive views of government officials often are not, or are not yet, supported by their superiors, or by most legislators, or by most citizens. May government officials create and exercise discretion to pursue their dissenting views of good policy (constrained only by political prudence and a reasonable interpretation of the law), or should officials faithfully serve the will or the interests of those who have formal authority over their actions or over the disputed policies?

      The answer to such a broad question must be, It depends—but on what?...

    • Chapter Ten MONTAIGNE’S MISTAKE
      (pp. 240-260)

      The exploration of ethics for adversaries playing divided roles has so far been divided into several connected but distinct arguments. In this concluding chapter I hope to show through an extended illustration how the parts fit.

      Consider the celebrated episode in contemporary American political history that has become known as the Saturday Night Massacre.¹ In the fall of 1973, Richard Nixon was a president under an ever tightening siege, facing criminal investigation for his part in the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office complex, and for the administration’s subsequent cover-up of that affair. Former presidential...

  8. SOURCES AND CREDITS
    (pp. 261-262)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 263-273)