Moral Responsibilities of Bystanders

Thomas E. Hill Jr.

in Virtue, Rules, and Justice

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199692002
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741241 | DOI:
Moral Responsibilities of Bystanders

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The aim here is, first, to frame the question to be considered about the responsibility to resist oppression, second, to describe briefly three second order responsibilities especially pertinent to “by-standers,” third, to note some connections to often over-looked aspects of Kant’s ethics, and, finally, to suggest briefly how we might see neglect of these responsibilities as failures to respect both oneself and others. The main question here is not about what specifically to do in various contexts of oppression. It is instead a prior question about certain forward-looking moral responsibilities of those who may be or become bystanders in oppressive conditions. The three special responsibilities are second-order responsibilities to exercise due care in deliberation, to scrutinize one’s motives for remaining passive, and to try to develop virtue conceived as strength of will to do what is right despite obstacles. The three responsibilities are drawn from Kant’s later writings on ethics and religion, where Kant seems to take more seriously the problem that many moral failures are due to negligence rather than intentional wrongdoing. By neglect of the special second-order duties we contribute to the on-going oppression of others, but we also fail to respect ourselves properly insofar as we do not do what we can to implement our basic moral commitments.

Keywords: responsibility; Kant; ethics; oppression; bystanders; due care; virtue; self-respect

Chapter.  6730 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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