Professor Matthew Smith "Reliance on Evil"

September 19, 2014
All Day
347 University Hall


Abstract: If, in order to act, we rely on what is evil, how does that affect the moral character of our actions? In this essay, I argue that if, in order to act, one relies on evil, and if one ought to know that this is the case, then one’s action is thereby, at the very least, morally objectionable.  To establish this claim, we must explore the role of reliance in our agency.  I argue that the relationship between mind and world that is most relevant for understanding action is the reliance-relation.  In particular, what we rely upon is a part of our actions.  Thus, an action that involves reliance on a morally odious state of affairs is itself partially a manifestation of that state of affairs.  Thus, one’s actions can be a concrete manifestation of both, on the one hand, one’s own intentions, and, on the other hand, the morally odious conditions on which one relied in order to act.  Consequently, actions have, at least in part, the moral character of their conditions of realization in virtue of the way that the reliance-relation, which bridges the gap between intentions and the alien world, facilitates and extends human agency.  Having developed this account of the role of reliance in action, I explore both what I call "social technologies" - human creations on which we rely in the same way in which we rely upon physical tools - and how extensively we rely upon social technologies.  The paper concludes with a discussion of how reliance on evil social technologies shapes the moral character of our actions.