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  • Nameless, Faceless, Selfless:Can the Utilitarian Terrorist Possess Integrity?
  • Roman Briggs

1. Introduction

Selfhood requires sufficient rationality, the capacities for self-reflection and self-knowledge, the capacity for autonomous action (in some sense), temporal situatedness and an awareness of this, and psychological continuity (in some sense) and an awareness of this. (Call this conjunction of conditions NS.) Contemporary philosophers have more or less reached a consensus regarding NS, and the lion's share of discourse regarding the self seems to center on making sense of this constellation.

While certainly having their own respective places within such discussions, value and commitment too often take a back seat. Here, I return attention to these aspects of the self, specifically, in revisiting one of the more resilient bugbears of consequentialist ethics: Bernard Williams's Objection from Integrity.

Aside from NS, I hold that persons who are sufficiently integrated selves necessarily value, evaluate, and make and hold to some commitments. Some of these commitments must be identity-conferring in nature—by which I mean those commitments situated at the core of whom a person takes herself to be.1 These are the commitments, in large part, by which she makes sense of her reasons for action, by which she chooses to participate in or to reject peripheral projects, and by which, in tandem with complementary desires and values, many of her intentional actions are motivated. The person qua particular self identifies with these commitments in the strictest sense of the word, and she cannot imagine continuing on as the same self if she were to somehow betray them. She preserves integrity by remaining faithful to these commitments.2

In section 2, I extend discussion of the nature of identity-conferring commitments by providing a more detailed account of their unique relation [End Page 51] to the self. Here, I emphasize the potential for discord between these commitments and other mental events,3 and, so, for resultant psychic disintegration. More specifically, I discuss the ways in which adhering to the dictates of act utilitarianism can threaten to undermine integrity. In order to illustrate this concretely, I introduce an autobiographical sketch written by Richard Rorty. I go on to discuss the role played by negative responsibility in increasing psychic tension, connecting this up with Williams's concerns regarding the overall soundness of utilitarian theory. Finally, I introduce my formulation of Williams's Objection from Integrity, fleshed out with details from Rorty's vignette.

In section 3, I serve up a notoriously hard case for act utilitarianism, especially within the context of preserving sufficient psychic integration. Namely, I consider acts of irregular political violence in instances where these are determined to maximize utility. Here, I raise the question: Can the person who takes part in acts of optimific terrorism possess integrity? In answering, I explore the concepts moral death and moral monstrosity, ultimately contrasting each with psychic disintegration. I close by demonstrating that whether an agent is an already unwavering utilitarian or a consciously lapsing nonconsequentialist, she can take part in such activity while remaining a person of integrity. I close by very briefly summing up in section 4.

2. Commitment, Integrity, and Selfhood

Reflecting on his childhood, Richard Rorty writes:

I grew up knowing that all decent people were, if not Trotskyites, at least socialists. . . . So, at 12, I knew the point of being human was to spend one's life fighting social injustice. But I also had private, weird, snobbish, incommunicable interests. . . . A few years later, when my parents began dividing their time between the Chelsea Hotel and the mountains of northwest New Jersey, these interests [centered on] orchids. Some forty species of wild orchids occur in those mountains, and I eventually found seventeen of them. Wild orchids are uncommon, and rather hard to spot. I prided myself enormously on being the only person around who knew where they grew, their Latin names and their blooming times. When in New York, I would go to the 42nd Street public library to reread the nineteenth century volume on the orchids of the eastern US. I was not quite sure why those orchids were so important, but I was convinced that they were. . . . I was uneasily aware...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6489
Print ISSN
1930-7365
Pages
pp. 51-77
Launched on MUSE
2019-11-06
Open Access
No
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