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Bribery: The Concept
Science and Engineering Ethics (1998)
  • Michael Pritchard, Western Michigan University
The aim of this paper is to clarify the concept of bribery, and to do this in a way that reveals its underlying normative features. Bribery, like lying is not a value neutral concept. It has a negative connotation and is regarded by most as generally, although not necessarily universally, wrong. At the very least, those who resort to bribery bear a burden of justification for what they do. This is no small point, as no such burden must be borne for the vast majority of human activities, such as engaging in conversation or taking a walk, which normally do not. As Sissela Bok says of lying, we might say that a negative moral weight attaches to every act of bribery; it may be possible to counter this negative weight in some instances, but not without an argument (the provision of good reasons).

Why should a negative moral weight be attached to every act of bribery? It might be thought that, even if most instances of bribery are morally objectionable, the concept of bribery itself is morally neutral.2 However, enticing people to violate what they take to be their positional duties does seem to call for some sort of moral justification. This seems to be so even in extreme cases, for example, when bribing a Nazi guard to allow concentration camp prisoners to escape. The ready availability of a moral justification in such circumstances does not eliminate the need for one.
Publication Date
Citation Information
Michael Pritchard. "Bribery: The Concept" Science and Engineering Ethics Vol. 4 Iss. 3 (1998) p. 281 - 286
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