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The Problem of Dirty Hands in Democracies

Nick, Christina (2019) The Problem of Dirty Hands in Democracies. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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This thesis explores the concept of dirty hands in democracies. It argues that dirty hands are instances of moral conflicts in which some of our core moral values and commitments clash. Accepting the existence of such a clash, contrary to what some critics have argued, does not have to be irrational and we can make sense of this phenomenon irrespective of the wider beliefs about the nature of rational moral judgement that we hold. The thesis goes on to defend the view that getting one’s hands dirty results in a moral remainder that can best be described as “tragic-remorse”. Experiencing this emotional response, it is argued, fulfils important functions because it helps the agent understand what is morally required in the situation, ensures that they deliberate in the right way, and makes their behaviour intelligible to others. The thesis then goes on to argue that being confronted with a dirty hands conflict is particularly pernicious because, once faced with such a situation, it is impossible to keep our hands clean. Dirty hands therefore point us towards morality’s tragic nature. The thesis then questions what this means for democratic politics. It rejects criticisms that dirty hands can, neither in theory nor in practice, be compatible with democratic politics. If dirty-handed measures can indeed be a part of democratic politics, we should then ask who gets their hands dirty and can share the moral responsibility for the dirty-handed outcome. The thesis emphasises that political leaders do not share this burden alone. They act in a complicated web of relations with other politicians and public officials and many of them will get their hands dirty as well. Additionally, it is argued, to the extent that citizens voluntarily participate in or contribute to a given dirty-handed decision or the wider democratic process, they will also share some of the dirt and moral responsibility for what their politicians do for them and in their name. The thesis concludes by arguing that dirty hands in democratic politics are not borne by a single political leader acting alone, but are shared by many in the polity.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Dirty Hands; Democracy; Moral Responsibility; Moral Conflict
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.800485
Depositing User: Ms Christina Nick
Date Deposited: 16 Mar 2020 11:59
Last Modified: 11 Apr 2020 09:53
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/26178

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