“Unconditional Commitments, Integrity, and the Polity” By Shmulik Nili (Northwestern/ANU)
Date: Friday 14 December, 2018
Abstract: An important philosophical position holds that an agent’s moral integrity is entirely parasitic upon morality’s overall requirements. According to this “integrity skepticism,” we can only know what our moral integrity requires once we know how, all things considered, we morally ought to act. In this essay’s opening part, focused on individual ethics, I present two main arguments against integrity skepticism. The first argument is that since agents have important moral reasons to incorporate certain unconditional commitments into their self-conception, it is unfair to criticize agents who go on to treat these commitments as an independent factor in their moral deliberation. The second argument links agents’ unconditional moral commitments to their duty to sustain self-respect. In the essay’s latter part, I seek to show that parallel versions of these two arguments provide even stronger grounds for resisting integrity skepticism regarding collective affairs. Specifically, I contend that integrity skepticism fails when it comes to liberal-democratic polities as collective agents: such polities have their own morally important integrity, which is not parasitic upon them “doing the right thing.” Rather, a liberal polity’s moral integrity is an independent moral factor informing the analysis of what the polity ought to do.
About the speaker: Dr Nili’s current work focuses on three related themes. First, how we should think about the collective agency of “the sovereign people,” both as a matter of abstract philosophy and as a matter of concrete public policy (see The People’s Duty, forthcoming with Cambridge University Press). Second, what political philosophy can contribute when facing obvious moral failures in public policy. Finally, the moral value of integrity, whether applied to ordinary people, to authoritarian demagogues, or to collective institutions. Dr Nili’s inquiries into these three themes started with a focus on corruption issues. In particular, global corruption related to the “resource curse” and in philosophical questions that this “curse” raises about public property and democracy, as well as about the practical tasks of political philosophy. More recently, Dr Nili ha sought to connect his global theory arguments to domestic politics, paying special attention to morally fraught dynamics in various developing countries, in the United States, and in his native Israel. Dr Nili has publications in a number of journals including, Ethics, Journal of Politics, American Journal of Political Science, American Political Science Review, Journal of Political Philosophy and History of Political Thought.