International Encyclopedia of Ethics (2013)
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At the most general level, "manipulation" refers one of many ways of influencing behavior, along with (but to be distinguished from) other such ways, such as coercion and rational persuasion. Like these other ways of influencing behavior, manipulation is of crucial importance in various ethical contexts. First, there are important questions concerning the moral status of manipulation itself; manipulation seems to be mor- ally problematic in ways in which (say) rational persuasion does not. Why is this so? Furthermore, the notion of manipulation has played an increasingly central role in debates about free will and moral responsibility. Despite its significance in these (and other) contexts, however, the notion of manipulation itself remains deeply vexed. I would say notoriously vexed, but in fact direct philosophical treatments of the notion of manipulation are few and far between, and those that do exist are nota- ble for the sometimes widely divergent conclusions they reach concerning what it is. I begin by addressing (though certainly not resolving) the conceptual issue of how to distinguish manipulation from other ways of influencing behavior. Along the way, I also briefly address the (intimately related) question of the moral status of manipulation: what, if anything, makes it morally problematic? Then I discuss the controversial ways in which the notion of manipulation has been employed in contemporary debates about free will and moral responsibility.

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Patrick Todd
University of Edinburgh


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