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Volume 51 • Number 1

January 2014



Do Maniulators Always Threaten Rationality?

by Moti Gorin

If there is a dominant view of interpersonal manipulation in the philosophical literature, it is the view that interpersonal manipulation occurs only if an influencer intentionally bypasses or subverts the rational capacities of the person he seeks to influence.¹ I believe this claim about the nature of manipulative influence draws plausibility from two main sources. First, there is a broad range of cases in which it is true that the rational capacities of the manipulated person are bypassed or subverted. Several such cases will be discussed below. Second, because manipulativeness is viewed as a negative character trait, the concept “manipulation” is typically understood in a highly moralized manner. Consequently, it may be assumed that forms of interpersonal influence that are generally taken to be morally benign or even exemplary—for example, rational persuasion— cannot be used manipulatively. The thought is something like this: if manipulation is impermissible, pro tanto or otherwise, while rational persuasion is permissible, then rational persuasion cannot involve manipulation and manipulation cannot involve rational persuasion. Since rational persuasion, which is morally benign or even exemplary, always involves, or just is, engagement with the rational capacities of the agent being influenced, bypassing or subverting these capacities is morally problematic. Therefore, manipulation always involves, or just is, the bypassing or subversion of an agent’s rational capacities, and this is what renders it morally wrong.

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ISSN: 2152-1123