MAIN CONFERENCE (International Hall, London)


The conference will take place over three days in International Hall, part of the University of London (about 5 minutes walk from Senate House, full directions here), Room tbc.

All welcome (academics, students, interested others), but for non-network members registration is required to help us with planning, with a modest charge to cover catering.

All times are subject to change but we’ll aim to avoid starting earlier on first day or ending later on final one.


THURSDAY (28th September 2017)

10h30 – 11h00: Tea/coffee and orientation

11h00 – 11h30: Welcome; organizers’ introduction to the topic

11h30 – 13h00: Session 1

Thomas Smith, University of Manchester ‘Roles and corporations’ (abstract below)

13h00 – 14h00 Lunch, provided

14h00 – 15h30 Session 2

Alex Barber, Open University, ‘Wellbeing in the Context of Collective Achievement’ (abstract below)

15h30 – 15h45 Tea/coffee

15h45 – 17h15 Session 3

Erin Taylor, Washington and Lee University [title to follow]

17h-15 – 18h00: Session 4

John Simons, Birkbeck College, ‘A pragmatist perspective on role ethics and its sociological assumptions’ (abstract below)

Evening schedule: opportunity for hotel check in, then stroll to nearby restaurant (Masala Zone in Covent Garden (not Soho), 48 Floral St WC2E 9DA7. Non-network members welcome subject to restaurant having space – let us know asap!

FRIDAY (29th September 2017)

09h30 – 09h50 Tea/coffee available

09h50 – 11h20 Session 5

Luke Brunning, University of Oxford, ‘Multiple Roles, Relationships, and Integrity’ (abstract below)

11h20 – 11h40 Tea/coffee break

11h40 – 13h10 Session 6

Sam Clark, Lancaster University, ‘Three Relations between Roles and the Good’ (abstract below)

13h10 – 14h10 Lunch, provided

14h10 – 15h40 Session 7

Tracy Isaacs, University of Western Ontario, ‘Role Responsibility and Role Obligation in Oppressive Social Contexts’

15h40 – 16h00 Tea/coffee break

16h00 – 17h30 Session 8

Diane Jeske, University of Iowa, ‘The Role of the Moral Philosopher in Contemporary Society’ (abstract below)

Evening schedule: similar to previous day, but restaurant is the Spaghetti House, 15 Goodge St, Bloomsbury W1T 2PQ. Again, non-network members welcome subject to restaurant’s flexibility on the booking, so let us know asap.

SATURDAY (30th September 2017)

09h30 – 09h45 Coffee available

09h45 – 11h15 Session 9

Robert Stern, University of Sheffield, ‘Role Ethics or Real Ethics? Løgstrup and Levinas on the Limitations of Role Ethics’ (abstract below)

11h15 – 11h30 Coffee/tea break

11h30 – 13h00 Session 10

Jing Iris Hu, University of Oklahoma, ‘Confucian Role Ethics and Empathy’

13h00 – 14h00 Lunch, provided

14h00 – 15h30 Session 11

Reid Blackman, Colgate University, ‘One Volunteer for Role-Based Reasons?’ (abstract below)

15h30 – 15h45  Coffee/tea break

15h45 – 17h15 Session 12

Sean Cordell, Open University, ‘The Ethics of Roles and the Functions of Institutions’ 

Workshop ends; taxis to station, etc.


ABSTRACTS (in order of presentation)

Thomas Smith, ‘Roles and corporations’
Institutional roles like lecturer, banker, Supreme Court Justice and corporate entities like University, Bank and Supreme Court are plainly closely related and have many features in common. Both roles and corporations are social artefacts. Both are “filled” temporarily and contingently by human persons. Both are such that the human beings who fill them thereby acquire powers and duties. For all that, I argue there is an important difference: while a role term like ‘lecturer’ functions as a non-rigid designator, a corporate term like ‘University’ functions as a rigid designator. I try to understand why this difference holds and what its implications are. There is, I think, an interesting implication with respect to judgements of excellence and defect with respect to e.g. lecturers and Universities.

Alex Barber, ‘Well-being in the context of collective achievement’
A little-noticed tension exists between two features of wellbeing:
(1) Wellbeing is an individualistic notion
(2) Wellbeing is intimately connected to achievement
The first is more or less definitional and the second is a commitment of most accounts of wellbeing. The tension arises when we add a third hard-to-deny fact about human agency:
(3) Achievement is often collective
This tension raises several questions. Is the notion of wellbeing incoherent? Should we extend the notion of wellbeing so that, in the context of collective achievement, it makes sense to talk of the wellbeing of the collective in a sense that is not a simple aggregate of the wellbeing of its members? And how (if at all) does collective achievement affect the wellbeing of individuals in the collective? In this talk I seek to fuse the literature on wellbeing (which says precious little about collective agency) and the literature on collective agency (which focuses on moral responsibility rather than wellbeing) to develop a coherent stance on the apparent tension between (1), (2) and (3). Core to this stance is an understanding of the wellbeing associated with role performance.

John Simons, ‘A pragmatist perspective on role ethics and its sociological assumptions’
Contributions to the literature of role ethics usually presuppose  a sociology that supports a focus on the static normative expectations of the holder of a particular role, such as that of lawyer.  This paper considers the terrain of role ethics from the standpoint of the very different sociology founded by the pragmatist philosopher George Hebert Mead (1863-1931). He saw imaginatively taking  the role of others as the way that humans acquire a self, and the interaction of occupants of social roles as the characteristic form of social interaction. Meadian sociology explains how holders of related  roles (e. g. lawyer and client, shopkeeper and customer) become able to anticipate and respond to one another’s expected conduct in a situation-specific manner. It is a sociology that provides for a focus on the implications of differences in the obligations an individual may be expected to honour in different roles (e.g. as lawyer and as citizen) and in different role relationships  (e.g. lawyer–client, lawyer–judge, lawyer-jury).

Luke Brunning, ‘Multiple Roles, Relationships, and Integrity’
Most people have multiple roles and personal relationships. Some  people even have multiple romantic relationships. Recognition of this fact prompts two questions, one empirical, one normative: are multiple roles and relationships good for people, and can people manage their roles and relationships with a sense of integrity or ethical probity? Some empirical theorists worry that multiple roles increase the likelihood of impeded flourishing due to practical conflict and “role-strain”. Some philosophers have argued that multiple roles threaten integrity, and that people must avoid living a life that is compartmentalized. (And nearly everyone is wary of multiple romantic relationships.) These concerns are connected, because it is plausible to think that compartmentalization might help people to cope with multiple roles and relationships. Therefore, if having multiple roles and relationships turns out to boost personal flourishing, but require ethically problematic compartmentalization, then there might be tension between personal flourishing and ethical life.

Sam Clark, ‘Three Relations between Roles and the Good’
What is the relation between roles and the human good? That is, between our collective construction, maintenance, and enaction of institutions and their places, on one hand; and the life which goes well for the person whose life it is (AKA well-being, flourishing, utility, the good life), on the other? I use selected martial autobiographies to explore three possibilities. (1) Tools for self-shaping: roles are social technology for shaping ourselves towards voluntarily-adopted conceptions of the good life independent of those roles. (2) Good-making practices: roles are parts of collective practices which create and sustain the good for those within them. (3) Self-discovery: roles are a method for gaining self-knowledge. They help each of us to discover her unchosen, seedlike, initially opaque self, and thereby to discover her particular good, which is that self’s realization. I use experiences of joyful recognition and resistance to the role of soldier, as recorded in my exemplary autobiographies, to argue for (3).

Tracy Isaacs, ‘Role Responsibility and Role Obligation in Oppressive Social Contexts’
In so far as some people, in virtue of their social group membership (based on race, gender, sexuality, disability, class, etc.), experience systemic privilege and others systemic disadvantage, membership in some social groups could generate moral obligations. These would be specific obligations people have in virtue of being a member of a particular social group. They could also be a basis for moral responsibility—blameworthiness or praiseworthiness that is a function of one’s social group membership. My paper explores whether understanding social group membership as a type of role might advance our understanding of some of these obligations and responsibility-attributions. As a focal point, I consider the widely-discussed “obligation to resist” one’s own oppression.

Diane Jeske, ‘The Role of the Moral Philosopher in Contemporary Society’
Roles and their attendant obligations (or lack thereof) vary in many ways including their grounds, among which are societal expectations/conventions, contracts and promises, personal commitments/projects, individual talents, the intrinsic nature of relationships, and value. In attempting to determine the role of the moral philosopher, I take value as grounding what I will call the public role that such philosophers ought to forge. While our intellectual role involves the pursuit of truth and thus of substantive moral commitments, our public role should not. I argue for this conclusion by showing how reasonable disagreement amongst philosophers renders epistemic humility an important virtue for philosophers. Our shared methodology, however, has the potential, if propagated, to promote a great deal of good, and, thus, in their public role, moral philosophers ought to focus on method over substance. How this public role is to be integrated with our other roles, philosophical or otherwise, is a complicated matter.

Robert Stern, ‘Role Ethics or Real Ethics? Løgstrup and Levinas on the Limitations of Role Ethics’
This paper will consider role ethics against the background of ideas from K. E. Løgstrup and Emmanuel Levinas. For both thinkers, there is a distinction to be drawn between the fundamental ethical encounter with an individual in need, and the norms and roles with which our social lives are structured more broadly. While both recognise a place for this second ethical level, both treat it as having a different structure from the ethical encounter between individuals, both in terms of the motivations required and the kinds of responsibility thereby generated. This paper will consider whether the viewpoint adopted here by Løgstrup and Levinas highlights genuine limitations on how far role ethics can take us in understanding what it is to stand in an ethical relation to another person.

Reid Blackman, ‘Must One Volunteer for Role-Based Reasons?’
Members of roles (e.g. fathers, professors, citizens) are standardly taken to have normative reasons to do what makes them good members of their respective roles. But what if one nonvoluntarily or involuntarily occupies that role; does one still have a reason to be a good member? I answer this question by considering whether internalists about practical reason – those who think an agent’s normative reasons depend, in some way, on her motivational constitution – can account for role-based reasons. I begin by explaining why internalists must reject standard views in social ontology about the nature of roles and then offer a two-stage argument for thinking internalists cannot account for role-based reasons even if they adopt a non-standard view. I consider three internalist replies to the two-stage argument, contending that each is implausible. I conclude that one may have role-based reasons even if one is a role member nonvoluntarily or involuntarily.

Sean Cordell ‘The Ethics of Roles and the Functions of Institutions’ 

How should one act in relation to the established, putative obligations attached to social roles, and which obligations should or should not attach to which roles, and why? These questions, which are central to normative role ethics, describe the problem of determinacy. That problem, raised explicitly and implicitly in the fields of both applied ethics and social and political philosophy, invites solutions in terms of functional explanations and evaluations of the social institutions that circumscribe role obligations. That is, in terms of saying that ‘some institution x is a good x’ insofar as it ‘does what x is there for’ or ‘is supposed to do’. In this kind of a formal statement ‘x’ here could denote all sorts of things, and functional explanations have been used for example in the philosophy of biology, science, medicine, technology, and aesthetics as well as the social sciences. But an added normative consideration in the particular case of social institutions is that, insofar as we want them to be pro-social entities, institutions should instantiate some good(s) in the world. (‘Failing school’ does double work: failing by its own standards qua school, and failing those who should benefit from it.)

Having outlined the problem of determinacy and the need for institutional function talk in order to address that problem, I consider some candidate standard functional explanations and apply them to institutions. In response to their various further problems, and finally in light of revisiting Aristotle, I suggest that: An institution x’s function (characteristic activity) serves good(s) in a particular way which makes it that kind of institution and not some other. I discuss some qualifications to and limitations of this suggestion and, of course, invite your objections!