Institutions & Integrity

There are two primary areas of investigation here. First, how do social and institutional structures relate to personal integrity? And second, can we legitimately speak of the integrity of institutions, and if so, how? We might, further, wonder whether commitments in these two areas relate informatively to each other.

The first is a question of the relation, and perhaps mutual constitution, of individual persons and their inter-personal and socially constructed circumstances. Are there political and institutional structures that encourage or undermine the possibility of acting and speaking with integrity? If so, what are the structures that encourage integrity, and what are those that undermine it? And what responsibility do we have to create the former and dissolve the latter – and by what means?

It may, however, simply be in the nature of sound instutitions – with clear, well-defined, tasks and roles – to make persons interchangeable; it is a virtue of an institutional structure, we might think, that its sound functioning is not undermined by the personal weaknesses of those fulfilling its roles. If that is right, then there may be an irresolvable tension between creating incorruptible instutitions and processes, and fostering personal integrity.

Alternatively, one may view social structures as the inevitable medium through which the self is constructed in any way at all. Structured inter-personal relations are not a threat, but an opportunity – they are that which makes it sensible to speak of personal integrity in the first place. How does the role of institutions in the generation of integrity relate to their role in generating selfhood? When conflicts between institutions and personal integrity occur, how do such conflicts relate to associated pathologies such as alienation, reification, and ideology? How do individuals living in such conflicted situations experience that conflict, and how do they resolve it? [see also Integrity and Well-being and Integrity, Speech and Action]

Second: the integrity in institutions themselves and their structures and processes.

Perhaps we speak of the integrity of institutions only by equivocation, and still the question is worth exploring. Can institutions themselves be said to have integrity, or lack it? If so, in what sense, and under what conditions? Andreas Pantazatos suggests, drawing on work of Cheshire Calhoun, that the relevant aspect for understanding institutional integrity is ‘standing for something’. To answer the question of what it would be for a given institution to have, lack, or compromise its integrity, we must therefore determine what it stands for.

Investigating institutional integrity may turn up interesting parallels with personal integrity. But it may bring out more than that. If integrity with respect to institutions is not just an different thing from integrity with respect to persons, then investigating the integrity conditions of the former may illuminate more complex relations with the integrity of the latter.

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