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ESPF Colloquium Anca Gheaus: Taking responsibility for good and bad relationships

When:We 10-05-2023 15:15 - 17:00
Where:Room Omega, Faculty of Philosophy

Colloquium talk for the department of ethics, social and political philosophy, faculty of philosophy. All welcome. 


Some of the most important non-instrumental goods of relationships are co-created; so are some relationship bads. This explains why there cannot be rights to the actual provision of these goods or to protection against these bads. In the case of the goods, the explanation is that they cannot exist without the active participation of the recipient. In the case of the bads, the explanation is that, whenever third parties lack permission to dissolve a bad relationship, the continuation of the relationship depends on the person who incurs the bads: she must exercise her agency in order to exit. The overarching claim of the paper, then, is that we bear outcome responsibility for the quality of our relationships. With respect to relationship goods, I flesh out this thesis by offering a particular account of the beneficiary's role in their creation: for someone to robustly enjoy the non-instrumental value of attention and affection, one must let others know her, i.e. allow some self-revelation, and be at least a tolerable participant to relationships. With respect to some relationship bads, I argue that a person is outcome-responsible for others’ repeated abuse of the power they have over her because, by remaining in the relationship, she continues to give them that power. This analysis is particularly important if, as some believe, access to good relationships and protection from certain relationship bads are demands of justice. In this case, we need an account that makes sense not only of states’ duties to facilitate good relationships, and of individuals’ duties to try and befriend the involuntarily lonely and avoid engaging in abuse, but also of individuals’ own responsibility for their relationships.  The proposed view supports the claim that there cannot be a right to be loved or, indeed, to enjoy other non-instrumental relationship goods that require co-creation. This allows for the possibility that people have rights to opportunities to co-create non-instrumentally good relationships, i.e. to others making available the ingredients necessary for relationship goods. The view also shows that third parties cannot have duties to ensure the protection of adults from some relationship bads, like emotional abuse, as opposed to duties to help them to leave such relationships. 

Finally, I argue that acknowledging one's agential role in the creation of valuable relationships and in the perpetuation of disvaluable ones can, under certain circumstances, enable one to take moral responsibility for showing up and being a good participant in relationships, and for putting distance between oneself and one’s abusers.