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Abstract

We live in a world increasingly marked by institutional injustices, yet our public imagination nevertheless relies on atomistic visions of the self and , individualistic models of responsibility, and amoral concepts of institutions in order to address them. This dissertation interrogates how persons might impute to themselves responsibility for the multiple, disparate, and varied institutions of which they form a part, whose history precedes them, whose symbols form them, and whose actions bleed far beyond them. In order to address this question, I reconstruct two models of institutional ethics that cohere with the work of French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur and the modern Catholic Social Teaching Tradition around the broad categories of a care for institutions and a concern for institutional relations and set them in critical conversation. For Ricoeur, I anchor this ethic around three features. First, I reconstruct a twofold model of responsibility (responsibility-as-imputation and a social responsibility for the fragile). Second, I present a thick account of the development of institutions in his work governed by institutions as structures of living together, mediatory, necessary, and ambiguous. Finally, I outline a Ricoeurean inter-institutional ethic that identifies phronesis (nourished by basic considered convictions) as an essential adjudicatory tool for treating the conflict of institutions. With the modern Catholic Social Teaching tradition, first, I outline the institutional ethic developed in the writings of Leo XIII and Pius XI, and then outline developments resulting from a new emphasis on the human person starting with Pius XII and unfolding till today. Finally, I draw Ricoeur and Catholic Social Teaching into conversation and consider the strengths of the inter-institutional ethic by applying it to the entangling issue of environmental degradation. Against the specter of paralysis incited by structural injustice that extends well beyond one’s individual sphere of influence, my dissertation invites new ways of considering our relations to/through institutions and the responsibility we each bear for them, and thus emboldens new modes of collective action to work towards more just institutions and a more just society.

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