A social account of integrity
In everyday usage, integrity connotes a sense of being true to oneself, and this connotation is certainly taken up in the philosophical literature. Identity-based approaches to integrity, as developed by Bernard Williams, Gabriele Taylor and Lynn McFall, frame integrity in terms of self-preservation. These accounts have faced considerable criticism, however, from those who doubt the moral worth of self-preservation, which, in some circumstances, can seem self-indulgent, stubbornly implacable or even immoral. This criticism creates a challenge: to retain the sense that integrity is a matter of remaining true to oneself, but at the same time to explain why integrity is morally admirable.
My dissertation meets this challenge by developing a social account of integrity. I argue that because identities are social being true to oneself amounts to more than self-preservation alone; it also involves reliably living up to the legitimate expectations others form given the particular shape of a person's identity.
Living up to the moral responsibilities internal to identities fairly and credibly ascribed to a person is morally admirable, I further argue, because it fosters conditions in which we can trust others to be who they say they will be. Trust in others is an inescapable feature of the lives we lead, and when persons have integrity, those around them are less vulnerable to betrayals of their trust.
Integrity is highly contingent on the socially shared understandings of the responsibilities entailed by a person's identity and sometimes, I argue, integrity will require a person to repudiate an identity whose norms are unjust. As a practical matter, however, her ability to successfully contest the socially authoritative meanings of her identity is going to be vulnerable to the actions and attitudes of others.
The difficulty an individual faces when contesting unjust norms, as well as the threat this poses to her integrity, points, I conclude, to a collective responsibility to ensure that socially dominant norms are not unjust---on the grounds that the moral authority that accrues to persons who are regarded as having integrity should never be contingent on a person having to be reliable with respect to unjust expectations.