The Morality of Reputation and the Judgment of Others

Journal of Practical Ethics 1 (2):3-33 (2013)
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Abstract

There is a tension between the reasonable desire not to be judgmental of other people’s behaviour or character, and the moral necessity of making negative judgments in some cases. I sketch a way in which we might accommodate both, via an evaluation of the good of reputation and the ethics of judgment of other people’s character and behaviour. I argue that a good reputation is a highly valuable good for its bearer, akin to a property right, and not to be damaged without serious reason deriving from the demands of justice and the common welfare. Rash judgment wrongfully damages reputation and is sometimes a seriously immoral act. Rashness is not merely about lack of evidence, but involves lack of charity and is to be avoided even in some cases where the evidence of bad character or action is epistemically sufficient for judgment. I argue that the desirability of a good name for its holder, whether the reputation is deserved or not, means that in all but a relatively narrow range of cases it is always wrong to think badly of someone, even if they are bad.

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David S. Oderberg
University of Reading

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