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Integrity, Personal, and Political$
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Shmuel Nili

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780198859635

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198859635.001.0001

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Integrity, Self-Absorption, and Clean Hands

Integrity, Self-Absorption, and Clean Hands

(p.74) 3 Integrity, Self-Absorption, and Clean Hands
Integrity, Personal, and Political

Shmuel Nili

Oxford University Press

Political realities often mean that familiar moral constraints—against lying, manipulating, coercing, and the like—cannot be upheld without serious consequences for a very large number of vulnerable people. It is commonly argued that, under these ubiquitous political circumstances, putting much weight on non-consequentialist integrity reasons amounts to a self-absorbed preoccupation with “clean hands.” This chapter presents an elaborate response to this self-absorption charge, pivoting on two key claims. First, the familiar equation of “integrity” with “clean hands” is misleading: there are important cases where integrity might be compatible with “dirty hands,” and may even actively push agents to dirty their hands. Second, setting up our policy dilemma as a binary choice between “dirtying our hands” and imposing grave costs on many vulnerable people is often problematic. More often than not, such a binary presentation of the policy situation is misleading and self-serving.

Keywords:   national security, bin-Laden, Barack Obama, war on terror, George W. Bush, Vietnam War, foreign corruption, corporate bribery, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, South Africa debt

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