Essays on Leadership Ethics
New Horizons in Leadership Studies series
Edited by Joanne B. Ciulla, Terry L. Price and Susan E. Murphy
Chapter 4: Abuse, privilege, and the conditions of responsibility for leaders
4. Abuse, privilege, and the conditions of responsibility for leaders Terry L. Price INTRODUCTION Leaders can be mistaken in their beliefs about the morality of particular kinds of behavior, for example, about the morality of deception, killing, and even torture. They can also be mistaken with respect to the degree to which these kinds of behavior are morally wrong. This follows from an assumption made by standard moral theories, namely, that moral claims can be true or false. If moral claims can be true or false, then moral beliefs, which represent such claims, can sometimes be mistaken. This is equally true for the moral beliefs of leaders. Part of what distinguishes leaders from others, however, is that leaders often have greater power to act on their mistaken beliefs about morality. As a consequence, the mistakes of leaders more readily result in decisions and actions that have a dramatic impact on the lives and livelihoods of great numbers of people. When this happens, we are left with an important question over and above issues of moral wrongness: to what extent should leaders be held responsible for their immoral decisions and actions? For purposes of assessing the blameworthiness of these leaders, does it matter that their behavior was based not on desires to do what they took to be morally wrong but, rather, on mistaken beliefs about what was morally right? In large part, a determination of whether morally mistaken leaders are blameworthy for their behavior turns on whether we can hold...
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