Civic Trust

Philosophers' Imprint 17 (2017)
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It is a commonplace that there are limits to the ways we can permissibly treat people, even in the service of good ends. For example, we may not steal someone’s wallet, even if we plan to donate the contents to famine relief, or break a promise to help a colleague move, even if we encounter someone else on the way whose need is somewhat more urgent. In other words, we should observe certain constraints against mistreating people, where a constraint is a moral principle that we should not violate, even when that is the only way to prevent further, similar violations or other, greater evils. But, despite its intuitive appeal, the view that there are constraints has drawn considerable criticism, and attempts to provide a rationale for constraints have been, at best, substantially incomplete. In this paper, I develop a novel rationale for constraints that fills important gaps left by views in the literature. The account helps make sense of constraints by identifying a morally significant relation that we bear to people when, and only when, we observe certain constraints against mistreating them. Put roughly, observing these constraints is a condition for being worthy of a form of trust that I call civic trust, and being worthy of such trust is an essential part of living with others in the sort of harmony that characterizes morally permissible interaction. By focusing, in ways other accounts do not, on the role that observing constraints plays in our psychological lives, this approach not only makes the structure of constraints more intelligible, but also helps us better appreciate the force of our reason to observe constraints, and better understand the kind of moral community to which we should aspire.

Author's Profile

Ryan Preston-Roedder
Occidental College


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