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Lisa Herzog: Ethical Agency in Complex Organizations

Lecture by Lisa Herzog (Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt), organized by the Department of Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy

Abstract

In this talk, I'll present my current book project on ethical agency in complex organizations. Complex organizations, both in the private and in the public sector, shape the normative character of societies to a considerable degree: they can be more or less sensitive to moral claims, and they can be places in which individuals can act as full moral agents, or places in which they are reduced to the infamous "cogs in the wheel". The academic division of labor between moral and political philosophy, as well as various background assumptions about human agency and social structures, have led to a relative scarcity of attention to complex organizations in Anglophone normative theory. The aim of my book project is to address this issue, with a special focus on the dialectic relationship between individual moral agency and organizational structures.

After arguing for the importance of taking complex organizations seriously as a field of normative inquiry, I focus on one aspect of organizations that poses a challenge to moral agency and to their ability to fulfill basic moral side-constraints on their activities. This is the way in which knowledge and information are handled in processes of divided labor. Typically, organizations have pyramidal structures in which knowledge and information need to be transferred from those most directly involved with the organization's tasks to more centralized decision-makers. Organizations and their members need to meet various challenges in order to make sure that morally relevant knowledge and information are taken into consideration when decisions are taken. But knowledge and information are also relevant for members of organizations in order to understand the wider meaning of what they are doing and to relate to their tasks as moral agents. In all these questions, individuals need to be taken seriously as bearers of knowledge, which is a central part of our identity as rational human beings.

Lisa Herzog is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institut für Sozialforschung, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt.

When & where?

Wednesday 21 May 2014, 15.15-17.00
Faculty of Philosophy, Room Omega

Last modified:28 April 2014 4.56 p.m.