To Punish or to Forgive?

Responding to Dirty Hands in Politics

in Theoria
Author:
Cristina Roadevin Researcher, University of Sheffield, UK c.roadevin@sheffield.ac.uk

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Abstract

How should citizens respond to dirty-hands acts? This issue has been neglected in the theoretical literature, which has focused on the dilemma facing the politician and not on the appropriate responses of citizens. Nevertheless, dirty-hands scenarios pose a serious dilemma for the democratic citizens as well: we cannot simply condone the dirty-handed act but should instead express our moral condemnation and disapproval. One way of doing this is through blame and punishment. However, this proposal is unsatisfactory, as dirty-hands agents commit wrongdoing through no fault of their own. I argue that we ought to make conceptual space for an idea of no-fault responsibility – and a corresponding notion of no-fault forgiveness – according to which we can hold agents to obligations without blaming them.

Contributor Notes

Cristina Roadevin is an honorary research fellow in the philosophy department at the University of Sheffield. She specialises in normative ethics and moral psychology. Her work focuses on issues related to moral responsibility, apology, forgiveness and the dirty-hands problem in politics. Recent publications include ‘Forgiving While Resenting: Justifying Elective Forgiveness’ (Ethical Perspectives 2018), ‘Hypocritical Blame, Fairness and Standing’ (Metaphilosophy 2018) and ‘An Account of Earned Forgiveness through Apology’ (Philosophia 2017). E-mail: c.roadevin@sheffield.ac.uk

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Theoria

A Journal of Social and Political Theory

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