16th Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Nick

Christina Nick, University of Leeds.

Can Our Hands Stay Clean?


The paper’s argument consists of both a negative and a positive thesis. Firstly, I wish to argue that the dirty hands literature has overlooked a crucial distinction in neglecting to discuss explicitly the issue of symmetry and asymmetry. A view of dirty hands that claims that we can emerge from such a situation with our hands clean I will call the “asymmetry view”. One that argues that we will inevitably get our hands dirty I will call the “symmetry view”. Not acknowledging this distinction is a problem because it adds to the existing confusions about how best to define what dirty hands are and it prevents the concept from being applied properly to real life scenarios. Secondly, I will argue that while ordinary language might speak in favour of having an asymmetrical view of dirty hands, we should reject this understanding for two reasons. Firstly, the underlying assumptions of the asymmetry view do not accurately reflect the nature of dirty hands. Secondly, there is good reason to believe that our ordinary language intuitions are mistaken in the case of dirty hands. The paper concludes by arguing that once we are faced with a dirty hands problem, we cannot keep our hands clean.