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  • Cited by 31
  • Print publication year: 1978
  • Online publication date: June 2012



What sorts of person do we want and need to be politicians? This question, and the broader question of what we morally want from politics, are importantly different from the question of what the correct answers are to moral problems which present themselves within political activity. We may want – we may morally want – politicians who on some occasions ignore those problems. Moreover, even in cases where what we want the politician to do is to consider, and give the right answer to, such a problem, it is not enough to say that we want him to be the sort of person who can do that. Since some of the correct answers involve actions which are nonetheless very disagreeable, further questions arise about the sorts of persons who will give – in particular, who may find it too easy to give – those right answers.

It is cases where the politician does something morally disagreeable, that I am concerned with: the problem that has been called that of dirty hands. The central question is: how are we to think about the involvement of politicians in such actions, and about the dispositions that such involvement requires? This is not in the first place a question about what is permissible and defensible in such connexions; though something, obviously, will have to be said about what it means to claim that a politician has adequate reason to do something which is, as I put it, ‘morally disagreeable’.