A philosophical exploration of the possibility and implications of institutional moral responsibility

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Title: A philosophical exploration of the possibility and implications of institutional moral responsibility
Author: Iltis, Ana Lucia Smith
Advisor: Engelhardt, H. Tristram, Jr.
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy thesis
Abstract: Moral integrity has been a long-standing focus of philosophy. Attention has been on the integrity of individual persons understood as the state in which persons' actions are well-focused and guided by persons' moral commitments. Although other interpretations of integrity have been offered, the etymology of 'integrity' suggests that coherence is a critical element. Here I argue that certain types of institutions can have moral integrity. It is important to recognize this dimension of social reality in order to give a complete account of institutions and their moral obligations. Without an appreciation of moral integrity we cannot recognize an agent's actions as having a purpose and we cannot understand it as having particular moral obligations. Moral integrity is a distinctly moral, not legal, property. Institutional moral responsibilities cannot be reduced to their legal obligations. I make four central claims in this study. First, I argue how the concept of integrity should be understood. Second, I make the ontological claim that institutions have an identity that cannot be fully reduced to their constituent individuals without loss of meaning such that the properties institutions bear are not reducible fully to the those individuals. I also recognize that institutions depend on their constituent individuals for their ontological status. Third, I show that one predicate institutions can bear is moral responsibility, which is distinct from legal responsibility. Fourth, I show that because of their unique ontology, institutions can come to possess and lose their moral integrity in a way distinct from how individuals do so. Institutional integrity is a social phenomenon that cannot be understood independently of the individuals associated with institutions but it also cannot be understood exclusively in terms of the integrity of the individuals associated with them. Many of the traditional implications of understanding an agent to be morally responsible are unavailable when the agent is an institution: An institution cannot feel remorseful, for example. This study explores the extent to which we can hold that institutions are morally responsible, the senses in which moral responsibility can be attributed to institutions, what is entailed in holding institutions morally responsible, and how we can understand institutional moral responsibility.
Citation: Iltis, Ana Lucia Smith. (2003) "A philosophical exploration of the possibility and implications of institutional moral responsibility." Doctoral Thesis, Rice University.
Date: 2003

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