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Faculty | Jan 03, 2018 |

Faculty view: Miguel Alzola on blame in leadership roles

Last semester, Miguel Alzola, associate professor of law and ethics, visited the United States Military Academy to share his thoughts on the moral standing to blame in leadership roles. Read on for a summary of Alzola’s lecture, called “Hypocrisy, Moral Blame, and Normative Authority,” in his own words.

It is widely acknowledged that if a person is blameworthy for having done something wrong, then each and every one of us can blame him or her for that action. In other words, anyone can blame every wrongdoer for every wrong.

However, I argue that our moral practices do not work that way.

Even if a wrongdoer is blameworthy, a person may not be able to blame the wrongdoer because of the blamer’s position, prior misconduct, and/or character. I am particularly interested in the question of whether, to what extent, and under what conditions an authority figure—in the military, in business, in politics, etc.—may lose his or her moral standing to blame subordinates for a workplace wrongdoing.

Specifically, I argue that a blamer would lose that moral standing if it is not his or her business, if the blamer was involved in the wrong action, if the blamer has performed the same (or similar) action in the past, or if the blamer would perform the same (or similar) action if he or she were in the same (or similar) circumstances.

Following this argument, blaming in general and blaming in the workplace in particular might be justifiable in fewer cases than we typically think. Therefore, we should be more cautious when reacting to others’ faults.

Blame plays an important role in our lives and in our moral communities, so we should make sure to blame “properly”—that is, have moral standing to do so—especially when in a leadership role.

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