Claire Benn (ANU) -"Ethics Must Be Seen to Be Done: Signalling Compliance Under Interpersonal Uncertainty".

This Friday, May 7th, Claire Benn (ANU) will present on "Ethics Must Be Seen to Be Done: Signalling Compliance Under Interpersonal Uncertainty". 


Abstract: Doing what is morally permissible is not the same thing as being seen to do what is morally permissible. In this paper, I argue that even when an agent does not suffer from normative or descriptive uncertainty themselves, there is a kind of uncertainty that still ought to be taken into account in their moral decision-making: what I call ‘interpersonal uncertainty’. This is the uncertainty others might have about whether an agent has complied with the relevant moral norms. I draw on signalling theory as found in biology, sociology and economics to identify what I call the ‘Moral Communication Problem’ and I outline my solution, Reassurance, a moral constraint the strongest version of which states: do not follow a path that, at some point of observation, is similar to an impermissible path that there is some chance of being followed. I then outline three dimensions along which Reassurance can be weakened and made sensitive to different sources of information and to variations in risk attitudes. I explore the other kinds of cases to which it applies, what kind of norm this constraint is, how it should be incorporated into normative theories and the value it has for trust, intervention and education. Thus, while the ‘mere appearance’ of our behaviour might have seemed normatively inconsequential, I establish different ways in which our moral decision-making can and should be sensitive to how our actions might be interpreted and understood by others. Highlighting the communicative aspect of ethical action, I demonstrate that, like justice, ethics must be seen to be done.



The seminar will be held 100% in person from 2:00-3:30pm in Lectorial 1 in the RSSS Building, 1st floor note the room change. It will be followed by socializing and a dinner with the speaker. (You can sign up for the dinner here.)

Date & time

Fri 07 May 2021, 2:00pm to 3:30pm


Lectorial 1, Level 1, RSSS Building, 146 Ellery Cres


Claire Benn (ANU)


Pamela Robinson


Updated:  4 May 2021/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications