Printer Friendly
The Free Library
22,728,043 articles and books

The problem of "dirty hands" and corrupt leadership.

   "Be sure, gentlemen of the jury, that if I had long ago attempted
   to take part in politics, I should have died long ago, and
   benefited neither you nor myself. Do not be angry with me for
   speaking the truth; no man will survive who genuinely opposes you
   or any other crowd and prevents the occurrence of many unjust and
   illegal happenings in the city. A man who really fights for
   justice must lead a private, not a public, life if he is to
   survive for even a short time."

   --Socrates, in Plato's Apology, 31d-32a

   "You should therefore know that there are two ways to fight: one
   while abiding by the rules, the other by using force. The first
   approach is unique to Man; the second is that of beasts. But
   because in many cases the first method will not suffice, one must
   be prepared to resort to force. This is why a ruler needs to know
   how to conduct himself the manner of a beast as well as that of

   --Niccolo Machiavelli, Il Principe e altre opere politiche

Successful political leaders have often been of questionable moral character. A persistent image in the political sphere Noun 1. political sphere - a sphere of intense political activity
political arena

arena, domain, sphere, orbit, area, field - a particular environment or walk of life; "his social sphere is limited"; "it was a closed area of employment"; "he's out of my orbit"
 is that of the active and powerful man willing to do whatever is strategically important in attaining his desired ends even though doing so may weigh heavily on his conscience. Is excellence in governmental leadership somehow incompatible with moral excellence? Does doing what one ought to do in one's capacity as a leader preclude the possibility of doing what one ought to do as a human being? "The problem of dirty hands" refers to the alleged necessity of compromising or abandoning moral principle in order to play the role of a government official effectively.

"Dirty hands" are said to result when a leader encounters a conflict of duties or values and must choose between alternatives, none of which is entirely satisfactory. In Jean-Paul Sartre's play Les mains sales “Dirty Hands” redirects here. For other uses, see Dirty Hands (disambiguation).

Les Mains Sales (french for "Dirty Hands") is a play by Jean-Paul Sartre.
 (Dirty hands), Hoederer explains the view to Hugo (who refuses to "dirty" his hands):
   You cling so tightly to your purity, my lad! How terrified you are
   of sullying your hands. Well, go ahead then, stay pure! What good
   will it do, and why even bother coming here among us? Purity is a
   concept of fakirs and friars. But you, the intellectuals, the
   bourgeois anarchists, you invoke purity as your rationalization for
   doing nothing. Do nothing, don't move, wrap your arms tight around
   your body, put on your gloves. As for myself, my hands are dirty.
   I have plunged my arms up to the elbows in excrement and blood. And
   what else should one do? Do you suppose that it is possible to
   govern innocently? ([1948] 1986, 193-94, my translation)

In thinking about this issue, it is important to distinguish self-serving opportunists from those who suffer corruption through their sincere efforts to govern well. Self-serving opportunists often rationalize their dubious measures to themselves through self-deceptive references to "the good of the whole," claiming that group loyalty demands moral sacrifice or that "the end justifies the means." Egocentric opportunism Opportunism
Arabella, Lady

squire’s wife matchmakes with money in mind. [Br. Lit.: Doctor Thorne]

Ashkenazi, Simcha

shrewdly and unscrupulously becomes merchant prince. [Yiddish Lit.
, however, differs conceptually from dirty hands. The question before us is whether corruption in the political realm might arise as a result of the very nature of governance and morality. Do rulers simply have more opportunities for temptation and therefore succumb more often than do private citizens? Or does good governance The terms governance and good governance are increasingly being used in development literature. Governance describes the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented).  sometimes require the sacrifice of moral standards? When corrupt governmental agents are detected, society tends toward leniency le·ni·en·cy  
n. pl. le·ni·en·cies
1. The condition or quality of being lenient. See Synonyms at mercy.

2. A lenient act.

Noun 1.
 in its "punishment" of them. Might this leniency reflect a recognition of the problem of dirty hands, which leads people to forgive and forget so easily the crimes of their governments?

"Realists" maintain that dirty hands are inescapable. In contrast, "idealists" hold that the so-called problem of dirty hands is merely an excuse adduced by those who lack the moral fiber to do what they really ought to do in governmental contexts. (1) Kenneth Winston sums up the opposition between these two positions: "To be a realist in politics is to believe that political life exceeds our capacities in certain crucial ways. Idealism is the view that human capacities are adequate to political life" (1994, 39-40). At issue, then, may be humanity in the moral sense of that notion. The question is whether corruption, a fundamental transformation in one's moral character and principles, is an inevitable consequence of one's election of a governmental vocation. The word corruption derives from the Latin for "broken" and has a decidedly negative connotation, implying a loss of wholeness or integrity. We tend to view corruption as regrettable for persons themselves, even apart from the dangers that their corruption might hold for others.

Because the sorts of transformations in character that government officials undergo may well be irreversible, "dirty hands" might more aptly be termed "indelibly inked hands." For example, according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics Nicomachean Ethics (sometimes spelled 'Nichomachean'), or Ta Ethika, is a work by Aristotle on virtue and moral character which plays a prominent role in defining Aristotelian ethics. , "habits build character" (1980), so a person who sacrifices his own principles one time becomes more likely to do so again in the future. Agents who set aside what once were their moral views become progressively desensitized to the sorts of violations that formerly elicited their moral indignation. Agents learn, and they become habituated to accept what once seemed unacceptable, no longer feeling compelled to object to what once seemed objectionable. In clinging to some goal while neglecting, even temporarily, his moral beliefs and principles, the agent thus metamorphoses slowly into a corrupted image of his former self. In this view, those who renounce moral standards and principles for the prudential interests of a group thereby transform themselves (albeit gradually) into persons who no longer embrace those standards and principles. Some might claim that they know where to "draw the line," insisting that they will not sacrifice certain fundamental beliefs. Still, if habits build character, then even the act of sacrificing less-fundamental beliefs renders one more likely to sacrifice other, perhaps more-fundamental beliefs in the future. Corruption may be a long, irresistible journey down a very slippery slope 'slippery slope' Medical ethics An ethical continuum or 'slope,' the impact of which has been incompletely explored, and which itself raises moral questions that are even more on the ethical 'edge' than the original issue .

Realism and Idealism Versus Pragmatism

Sartre's 1948 play Les mains sales brought the expression "dirty hands" into common currency through the protagonist Hoederer, who in the preceding quotation expresses the basic stance of realism. However, Hoederer sometimes expresses a conceptually distinct view, evaluating as good any and all sufficient means to one's desired ends: "All means are good, when they are effective" ([1948] 1986, 193, my translation).

According to realism, sometimes immoral means are required to achieve moral ends, if Hoederer truly believes that it is not wrong to renounce the dictates of morality in order to achieve his ends, then he should not consider his hands to be sullied at all. He expresses a pragmatic theory of value when he insists that effective means to one's ends are good in virtue of their efficacy. According to pragmatists, there is nothing to the notion of goodness above and beyond efficacy, for there is no transcendent (metaphysical) concept of goodness to which good actions might correspond. Nor, according to pragmatists, is there an absolute Form in which actions might "participate" (a la Plato). Goodness just is efficacy. Because dirty hands are possible only the assumption of some nonpragmatic criterion of goodness, in the pragmatist's worldview world·view  
n. In both senses also called Weltanschauung.
1. The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.

2. A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group.
, where appearance and reality coincide, no problem of dirty hands can arise. The guilt of agents who conduct themselves in an efficacious though unsavory manner is simply irrational. (2)

Idealists also insist that no one can act rightly by acting wrongly, but for different reasons than the pragmatists offer. It can never be your duty, governmental or otherwise, to do what is immoral. The so-called problem of dirty hands--that one might suffer corruption through performing one's official duty--is a conceptual impossibility, because acting in accordance with what is truly one's duty cannot cause the degradation of the agent. "Ought implies can" is often said to be a basic constraint on morality, and this maxim certainly suggests one plausible way of understanding the idealist position. It cannot be one's duty both to do and not to do something, but the problem of dirty hands presumes just such incompatibility, the reality of fundamental and ineluctable conflicts of duty. The idealist insists that multiple routes always lead to any given end, so a leader is never obliged to violate the dictates of morality in his official capacity. In this view, "dirty hands" defenses are self-delusive, and the burden of proof rests on the realist who would claim in any concrete case that the dictates of governmental excellence are incompatible with the dictates of morality.

The problem of political corruption In broad terms, political corruption is the misuse by government officials of their governmental powers for illegitimate private gain. Misuse of government power for other purposes, like repression of political opponents and general police brutality, is not considered political  is vividly depicted in Frank Capra's film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), in which a naive and forthright man is fortuitously appointed senator. Smith sets out on his journey to Washington filled with hopes of accomplishing noble aims, but he quickly learns that the conduct of contemporary political leaders bears no resemblance to the images of greatness that since childhood he has associated with men such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. In reality, the Capitol Hill politicians have sold their souls, enslaved themselves to the wealthy corporate sharks who really run the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. . Any political figure who refuses to acquiesce to the behests of the plutocrats is summarily ruined through the use of the capitalist-driven news media. Although truth and morality ultimately prevail, the "Hollywood ending" fails to dispel the profound cynicism instilled in the viewer throughout the rest of the film. Had the last two minutes been excised, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington would have been a powerful defense of political realism Realism, also known as political realism, in the context of international relations, encompasses a variety of theories and approaches, all of which share a belief that states are primarily motivated by the desire for military and economic power or security, rather than , as timely today as when it was made.

According to realists, in a social milieu where most people do not conduct themselves morally, those who do not alter their own strategies and flout flout  
v. flout·ed, flout·ing, flouts
To show contempt for; scorn: flout a law; behavior that flouted convention. See Usage Note at flaunt.

 the rules will be crushed, as Machiavelli explains: "Granted, if all men were good, this advice would be bad; but since men are pitiful and will not follow the rules in their dealings with you, you need not follow the rules in your dealings with them" ([1505] 2002, 68, my translation). Realists hold that sometimes the best choice that an official can make in the name of the governed is not the morally optimum action; indeed, immoral means sometimes must be used in order to achieve moral ends. The waging of war may be the most salient case of the alleged phenomenon of dirty hands in the real world. Must governments kill in certain political contexts? (3) Expressing sympathy with dirty hands realism, Michael Walzer Michael Walzer (3 March 1935) is one of America's leading political philosophers. Currently, he is a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey and editor of Dissent, a left-wing quarterly of politics and culture.  writes: "Just war theory is an effort to set limits on the injuries inflicted on innocent people; no just war theorist that I know of even pretends to overcome the injustices that are an intimate part intimate part Sexology Any primary genital area–groin, inner thigh, buttock or breast. See Boundary violation.  of warfare itself" (2001, 86). (4)

According to idealists, the fact that some people are corruptor corruptible should have no bearing on one's own conduct. Multiple means always exist to any given end, and a moral official will opt for moral means to moral ends, limiting the range of acceptable ends to those attainable through moral means. If the only feasible means are immoral, then the end must be as well. Idealists are well aware that many people who enter the public sphere The public sphere is a concept in continental philosophy and critical theory that contrasts with the private sphere, and is the part of life in which one is interacting with others and with society at large.  become corrupt, but they adamantly deny the inevitability of this sorry state of affairs. Although becoming an official may make it considerably more difficult to heed the dictates of one's conscience and to adhere to adhere to
verb 1. follow, keep, maintain, respect, observe, be true, fulfil, obey, heed, keep to, abide by, be loyal, mind, be constant, be faithful

 one's principles, idealists claim that these goals remain within reach. It is possible to govern both effectively and morally, which is not to say that in an organization permeated by unscrupulous agents it will be simple to do so. Those who flout morality are naturally at a practical advantage vis-a-vis those who do not.

The opacity of other agents' intentions renders the ascription as·crip·tion  
1. The act of ascribing.

2. A statement that ascribes.

[Latin ascr
 of dirty hands empirically problematic; it may be impossible to ascertain whether a given agent has suffered corruption through his overriding concern with self-promotion or with effective administration. (5) But surely idealists are right about at least some cases, for government officials' tendency to excuse themselves for anything and everything in the name of the good of the governed often borders on the farcical far·ci·cal  
1. Of or relating to farce.

a. Resembling a farce; ludicrous.

b. Ridiculously clumsy; absurd.

. Still, to own that idealists are right about some cases does not refute, in and of itself, realism about dirty hands. That some dirty hands defenses are bogus does not imply that the compromise of moral standards is fully avoidable if one decides to enter the public domain. It is natural to sympathize with Verb 1. sympathize with - share the suffering of
compassionate, condole with, feel for, pity

grieve, sorrow - feel grief

commiserate, sympathise, sympathize - to feel or express sympathy or compassion
 one obvious concern of idealists--that political leaders often indulge in hypocritical and self-deceptive rationalization of their dubious actions--but realism still may contain a kernel of truth.

Niccolo Machiavelli is the historical figure most frequently associated with dirty hands realism. In Il Principe (1505), he enjoins those who aspire to aspire to
verb aim for, desire, pursue, hope for, long for, crave, seek out, wish for, dream about, yearn for, hunger for, hanker after, be eager for, set your heart on, set your sights on, be ambitious for
 acquire and maintain power to follow the examples of men constrained by no moral limits whatsoever:
   So anyone who deems that the approach to follow in his new domain
   of power is to destroy one's enemies, to gain allies, conquering
   either by force or by fraud, to endear oneself to while also making
   oneself feared by one's subjects, to render one's soldiers loyal
   and obedient, to extinguish those able or willing to offend, to
   innovate, using new institutions and practices in place of the old,
   to be both severe and generous, magnanimous and liberal, to
   extirpate disloyal troops and forge new armies, to maintain
   alliances with other powers, so that other leaders have to either
   curry your favor or else think twice before offending you--he who
   deems this the best approach cannot hope to find better recent
   examples than in the actions of Cesare Borgia. ([1505] 2002, 37, my

Machiavelli's manual is addressed not only to "princes," the sons of kings, but to aspirant rulers, those who wish to govern successfully. (6) Machiavelli reasons that the ruler wishes to maximize his power and control by sheltering himself from vulnerability to attack. Il Principe boldly calls into question the widely accepted dogma that corruption, the abandonment of moral principle, is categorically bad. At the same time, Machiavelli appreciates the importance of reputation to effective leadership:
   It is not necessary for a ruler to possess all of the qualities
   listed above, but he definitely must appear to possess them. I
   would dare even to say that having these qualifies and acting
   always in conformity with them will be harmful to you; but if you
   merely appear to have these qualities, they will be useful to you.
   Accordingly, you should seem to be compassionate, faithful, humane,
   of integrity, religious, and indeed you should be all of these
   things; but at the same time you should be ready, so that when the
   occasion arises, you will know how and be able to transform to
   their opposites." (68, my translation)

Machiavelli's name sometimes has been associated with immoralism (hence the derogatory connotation of the word machiavellian), but this passage illustrates the thinker's view that accepting the dictates of what we generally take to be absolute morality is, in and of itself, a good thing. Machiavelli's position appears to be simply that principle must sometimes be sacrificed in order to succeed as a leader: if one wants to be an effective ruler, then one must be prepared to forsake morality. In this reading, Machiavelli is neither a moral relativist rel·a·tiv·ist  
1. Philosophy A proponent of relativism.

2. A physicist who specializes in the theories of relativity.
 nor an immoralist im·mor·al·ist  
An advocate of immorality.
, for he does not claim that leaders are immune from the dictates of morality, but that they must flout morality in order to lead well. Whether he is correct in his realism about dirty hands depends, then, on the nature of morality.

Normative Ethics Normative ethics is a branch of philosophical ethics concerned with classifying actions as right and wrong.

Normative ethics attempts to develop a set of rules governing human conduct, or a set of norms for action.

If absolutism absolutism

Political doctrine and practice of unlimited, centralized authority and absolute sovereignty, especially as vested in a monarch. Its essence is that the ruling power is not subject to regular challenge or check by any judicial, legislative, religious, economic, or
 is true, then there is a single true morality, and its principles apply to all moral agents everywhere. One obvious candidate for absolute moral principle is the widely embraced idea that it is wrong to kill innocent people. Beyond that, however, much controversy exists regarding the dictates of morality. Philosophers throughout history have attempted to offer theoretical frameworks within which intuitive principles might be understood and less-obvious moral duties determined. Logically speaking, moral theories can be divided into two broad categories, depending on whether or not they deem the outcomes of actions to determine their moral quality. Philosophers call these basic and contrasting positions the deontological de·on·tol·o·gy  
Ethical theory concerned with duties and rights.

[Greek deon, deont-, obligation, necessity (from ; see deu-1 in Indo-European roots) +
 and teleological tel·e·ol·o·gy  
n. pl. tel·e·ol·o·gies
1. The study of design or purpose in natural phenomena.

2. The use of ultimate purpose or design as a means of explaining phenomena.


Deontological theories, from the Greek deon for "duty," focus on the notion of duty and rightness of action. Divine Command theory Divine command theory is the metaethical theory that moral values are whatever is commanded by God or the gods.

Divine command theory is widely criticized by what is known as the Euthyphro dilemma (after its first appearance in Plato's dialogue Euthyphro
 is one example of a duty-based or deontological theory, according to which it is wrong to violate God's commandments not because doing so will bring about undesired consequences, but because it is wrong, tout court. (7) From the perspective of pure deontology de·on·tol·o·gy  
Ethical theory concerned with duties and rights.

[Greek deon, deont-, obligation, necessity (from ; see deu-1 in Indo-European roots) +
, rightness is primitive, and nonmoral non·mor·al  
1. Unrelated to moral or ethical considerations.

2. Having no moral or ethical standards; lacking a moral sense.
 goodness (for example, happiness or pleasure) has no moral relevance, strictly speaking Adv. 1. strictly speaking - in actual fact; "properly speaking, they are not husband and wife"
properly speaking, to be precise
. If it is wrong to kill people or to lie, then it is intrinsically wrong to do so, even if doing so in some cases might make the world a better place in which to live.

Teleological theories, from the Greek telos for "end," focus on goodness of outcomes, holding the results of one's actions to be of paramount moral importance. If it is wrong to kill people, it is so because a world in which people kill one another is worse than a world in which they do not. If it is wrong to lie, it is so because a world in which people lie is worse than a world in which they do not. According to teleologists, rightness is defined in terms of nonmoral goodness. Right actions are those that effect goodness. Two major divisions within teleological ethics are consequentialism consequentialism

In ethics, the doctrine that actions should be judged right or wrong on the basis of their consequences. The simplest form of consequentialism is classical (or hedonistic) utilitarianism, which asserts that an action is right or wrong according to whether it
, according to which states of affairs are morally relevant outcomes, and virtue theory, according to which states of the person (anima anima /an·i·ma/ (an´i-mah) [L.]
1. the soul.

2. in jungian terminology, the unconscious, or inner being, of the individual, as opposed to the personality presented to the world (persona); by extension, used to
 or soul) are what matters morally.

We cannot determine here whether or not morality is absolute, nor which specific theory might be true. However, if morality is absolute, then either the outcomes of actions are morally relevant or they are not. Accordingly, in order to ascertain whether the problem of dirty hands is a real one, we must consider the official's situation from the perspective of these two basic (exhaustive and exclusive) approaches to moral theory, the deontological and the teleological. The problem of dirty hands will prove to be real only if (1) morality is absolute, and (2) morality and governance place conflicting demands on an agent, whether the single true morality is deontological or teleological.

Although it is not possible here to consider the many variants of deontological and teleological theories, we can extrapolate extrapolate - extrapolation  from specific theories to more general conclusions about the problem of dirty hands, so long as we do not build substantive content into the theories considered. The method I employ is not intended to be weakly inductive, for, I suggest, the two possible basic structures of moral theory pose problems regardless of the precise content of their principles. By examining Kant's view as paradigmatic See paradigm.  of deontology and Mill's view as paradigmatic of teleology teleology (tĕl'ēŏl`əjē, tē'lē–), in philosophy, term applied to any system attempting to explain a series of events in terms of ends, goals, or purposes. , while bearing in mind the limiting cases of deontology (where there is only one absolute moral principle) and teleology (where the moral community comprises only the agent, or where the moral community is identical with the set of persons within the ruler's domain), it emerges that any analogous substitute for these specific theories will pose analogous problems for the official who wishes both to abide by To stand to; to adhere; to maintain.

See also: Abide
 his pure moral duties and to perform his professional functions well.

Deontology: Kant

The exemplary advocate of secular deontological ethics is Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), who set forth his views in Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals The Metaphysics of Life (Die Metaphysik der Sitten, 1797) is a major work of moral philosophy by Immanuel Kant. It is not as well known or as widely read as his earlier works, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and the Critique of Practical Reason.  ([1785] 1964). According to Kant, our moral duties are prescribed by the "Categorical Imperative," which applies universally and without exception to all rational and free agents. The outcomes of actions are morally irrelevant to the rightness and wrongness of those actions.

In Kant's view, morality is a matter of rationality, but rationality exceeds the narrow framework of instrumental application of means to obtain one's desired ends. Nonmoral or instrumental reasoning specifies merely hypothetical imperatives of the following form: "If one wants X, then one should do Y." Such an imperative (the consequent of the conditional statement) applies only to those who satisfy the hypothetical condition (the antecedent ANTECEDENT. Something that goes before. In the construction of laws, agreements, and the like, reference is always to be made to the last antecedent; ad proximun antecedens fiat relatio.  of the conditional statement). Hypothetical imperatives prescribe means to predelineated ends. There are typically (in fact always) (8) multiple means to the same desired end, but instrumental reasoning helps to differentiate straightforward from circuitous cir·cu·i·tous  
Being or taking a roundabout, lengthy course: took a circuitous route to avoid the accident site.
 routes and from those that are and are not consistent with one's other values, desires, and beliefs. For example, if one wishes to acquire wealth, then one can do so in many different ways. Perhaps the quickest way is through the adoption of what according to the standards of society are immoral means.

If, as Kant maintains, all creatures rational and free are bound by the Moral Law, then the Categorical Imperative also can be understood as a conditional statement, but one in which all rational, free agents automatically fulfill the antecedent. It matters not what our contingent, historically determined beliefs, desires, preferences, and properties (beyond freedom and rationality) happen to be; relative to the class of rational, free agents, this imperative is absolute and without exception.

The most straightforward way to understand the Categorical Imperative is sometimes called "the principle of universalizability The concept of universalizability was set out by the 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant as part of his work Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. It is part of the first formulation of his categorical imperative, which states that the only morally acceptable maxims of ": always act only on those maxims (9) that you can will to be universal laws of nature. Many have found a second formulation, "the principle of respect," more intuitive: always act so as to treat others as ends in themselves and never merely as means. Morally permissible actions are those that do not violate any formulation of the Categorical Imperative. So, for example, using people without regard to their dignity as rational, free agents is wrong, for it obviously involves treating them merely as means. Kant discusses in some detail examples of the sorts of actions that in his view are morally impermissible im·per·mis·si·ble  
Not permitted; not permissible: impermissible behavior.

: making false promises, committing suicide, failing to help the needy
''For other organizations named Help the Needy, or some variation thereof, see Help the Needy (disambiguation).
Help the Needy was a charity front set up by Rome New York oncologist, Rafil Dhafir.
, and failing to develop one's talents. How the Kantian analysis is supposed to work in these cases has been the subject of much discussion. (10)

The sense in which Kant is the ultimate deontologist de·on·tol·o·gy  
Ethical theory concerned with duties and rights.

[Greek deon, deont-, obligation, necessity (from ; see deu-1 in Indo-European roots) +
 is illustrated by his example of why it is purportedly immoral to lie when asked by a killer to give the location of a prospective victim. Kant insists that lying is always wrong, no matter the circumstances, because the universalization In social work practice and psychotherapy, universalization is a supportive intervention utilized by the therapist to reassure and encourage his/her client. Universalization places the client’s experience in the context of other individuals who are experiencing the same, or  of the telling of a lie would embroil em·broil  
tr.v. em·broiled, em·broil·ing, em·broils
1. To involve in argument, contention, or hostile actions: "Avoid . . .
 one in practical contradiction. The very possibility of telling a lie clearly presupposes that almost everyone tells the truth. The entire institution of intersubjective communication would be rendered nugatory Having little meaning. A nugatory statement or command is one that provides little value and might just as well be omitted. See deprecate.  if everyone lied constantly. (In that case, all that one might infer from another person's utterance would be that it was false, leaving an infinite number infinite number

a number so large as to be uncountable. Represented by 8, frequently obtained by 'dividing' by zero.
 of possibilities for what might be the truth.) But the wrongness of lying, Kant insists, is not owing to the fact that the consequences of lying would be bad. Indeed, in order to highlight this idea, he offers an example in which the consequences of telling the truth will likely be catastrophic for an innocent person. The strict deontologist's position is clear: one's duty is one's duty, and it has nothing to do with what other people may or may not do. If it is your duty to tell the truth (and it is, Kant insists), then it does not matter that by doing so you may facilitate another person's immoral action. If the prospective victim is killed as a result of your having revealed his whereabouts, then, provided that your will was correctly aligned, you will be morally irreproachable ir·re·proach·a·ble  
Perfect or blameless in every respect; faultless: irreproachable conduct.

, for it was not your intention that the victim die. Your intention was only to tell the truth.

A general concern about lying is easy to explain, given that deception and lying appear to be rife in the public domain. Lying may be the single most common transgression that officials make as the means to what they allege to be moral ends. Rulers may often lie opportunistically in order to protect their own position, but in other cases they may truly believe that they are lying for the good of the governed. People often justify their lies to themselves by reasoning that the lies are innocuous, or "white," and the defense of "noble" lies has a long history, stretching back at least as far as Plato, who in Republic appears to condone the use of deceit in quelling the discontent of the lower classes of the Ideal State. (11)

The context in which a lie is told seems relevant to its moral permissibility. More generally, our commonsense morality does embody the idea that consequences are not completely irrelevant. For example, in the United States the stiffest sentence for first-degree murder is not available as a punishment for attempted murder--a clear illustration that in our legal system intentions are not all that matter. If, as Kant maintains, intentions exhaust morality, then our legal system should be modified. As things stand, however, according to the morality of society now, at least as reflected in its laws, consequences have moral relevance. Although some scholars have gone to extreme lengths to render Kant's explicitly stated views consistent with our ordinary views of what morality demands of us, we need (and indeed should) concern ourselves here only with the gross structure of Kant's view in order to ascertain the status of dirty hands if such a deontological theory is true. The salient point is that, for Kant, morally permissible actions are those that do not violate the Categorical Imperative, no matter what their consequences may be.

Teleology: Utilitarianism utilitarianism (y'tĭlĭtr`ēənĭzəm, y  

The most influential rival to strictly deontological theories of ethics takes the importance of consequences to its logical extreme, maintaining that only consequences matter morally.

Utilitarianism was originally articulated by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) in his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation ([1789] 1907) and subsequently elaborated by John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) in Utilitarianism ([1863] 1985). According to utilitarians, right actions are determined by "the principle of utility": act always so as to maximize the utility of the greatest number. This approach to normative ethics differs fundamentally from a deontological theory such as Kant's because outcomes are what matters above all, morally speaking. In utilitarianism, goodness is primitive, and duties are determined by the results to which they give rise. According to classical utilitarianism, the only intrinsic good is pleasure, and the only intrinsic evil is pain. The sources of pleasure and pain are irrelevant to their fundamental value of goodness or evil. Although much has been written regarding how precisely to understand utility, I concern myself here with only the essentials of utilitarianism. Again, by considering the theory as schematically as possible, we can extrapolate conclusions about the problem of dirty hands for teleological theories in general.

Utilitarianism provides a seemingly simple method by which to determine which of a possible range of prospective actions one ought to perform. Given a number of possible courses of action, one should choose the one that will maximize the utility of the greatest number. In the original formulation of utilitarianism, Bentham indicates that the relevant net utility calculations are to include all those who would be affected by the prospective course of action. It seems fairly obvious, for example, who will be affected when one decides to steal from another person. The relevant community often seems readily identifiable, so one simply calculates the net utility of all those affected by each of the possible courses of action and then sums up the net total for the group. It is one's duty to perform the single action that maximizes the utility of the greatest number, and because only one prospective action can bring about the best outcome, all alternative actions are wrong. (12)

With regard to utilitarianism, the question that bears most directly on the issue of dirty hands is: Whom are we to include within the moral community? The outcomes of utilitarian calculations are independent of one another, but the persons immediately affected and those affected only mediately or in the long-run will comprise two distinct groups. Yet the size of the group included clearly matters, for the precise specification of the group will effectively determine one's moral duty. Because it is one's duty to maximize the utility of the greatest number, the inclusion or exclusion of certain persons only mediately affected by one's actions will alter in many cases the content of the moral prescription to action. (13) The added utility or disutility dis·u·til·i·ty  
n. pl. dis·u·til·i·ties
1. The state or fact of being useless or counterproductive.

2. Something that is inefficient or counterproductive:
 of even a single extra person may affect the entire series of net utility rankings for prospective actions, and because utilitarianism mandates maximization of outcomes, every action that is not prescribed is proscribed PROSCRIBED, civil law. Among the Romans, a man was said to be proscribed when a reward was offered for his head; but the term was more usually applied to those who were sentenced to some punishment which carried with it the consequences of civil death. Code, 9; 49. . So what should one do? Should one attempt seriously to consider the effects of prospective actions on all moral persons, present and future, or all those currently living, or those in one's country, state, or community, or one's family and friends, or perhaps only one's self? In fulfilling their official functions, leaders must employ quasi-utilitarian reasoning because they have a vocational duty to maximize their constituents' interests.

No less than Kant's view, utilitarianism captures what are often claimed to be essential constraints on tenable ten·a·ble  
1. Capable of being maintained in argument; rationally defensible: a tenable theory.

 moral theories--namely, that they be "other regarding" and "universalizable." However, Kantians and utilitarians construe construe v. to determine the meaning of the words of a written document, statute or legal decision, based upon rules of legal interpretation as well as normal meanings.  moral persons differently. For the former, all rational and free agents are moral persons. For the latter, the group of moral persons may be more difficult to specify. (14) Given that morality appears to be a uniquely human phenomenon, perhaps the least controversial manner in which to draw the distinction between moral persons and nonpersons is to define the former as all human beings. Racist, sexist, and classist or caste systems appeal to what appear to be arbitrary properties--race, sex, or social status--in determining how to treat other people. Nepotism nep·o·tism  
Favoritism shown or patronage granted to relatives, as in business.

[French népotisme, from Italian nepotismo, from nepote, nephew, from Latin
 would seem to be equally unacceptable because genetic similarity seems to be no more relevant to morality than is race or sex or economic similarity or, for that matter, place of birth or residence.

Having sketched illustrative examples of each of the two exclusive and exhaustive categories of moral theory, the deontological and the teleological, we are now in a position to return to the problem of dirty hands. Are irresolvable ir·re·solv·a·ble  
1. Irresoluble.

2. Impossible to separate into component parts; irreducible.
 conflicts between governance and morality ineluctable? In order to answer this question, we must first clarify the concept of public administration.

The Nature of Public Administration and the Potential for Conflict

The word administration derives from the Latin ministrare, "to serve." Administrators are public servants who work on behalf of the people who have appointed them their spokesmen and governors. Administrators have been delegated responsibility by people who depend on them to protect and perpetuate the people's interests. That groups of people are more effectively organized when particular individuals are delegated to promote the interests of a group is the idea behind representative democracy, in which the people's delegates establish and implement laws and policies. In the modern occidental world, there are no "princes" in the sense of absolute monarchs whose decrees exhaustively determine the laws of the land. Western leaders wield power ostensibly os·ten·si·ble  
Represented or appearing as such; ostensive: His ostensible purpose was charity, but his real goal was popularity.
 in the interests of those who have conferred upon these leaders the authority to manage their affairs in exchange for having agreed to make certain sacrifices of time and energy and for adopting a special interest in the group's well-being.

People in official positions occupy multiple valuational worlds. As private people, they are presumably pre·sum·a·ble  
That can be presumed or taken for granted; reasonable as a supposition: presumable causes of the disaster.
 subject to the same moral dictates as moral persons in general, but as government officials they also have extramoral or nonmoral professional duties to act on behalf of their constituents. If the interests at stake are not the same for moral persons as they are for one's administrative group, then from the utilitarian perspective, this situation is inherently problematic. As an administrator, the person should give priority to the interests of those who lie within his domain of power and professional responsibility, but, as a human being, he should weigh the interests of the moral community in general. Consider, for example, a case in which one has a large sum of money to distribute in the best possible way. If one is a utilitarian and calculates how the amount of money should be distributed, the result will depend crucially on the number of people whose interests are considered. If one's community includes all of humanity, then as a private person one might decide to give all of the money to those in the greatest need. If so, one might end up giving none of it to citizens of the United States, who by any measure are better off economically than the people of most other countries. As a public administrator of a specific country, however, one has a professional duty to give priority to the interests of one's compatriots. In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently
, the "best" action will differ dramatically in the two cases, leading to a serious conflict of duties.

This situation is summed up by the simple diagram in figure 1. Let the square be the entire community of moral persons, where the area of vertical lines represents all members of the entire moral community, each of whose utility is morally relevant. Let the hatched circle represent the domain of the official's professional concern, which is invariably in·var·i·a·ble  
Not changing or subject to change; constant.

 (in the real world) a subset of the entire moral community. (15) Distributing scarce resources over the entire population (the surface area of the square) will clearly lead to a lower allocation to each element of the circle than would a distribution that neglected all those persons lying outside the circle. In other words, an official charged with maximizing the interests of the members of a subset of the entire moral community will necessarily encounter conflicts in attempting to maximize the interests of "the greatest number" while simultaneously attempting to maximize the interests of those who have appointed him to give priority to their own interests.


As a concrete example of such a conflict, one might observe here that even a fraction of the U.S. defense budget might be used to effect substantial improvements in the quality of life of people in poverty-stricken nations or to implement significant programs to limit the spread of AIDS in Africa. U.S. officials choose instead to continue to fortify for·ti·fy  
v. for·ti·fied, for·ti·fy·ing, for·ti·fies
To make strong, as:
a. To strengthen and secure (a position) with fortifications.

b. To reinforce by adding material.
 the nation's defense establishment, although no significant rival to U.S. military might is anywhere in sight. They make these allocations in the name of the citizens of the United States, not on behalf of humanity.

Now, it is true that not all normative moral theories prescribe positive duties that officials would be required to violate in their allocation of resources allocation of resources

Apportionment of productive assets among different uses. The issue of resource allocation arises as societies seek to balance limited resources (capital, labour, land) against the various and often unlimited wants of their members.
 to their own constituents while concomitantly withholding resources from "outsiders." Nonetheless, it is unclear whether even the most skeletal theory of absolute morality would be compatible with the requirement that an official give priority to the interests of one select group. Suppose, for example, that there were only one absolute moral principle, a negative duty not to harm fellow human beings. Situations might arise in which maximizing the interests of one's own group could be accomplished only through harming outsiders--for example, through the waging of war, often regarded as a paradigmatic dirty hands case.

One group may well benefit by killing some (or even all) of another group's members. Indeed, a leader may assume that he must go to war in order to maximize his constituents' interests. Some have argued that the 1991 Gulf War involved just this type of rationalization: thousands of Iraqi citizens were killed in a war intended by the U.S. government to stabilize the Middle East for the benefit of U.S. citizens. The international outcry "No blood for oil" by those opposed to George W. Bush's 2003 war on Iraq expressed a similar concern. And the same sort of argument might be made regarding U.S. policy vis-a-vis weapons exports, especially in view of the many civilian areas outside the United States that have been devastated by U.S. produced and exported weapons. (16)

To offer a further example of the types of conflicts that emerge for those pulled on the one side by broader humanitarian (moral) considerations and on the other by official obligations: during the 2003 diplomatic crisis leading up to George W. Bush's decision to wage war on Iraq without the approval of the United Nations Security Council, the leaders of a number of needy African nations were placed in the difficult position of risking the withdrawal of U.S. aid for their refusal to support the war. As administrators of those nations, African leaders might have served their constituents best by supporting the U.S. campaign, for without U.S. aid, even more of their own already destitute population would likely be jeopardized by shortages of food and clean water. (17) The trade-off for such administrators was between the interests of compatriots and those of noncompatriots--in this case, primarily Iraqis.

Consider also the case of military recruitment. Military administrators are no doubt well aware that their marketing schemes preferentially target people from the lower socioeconomic strata. Thus, in a sense they are allowing poor people to put their lives at risk in order to protect the wealthier members of society. From the recruiter's perspective, what matters is to fill one's quotas. But can military marketing practices be justified morally? (18)

Examples such as these suggest that even the most attenuated version of morality may not save the administrator from potential conflict if he truly intends to give priority to his own group's interests. The administrator's unique situation strikingly gives rise to conflicts of duties with absolute morality, whether the true theory is teleological or deontological. First, to reiterate, when one adopts the role of an administrator, the community relevant to one's decision making in one's professional life differs from the community relevant to one's decision making in one's life as a moral agent. Quasi-utilitarian calculations for the individual as an administrator and for the individual as a person will differ, producing conflicts of duties. For their part, deontologists flatly deny that the morally right action is that which maximizes the utility of the greatest number or indeed has anything whatsoever to do with consequences: some actions are morally forbidden, no matter the circumstances and regardless of their consequences. This situation is problematic because the goal of administration is to maximize outcomes for those within the administrator's domain of power and responsibility. Were a Kantian-like paradigm correct, administrators would immediately encounter moral conflict when attempting to maximize the interests of those whom they govern because according to such a deontological view the right action does not involve maximization of any group's interests. Doing the right thing mayor may not lead to good consequences. Administrators, however, are expected to concern themselves with the consequences of actions and policies for their groups, and any administrator who fails to do so will not be fulfilling his agreement with those who selected him as their administrator.

The Case for Realism

Given the inevitability of such conflicts, no one who affirms either a deontological or a teleological theory of absolute morality should be surprised when public officials become corrupt. As realists maintain, the sacrifice of moral principle may follow naturally for those who opt for excellence in administration, whether a deontological theory of a teleological theory of morality is true. The conflict between administration and morality is fairly obvious in the deontological case, for an administrator is required to count as significant what for deontologists is morally irrelevant--namely, the consequences of one's actions for a particular group of people. Moreover, the community relevant to practical decision making always shrinks when one accepts an official position, regardless of the precise form that a teleological theory might take and regardless of the precise content of its principles. The good administrator gives priority to the interests of some subset of what formerly would have been his moral community. This exclusivity involves elevating to the status of a moral relevance what is morally irrelevant: one is to act as though those who lie within the purview The part of a statute or a law that delineates its purpose and scope.

Purview refers to the enacting part of a statute. It generally begins with the words be it enacted and continues as far as the repealing clause.
 of one's control deserve a greater degree of consideration than those who do not. (19) But to give priority to the members of a subset is concomitantly to neglect its nonmembers. Dirty hands will thus arise if any teleological theory with a nonarbitrary conception of "moral person" is true because, in order to act in the best interests of those whom one has been selected to serve, one must neglect those who lie outside one's sphere of authority. The requirement that the conception of moral person be "nonarbitrary" precludes the possibility that a utilitarian might define the moral community so as to coincide with his domain of administrative jurisdiction. Defining "moral persons" as equivalent to the citizens of one's own nation exemplifies the use of an "arbitrary" criterion, analogous to the criteria used by racists and sexists in deciding how to treat others.

One of the most oft-rehearsed objections to utilitarianism is that it would in some cases prescribe actions that we ordinarily would condemn in the harshest of terms (for example, torture, false conviction, or even intentional killing of the innocent), provided that the action leads to a greater net benefit for the group. Accordingly, one might protest here that because utilitarians have no sacred principles, they cannot have dirty hands, (20) yet this protest amounts to the same conclusion, though arrived at from the opposite direction. The upshot is that the demands of utilitarianism and the demands of administration fundamentally conflict. One cannot both heed the prescriptions of utilitarianism and maximize one's efficacy as an administrator of a subset of the class of all moral persons. I am assuming, to reiterate, that the official does not define his moral community so as to coincide with the set of his constituents. To do so would require elevating to the status of moral relevance what must be morally irrelevant--namely, the property of happening to be a member of the group in question. The moral irrelevance here is best illustrated by the fact that the actual members of any society change frequently over time, with the birth and death of particular people. Accordingly, the problem of dirty hands follows immediately from the conflicting demands of administration and any teleological view of morality that takes into consideration the broader interests of the moral community, which is invariably much larger than the domain to which any administrator has been assigned.

I have assumed to this point that the interests of the moral community and the interests of relevance to an administrator (i.e., the interests of those lying within his domain of responsibility and power) are not one and the same. In that case, the argument for realism is straightforwardly mathematical. One cannot simultaneously maximize the interests of an entire set and those of a subset of that set unless the two sets coincide--that is, unless the subset is the set itself (which I have rejected as untenable). But what if "interests" are construed diversely in morality and in administration? What if what mattered morally were well-being or happiness, whereas what mattered administratively were money? The problem does not become less difficult by stating at the outset that a moral agent should care about the well-being of all moral agents, whereas the same person acting as an administrator should care above all about his constituents' economic situation, as my Gulf War examples illustrate.

Basically, there are two possibilities, and either one leads to conflicts. Either the same "interest" measure is used for those within and those outside the domain of an administrator's power and responsibility, or the measures differ in the two cases. The first scenario leads immediately to the problem of differential allocation described earlier. The same amount of resources distributed over more people obviously will not maximize the allocation to the members of a subset of that group. The second scenario leads immediately to the dirty hands involved in the decision to wage war while knowing full well that outsiders will be sacrificed for the greater good of people lying within an administrator's own domain.

Two points need to be stressed here. First, because I have divided the entire class of moral theories by appeal to the law of noncontradiction In logic, the law of noncontradiction (also called the law of contradiction) states, in the words of Aristotle, that "one cannot say of something that it is and that it is not in the same respect and at the same time".  (either consequences are relevant or they are not), every theory must fall into one or the other of the two gross categories, deontology or teleology. For example, Aristotle considers eudaemonia (human flourishing) to be important to morality and so qualifies as a teleologist tel·e·ol·o·gy  
n. pl. tel·e·ol·o·gies
1. The study of design or purpose in natural phenomena.

2. The use of ultimate purpose or design as a means of explaining phenomena.

. Spinoza's ethics may be construed better as a deontological approach (though I shall not attempt to defend such an interpretation here). I am well aware that not all thinkers divide the class of all moral theories in this manner. However, given this schema of classification, there can be no moral theory unaccounted for. Every theory counts consequences (whether they be states of affairs, states of the soul, or sheer amount of pleasure, good, virtue, or happiness produced) as either relevant or irrelevant to morality.

Second, owing to constraints of space and finitude fin·i·tude  
The quality or condition of being finite.

Noun 1. finitude - the quality of being finite
boundedness, finiteness
, my argument has focused on only one example of deontological theory and one example of teleological theory. Realism about dirty hands follows only if other deontological and teleological theories are indeed relevantly similar to Kantianism and utilitarianism, which I have suggested is the case, as summarized in table 1.

Because the constraints on administrators are purely legal as opposed to moral, cases will arise in which executing one's official duty to the fullest extent may well entail a violation of morality (as pacifists maintain is always the case when a leader opts for war as a solution to conflict). Although administrators are constrained in their actions by the law, the law of the land need not coincide with morality, as we learned from the Third Reich. Furthermore, at the highest levels of international law, the rulers of nations that refuse to accept the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court are in some sense "beyond the pale" vis-a-vis international standards and need only ensure that they do not violate the laws of their own land.

Now, it is obvious that not all leaders embrace absolute morality--some are no doubt unabashed political realists or moral relativists--but the point is that moral conduct is in no way built into the nature of administration. On the contrary, administration involves contractual arrangements between the governors and the governed. Officials straddle In the stock and commodity markets, a strategy in options contracts consisting of an equal number of put options and call options on the same underlying share, index, or commodity future.  multiple valuational worlds: serving a subset of the moral community, while being at the same time a member of that larger group (whether or not they themselves believe in absolute morality). A third force also pulls the administrator--namely, prudence. There are levels of opportunism, of course, and idealists are concerned that opportunists may adduce To present, offer, bring forward, or introduce.

For example, a bill of particulars that lists each of the plaintiff's demands may recite that it contains all the evidence to be adduced at trial.
 dirty hands as an excuse for renouncing morality, but, in a sense underscored lucidly by Machiavelli, one must secure and retain one's position before being able to execute official functions.

Varieties of Realism: Socrates and Machiavelli

In the epigraph ep·i·graph  
1. An inscription, as on a statue or building.

2. A motto or quotation, as at the beginning of a literary composition, setting forth a theme.
 from Plato's Apology, Socrates explains his reasons for having eschewed public life in preference for what became his peripatetic philosophical (a)vocation. There are two obvious interpretations of Socrates' words. First, he might mean that those who come into conflict with the already corrupt people in positions of power will be quashed by them physically--for example, assassinated, incarcerated, or otherwise removed from society. This interpretation is compatible with idealism about dirty hands. Socrates may be claiming that those with scruples who attempt to enter into the fray of politics will be rendered somehow impotent. The plight of many persons who have chosen civil disobedience civil disobedience, refusal to obey a law or follow a policy believed to be unjust. Practitioners of civil disobediance basing their actions on moral right and usually employ the nonviolent technique of passive resistance in order to bring wider attention to the  throughout history certainly confirms this hypothesis. The relatively few famous figures whom we revere Revere, city (1990 pop. 42,786), Suffolk co., E Mass., a residential suburb of Boston, on Massachusetts Bay; settled c.1630, set off from Chelsea and named for Paul Revere 1871, inc. as a city 1914.  in the history of cultural criticism are those who were not silenced irrevocably by the crushing and often lethal forces of conservatives in power. However, this interpretation of Socrates' view leaves out the people who enter the public arena and are not destroyed, but become themselves wielders of power, including those who in the process undergo corruption.

Those excluded by the literal interpretation of Socrates' words are accommodated by a second, more comprehensive interpretation of those words. In this reading, the "life" that will be sacrificed should one enter into politics is one's integrity or inner life. If integrity involves strict adherence to one's moral principles, then Socrates may be the first historically identifiable defender of the thesis of realism regarding dirty hands. This possibility emerges plausibly through reflection on what seems to have been Socrates' view about personal identity (as presented by Plato in other dialogues). The identification of personhood per·son·hood  
The state or condition of being a person, especially having those qualities that confer distinct individuality: "finding her own personhood as a campus activist" 
 with one's soul or mind implies that the destruction of the soul automatically entails the destruction of the self.

The attribution to Socrates of such a theory of the self would explain why he insisted upon his conviction that the Athenians would harm themselves by executing him:
   Be sure that if you kill the sort of man I say I am, you will not
   harm me more than yourselves. Neither Meletus nor Anytus can harm
   me in any way; he could not harm me, for I do not think it is
   permitted that a better man be harmed by a worse; certainly he
   might kill me, or perhaps banish or disfranchise me, which he and
   maybe others think to be great harm, but I do not think so. I
   think he is doing himself much greater harm doing what he is doing
   now, attempting to have a man executed unjustly. (Plato 1981,
   Apology, 30cd) (21)

So far as Socrates was concerned, the Athenians could destroy his body, but they would leave him, Socrates, unscathed.

Interpreting the ideas of historical figures in philosophy is always difficult and arguably indeterminate in every case, and Socrates' "philosophy" is a fortiori [Latin, With stronger reason.] This phrase is used in logic to denote an argument to the effect that because one ascertained fact exists, therefore another which is included in it or analogous to it and is less improbable, unusual, or surprising must also exist.  elusive because he himself left no written documentation of his own ideas. Nonetheless, Plato's account of the trial provides a plausible explanation of why Socrates avoided the public life, despite his obvious concern with ethics and proper conduct in society. In this reading, Socrates appears to have recognized the truth in realism about dirty hands.

Indeed, both Socrates and Machiavelli appear to have been realists about dirty hands, though neither thinker could have anticipated Kant's and Mill's ideas. However, the same arguments will apply, mutatis mutandis MUTATIS MUTANDIS. The necessary changes. This is a phrase of frequent practical occurrence, meaning that matters or things are generally the same, but to be altered, when necessary, as to names, offices, and the like. , to other versions of deontological and teleological approaches, for the precise nature of the Categorical Imperative or the precise calculus used in determining the outcomes of moral actions will not alter in substance the conflicts that arise between official and moral duties (outlined in table 1). If some other deontological or teleological theory were the correct one, realism about dirty hands would still follow, so long as the nature of administration remained the same. Given the nature of administration in the real world, a conflict arises for those who wish not only to execute their official duties well, but also to adhere to absolute morality of either the deontological or the teleological kind.

One manner in which the idealist might respond to these dilemmas would be to reject as morally unacceptable any official position that requires one to maximize the interests of a subset of the greater group of all moral persons. Thus, one can avoid the conclusion that the so-called problem of dirty hands is a real one by embracing anarchism anarchism (ăn`ərkĭzəm) [Gr.,=having no government], theory that equality and justice are to be sought through the abolition of the state and the substitution of free agreements between individuals. . Having never accepted the professional responsibility to give priority to the interests of a group of people, the moral agent would never encounter the conflicts of duties diagnosed earlier. On the one hand, this strategy in some sense would vindicate idealism, but, on the other hand, it would still leave us with the problem of dirty hands in any world (including the real one) in which official positions do exist and agents do fill those roles. One might think that a satisfactory vindication of idealism should not test on a wholesale rejection of all political institutions. Indeed, one might wonder whether such sweeping anarchism would not require a rejection even of the institution of the family, an implication that many would find untenable. In any event, anarchism would be one way of avoiding the types of conflict built into the administrative capacities in existence in the real world, where resource allocation resource allocation Managed care The constellation of activities and decisions which form the basis for prioritizing health care needs  is in fact one of the government's functions, and where the moral community is never identical with the domain of a leader's responsibility.

Idealists rightly maintain that dirty hands defenses are often self-delusive and duplicitous. However, realists appear to be correct that cases will arise in which excellence in governance requires the sacrifice of morality, if indeed morality is absolute. By implementing and adhering to the policy that best advances the interests of those within one's sphere of power, one may well have to commit deeds that would be deemed morally reproachable if viewed from the broader perspective of humanity and committed by an individual with no governmental responsibilities.

Concluding Remarks Regarding Self-Deception

Socrates and Machiavelli are rarely regarded as ideological allies, but both qualify as realists about dirty hands. The salient difference between them is that Socrates exhorts (by his own example) those who would avoid corruption to eschew the public life, whereas Machiavelli exhorts those who wish to be leaders to accept corruption as the price that they will have to pay. Nowhere, however, does Machiavelli exhort anyone to become a leader. He claims, most realistically, that if one wishes to be a successful leader, then one must be willing to forsake morality. No one is forced to become a government official, and no official is forced to be a superlative one.

An official's desire to retain his position of influence and responsibility may lead in some cases to a desire to administer well, provided that on some level he believes in meritocracy mer·i·toc·ra·cy  
n. pl. mer·i·toc·ra·cies
1. A system in which advancement is based on individual ability or achievement.

. On the other hand, officials may sacrifice moral principles in order to retain their position and thus be able to do more good. Furthermore, given that other-regarding stances are often thought of as moral, rulers themselves may choose, in good conscience, to sacrifice principles, persuading themselves that they are acting selflessly. (22) From the perspective of an administrator who is focusing on the interests of his constituents, the situation may seem no different from that of someone who focuses on the broader moral community. The administrator is basing his decisions not primarily on considerations of prudence, but on something like the notion of "the good of the whole." Because an official's domain constitutes a quasi-moral community (where interests are given priority to rules), it may be simple to slide into a situation in which principle is consistently sacrificed "for the good of the governed."

Still, in light of the manifest motivation that any person has to protect his own gainful gain·ful  
Providing a gain; profitable: gainful employment.

gainful·ly adv.
 employment, it seems plausible that many officials are driven finally by prudence. Egoistic e·go·ist  
1. One devoted to one's own interests and advancement; an egocentric person.

2. An egotist.

3. An adherent of egoism.
 and professional forces may become conflated in reality and indistinguishable in practice. Machiavelli's advice illuminates this difficult problem--the conflation (database) conflation - Combining or blending of two or more versions of a text; confusion or mixing up. Conflation algorithms are used in databases.  of egoism egoism (ē`gōĭzəm), in ethics, the doctrine that the ends and motives of human conduct are, or should be, the good of the individual agent. It is opposed to altruism, which holds the criterion of morality to be the welfare of others.  and professionalism so apparent in many administrative contexts--one of the most dramatic examples of which may be the routine denial by military spokesmen of any responsibility whatsoever for the "collateral damage collateral damage Surgery A popular term for any undesired but unavoidable co-morbidity associated with a therapy–eg, chemotherapy-induced CD to the BM and GI tract as a side effect of destroying tumor cells " killings to which military action invariably gives rise.

One final manner in which to criticize the sacrifice of principle for administrative efficacy is to insist that the leader who makes such a sacrifice is acting opportunistically. In that event, corruption is compounded by self-deception--another concern expressed by Socrates, famous for his dictum "know thyself." According to this idealist critique of corrupt leaders, the problem of nonopportunistic corruption in leadership is a chimera, for people decide to become leaders in order to enjoy the power and glory associated with leadership. Because leaders are free to abandon their official position, if they remain in power, electing to sacrifice principle for efficacy, then they have simply sold their souls. I have suggested that anyone who chooses to administer will face dilemmas that can lead to corruption through the development of habits, but no one need make this choice. One way to protect oneself from the potential conflicts of public and private life is to follow the example set by Socrates. (23)
Table 1
Conflicts Between Administration and Morality
(for Teological and Deontological Theories)

                     Teleology case 1:      Teleology case 2:
                     moral =                moral [not equal to]
                     administrative         administrative
                     interests              interests

Moral requirements   Maximize interests     Maximize interests
                     of moral community     of moral community
                     (larger than the       (larger than the
                     administrator's        administrator's
                     domain)                domain

Administrative       Maximize interests     Maximize interests
requirement          of the adminis-        of the adminis-
                     trator's domain        trator's domain

Conflict             Insiders receive       Sacrifice outsiders
                     less if outcomes for   for the good of
                     all are considered     insiders


Moral requirements   Strict adherence to
                     rules (e.g., "Thou
                     shalt not kill,"
                     "Do not lie," etc.)

Administrative       Maximize interests
requirement          of administrator's

Conflict             Cannot base adminis-
                     trative decisions on
                     outcomes while
                     adhering strictly
                     to morality

Acknowledgments: This essay benefited greatly from the criticisms of two anonymous referees for The Independent Review. I also thank editor Robert Higgs for his help.

(1.) See Coady 1993. For a taxonomy of dirty hands, see Winston 1994.

(2.) Its title notwithstanding, Les mains sales is in my view more a forum for the expression of Sartre's condemnation of "mauvaise foi" (self-deception) and hypocrisy than it is an investigation of the problem of dirty hands. Hoederer is the agent of authenticity, who knows who and what he is and acts in accordance with his own values and beliefs. In contrast, Hugo defines himself throughout most of the play in terms of those around him. He lacks a strong sense of self and seeks to imitate others in order to fashion himself as someone he can respect. Given Hoederer's periodic expression of a pragmatic criterion of value, his position is not consistent throughout the play, so we would do well not to base our account of realism and idealism directly on Sartre's presentation, while duly acknowledging that it was indeed his play that gave the problem of nonopportunistic corruption in administration its popular name.

(3.) A negative answer to this question is given in Calhoun 2001.

(4.) The terms realism and idealism are applied in two distinct manners with regard to dirty hands and war. Although Walzer is a realist about dirty hands, he is an idealist about war insofar in·so·far  
To such an extent.

Adv. 1. insofar - to the degree or extent that; "insofar as it can be ascertained, the horse lung is comparable to that of man"; "so far as it is reasonably practical he should practice
 as he believes that wars are subject to moral evaluation. Pacifists are also idealists about war, but in contrast to just-war theorists, pacifists maintain that all wars are unjust. (A pacifist can be either a realist or an idealist about dirty hands. Some pacifists who embrace realism about dirty hands are anarchists.) Realists about war, in contrast, maintain that the phenomenon cannot be evaluated morally any more than can rabid dogs, earthquakes, or hurricanes. Realists about war tend to be fatalists who claim that war is unavoidable, given human nature, and that once war has begun, there is no way to control or evaluate it--as in the cliche "all's fair in ... war."

(5.) A further complication is that some highly prudential agents may hold altruism to be important to their personal happiness, and thus they may not become "corrupt," in the ordinary sense of the word, by giving priority to their own personal interests.

(6.) Machiavelli originally dedicated Il Principe to Giuliano de' Medici There were two Medici known as Giuliano de' Medici:
  • Giuliano di Piero de' Medici (1453-1478) (younger brother of Lorenzo il Magnifico, assassinated in the Pazzi Conspiracy)
  • Giuliano di Lorenzo de' Medici (1479-1516) (third son of Lorenzo il Magnifico
, but upon Giuliano's untimely death, Machiavelli readdressed the work to Giuliano's successor, Lorenzo de' Medici Medici, Italian family
Medici (mĕ`dĭchē, Ital. mā`dēchē), Italian family that directed the destinies of Florence from the 15th cent. until 1737.
. This work might have been more aptly titled "The Ruler"--many rulers during Machiavelli's day were the sons of kings.

(7.) Many Christians appear not to embrace their religion as a Divine Command Theory, for they consider the reward of heaven and the punishment of hell as relevant to their decisions about how to act. However, the story of Abraham and Isaac illustrates the basic idea of a Divine Command Theory. Abraham is ready and willing to do what God decrees because God has decreed it.

(8.) This follows from the truth of logic that every statement implies itself and an infinite number of other statements derived through expansion of the original statement via disjunction disjunction /dis·junc·tion/ (-junk´shun)
1. the act or state of being disjoined.

2. in genetics, the moving apart of bivalent chromosomes at the first anaphase of meiosis.
. In stating more conservatively that "typically" there are multiple means available, I mean to distinguish logical from actual and rational possibility.

(9.) A maxim is the propositional statement of one's prospective action. Actions the maxims of which cannot be universalized are impermissible because they cannot be prescribed of all rational, free agents and therefore involve, in Kant's view, a failure of rationality. The inability to universalize u·ni·ver·sal·ize  
tr.v. u·ni·ver·sal·ized, u·ni·ver·sal·iz·ing, u·ni·ver·sal·iz·es
To make universal; generalize.

 the maxim of one's action as a principle according to which an agents must act reveals that the principle is invalid.

(10.) See Harman 1977, 66-77, for ah illuminating discussion of Kant's views on immorality as irrationality.

(11.) In Republic, the use of lies is portrayed as a perfectly permissible and even desirable means of appeasing the populace about their allegedly objective station in life. According to "The Myth of the Metals," the workers, auxiliaries, and rulers are meant to be workers, auxiliaries, or rulers because of the relative proportion of precious and semiprecious metals in their blood. If people are in fact variously disposed and apt to access the realm of the Forms, then this difference would seem to be an objective matter of physical constitution. Only those of supreme intelligence are capable of making their way out of "the Cave," at which point they can apprehend the nature of the Good. "The Myth of the Metals," a so-called noble lie, is heuristically justified by its efficacy in dispelling discontent and thereby securing the properly functioning Ideal State. Politicians and leaders who lie for "the good of the people" conduct themselves paternalistically under the assumption that hoi polloi cannot handle or understand the truth. Such an assumption runs counter to the democratic idea that ordinary people are themselves as qualified to discover the truth as anyone else. Plato was no champion of democracy, of course. Some have hypothesized that his aversion to democracy had much to do with the fact that Socrates was tried, convicted, and executed under democratic rule, but Plato's views on democracy area direct consequence of his metaphysics and epistemology. In other words, the order of explanation may be reversed: given his metaphysics and epistemology, Plato should have expected such blunders on the part of a democratic regime.

(12.) I am assuming, in the spirit of Bentham and Mill, that at least in theory utility can be measured quantitatively and measured precisely (to the number of significant figures needed to distinguish any two outcomes from one another). The literature on utilitarianism is vast, but, given my purposes, I need not go into exegetical ex·e·get·ic   also ex·e·get·i·cal
Of or relating to exegesis; critically explanatory.

 details here.

(13.) For example, so-called utilitarian defenses of recourse to war invariably fail to take into account the long-range effects of war on the broader community in the future. See Calhoun 2002a.

(14.) If utility is construed as simple pleasure, then it would seem, as animal rights advocates such as Peter Singer insist, that we should include within the class of moral persons all sentient sentient /sen·ti·ent/ (sen´she-ent) able to feel; sensitive.

1. Having sense perception; conscious.

2. Experiencing sensation or feeling.
 creatures--at is, not only all human beings, but also the ostensibly "lower" animals as well. If utility is interpreted in terms of ideals such as happiness, beauty, and friendship, then presumably only the creatures capable of attaining of appreciating those ideals (for example, human beings and cats) should be included in utilitarian calculations of the right action. The morally right action for utilitarians is identical with the action that maximizes the utility for the greatest number.

(15.) The proportions depicted are for illustrative purposes only and obviously far from accurate, given the populations of the world and of particular nations.

(16.) The United States has refused to sign the Ottawa treaty banning the production, sale, and use of land mines and also leads the world in weapons exports--half of all weapons exports originate in the United States. Furthermore, the United States continues to deploy weapons proven to be devastating to civilian populations long after military action in a region has ceased. U.S. cluster bombs dropped on Iraq in 2003 maimed and killed innocent people on a daily basis, and the United States used depleted uranium ammunition in the 1991 Gulf War, in Kosovo in 1999, and in the 2003 Iraq war.

(17.) This outcome can be only a matter speculation. Some argued prior to the war that it would lead to a global destabilization de·sta·bi·lize  
tr.v. de·sta·bi·lized, de·sta·bi·liz·ing, de·sta·bi·liz·es
1. To upset the stability or smooth functioning of:
 with extremely negative ramifications for all nations. In other words, even given the threat of the withdrawal of U.S. aid (or, in some cases, the allure of possible new aid packages), some African leaders may have concluded that the war would be even worse for their own constituents than the loss of aid. Regarding how war promotes terrorism, see Calhoun 2002c.

(18.) For further discussion of this problem, see Calhoun 2002b and 2003.

(19.) The interests of those who lie outside the administrator's domain have, from the perspective of the person acting in his capacity as an administrator, no relevance to his decision making regarding the group, except insofar as the consequences of his decisions might have repercussions repercussions nplrépercussions fpl

repercussions nplAuswirkungen pl 
 (either positive or negative) for the group itself.

(20.) An anonymous reader of an earlier version of this essay made this important point.

(21.) A vexing question arises in this connection: If Socrates truly believed that by executing him the Athenians would harm themselves, turning themselves into murderers, why did he permit them to do so when other avenues were open to him? Socrates might respond, along Kantian lines, that he is responsible only for the actions that he himself carries out, and the moral quality of an action is determined exhaustively by the agent's intentions. In other words, permitting the Athenians to kill him is not the same as actively committing suicide. Of course, so far as we know, no one had to pry open Socrates' mouth to force him to swallow the hemlock hemlock, any tree of the genus Tsuga, coniferous evergreens of the family Pinaceae (pine family) native to North America and Asia. The common hemlock of E North America is T. .

(22.) To assume that because an action is "other regarding" it therefore must be moral, is to mistake what is at best a necessary condition for a sufficient condition and thus to commit the informal fallacy of affirming the consequent Affirming the consequent is a formal fallacy, committed by reasoning in the form:

If P, then Q.
Therefore, P.

(23.) The problem of nonopportunistic corruption is a serious one only if morality is absolute, if moral relativism The philosophized notion that right and wrong are not absolute values, but are personalized according to the individual and his or her circumstances or cultural orientation. It can be used positively to effect change in the law (e.g.  is true, then there is no single true morality and therefore no objective standard by which to judge the formerly "uncorrupted" state of the agent as being better than his subsequent "corrupted" state (after having served as an administrator). For a persuasive defense of moral relativism, see Harman 1977.


Aristotle. 1980. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by David Ross. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bentham, Jeremy Bentham, Jeremy, 1748–1832, English philosopher, jurist, political theorist, and founder of utilitarianism. Educated at Oxford, he was trained as a lawyer and was admitted to the bar, but he never practiced; he devoted himself to the scientific analysis of . [1789] 1907. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. London: Clarendon.

Calhoun, Laurie. 2001. Killing, Letting Die, and the Alleged Necessity of Military Intervention. Peace and Conflict Studies 8, no. 2: 5-22.

--. 2002a. How Violence Breeds Violence: Some Utilitarian Considerations. Politics 22, no. 2: 95-108.

--. 2002b. The Phenomenology phenomenology, modern school of philosophy founded by Edmund Husserl. Its influence extended throughout Europe and was particularly important to the early development of existentialism.  of Paid Killing. International Journal of Human Rights 6, no. 1: 1-18.

--. 2002c. The Terrorist's Tacit Message. Peace Review 14, no. 1: 85-91.

--. 2003. Be All That You Can Be. New Political Science 25, no. 1: 5-17.

Coady, C. A. J. 1993. Politics and the Problem of Dirty Hands. In A Companion to Ethics, edited by Peter Singer, 373-83. Oxford: Blackwell.

Harman, Gilbert. 1977. The Nature of Morality. New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
: Oxford University Press.

--. 2000. Explaining Value. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kant, Immanuel Kant, Immanuel (ĭmän`ĕl känt), 1724–1804, German metaphysician, one of the greatest figures in philosophy, b. Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia). . [1785] 1964. Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, 1785), Immanuel Kant's first contribution to moral philosophy, argues for an a priori basis for morality. . Translated by H. J. Paton. New York: Harper and Row.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. [1505] 2002. Il Principe e altre opere politiche. 13th ed. Milan: Garzanti.

Mill, John Stuart. [1863] 1985. Utilitarianism. Indianapolis: ITT ITT Initial Teacher Training (UK)
ITT I Think That
ITT Invitation To Tender
ITT Individual Time Trial (professional cycling)
ITT Intention-To-Treat
ITT In This Thread (forums) 

Plato. 1974. Republic. Translated by G. M. A. Grube. Indianapolis: Hackett.

--. 1981. Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo. Translated by G. M. A. Grube. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. [1948] 1986. Les mains sales. Paris: Editions Gallimard.

Walzer, Michael. 2001. Michael Walzer responds [to Laurie Calhoun]. Dissent 48, no. 1: 86-87.

Winston, Kenneth. 1994. Necessity and Choice in Political Ethics: Varieties of Dirty Hands. In Professional Ethics professional ethics,
n the rules governing the conduct, transactions, and relationships within a profession and among its publics.

professional ethics liability,
n 1.
 and Social Responsibility, edited by Daniel Wueste. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield.

Laurie Calhoun is an independent writer living in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Independent Institute
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 Reader Opinion




Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Calhoun, Laurie
Publication:Independent Review
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Previous Article:Is discourse relevant for economic development?
Next Article:An original omission? Property in Rawls's political thought.

Related Articles
Can politics be fixed?
Top players in cup row strike threat.
Iraq's Political Leadership - The Focus Is On Obama & The Iranian Challenge.
Cereb Press.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2014 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters