The Ethical Importance of Roles
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The roles we occupy are an important part of our lived experience as human beings. Among the many things we do every day, it matters – it has meaning or significance for us – that we do some of these things as occupants of a role, e.g. as a mother, or as a teacher, or as a lawyer, or as a gadfly.1 Our roles seem to matter deeply, to our identities, to our satisfaction with our lives, and even to our moral obligations. There is an empirical literature in sociology and psychology that suggests that occupying, and competently fulfilling, a role has a number of psychological benefits for a person, including reduced depression and anxiety, high self-esteem, and a sense of self-efficacy.2But a full explanation of the importance of roles does not admit of a fully empirical description. It requires an investigation into whether roles are ethically important: that is, whether, and if so, how, the notion of a role is an important part of an answer to what is, according to many, the central...