Moral Agency Theory

2127 Words 9 Pages
If we are to finally confront the problem of global poverty, who should we expect to act?
Because of the enormity of the task of constructing even a minimally just world, it seems reasonable to suppose that one of the requirements for the designation of moral agents in international politics is that of clarity and therefore parsimony. To avoid confusion and establish real responsibility, we should, if possible, locate moral agents of last resort to whom we can point decisively and expect to act. I will argue below that with the help of insights agent-structure theorists in social and international theory, we can meet this requirement by producing a general definition of moral agency. This is then tested against various proposals for agents
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We can—and have tried to—answer this question a number of ways. The most prominent method has been to work backwards from our preferred policy result, to specify the entities most likely or most able to bring about this result. It is natural that our political preferences guide our prescription of who should carry out those preferences: to think a given inequity should be righted is nearly always to have in mind an agent who ought to make this redress. But notice that reasoning this way gives an implicit answer to what agent-structure theorists think of as a fairly technical question. When we work backwards from our political preferences, we tend to rely on some combination of two concepts of agency: we look for entities that are either able to bring about the change we anticipate, or who we feel are responsible for doing so. Defining moral agency as the capacity to act on a given question is perhaps the most common and casual usage. On this view, possession of moral agency is no more delicate than having the ability to take morally-relevant action: moral agents are those who could act to rectify moral deficiencies in the world, whether or not these actors are able to acknowledge the purchase of normative claims on …show more content…
The affinity between rational Kantian persons and contractarian theory is a clear one: it is to achieve these persons that Rawls took the step of specifying the original position as he did: shorn of particular attachments, we can begin to develop political judgments for the right reasons. Confronting this step has been a primary line of attack against the Rawlsian theory, from thinkers who see this assumption as unrealistic and undesirable. This line of thinking has been used to try to justify ethical partiality toward the citizens of one’s own community, most notably by the intellectual descendents of Alastair MacIntyre. By arguing that membership in a community is required for the development of moral intuition and judgment, MacIntyre is able to construct an alternative type of moral person more embedded in the world around her. However, in subsequent writings, MacIntyre has argued that while social embeddedness might initially produce a certain type of moral functioning, it may subsequently impair proper reasoning: these are what he calls, in an eponymous article, ‘social structures and their threats to moral agency.’ In this case, moral agency is the ability to transcend the social structures that helped instantiate a certain moral framework in ourselves. Exercising this ability—to ask what morally-relevant information is being obscured by

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