Pre-emptive Anonymous Whistleblowing

Public Affairs Quarterly 26 (4):257-271 (2012)
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While virtually everyone recognizes the moral permissibility of whistleblowing under certain circumstances, most theorists offer relatively conservative accounts of when it is allowed, and are reluctant to offer a full recommendation of the practice as an important tool towards addressing ethical failures in the workplace. We think that accounts such as these tend to overestimate the importance of professional or personal obligations, and underestimate the moral obligation to shine light on severe professional malfeasance. Of course, a whistleblower, even an anonymous one, often faces serious threats of retaliation and harm to their professional livelihoods and well-being. To address these challenges we argue in favor of a practice that we will call Preemptive Anonymous Whistleblowing (PAW). Such whistleblowing is preemptive in that a whistleblower provides information about malfeasance to a party in a position to do something about it without first raising the worry to one’s immediate superiors. At first blush, such preemption may seem unsettling, and PAW admittedly raises a number of worrisome issues. We defend PAW, however, as part of a larger argument that whistleblowing is morally required more often than is commonly thought. The availability of PAW as an option provides a method for allaying the concern that whistleblowing can be overly burdensome due to the risks of job and career. Insofar as that concern can be allayed, it is feasible for there to be substantial moral requirements to engage in whistleblowing in cases where severe harms can be prevented. With high enough stakes, there is a moral requirement for whistleblowing.

Author's Profile

Edward Song
Westmont College


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