Identification, Meaning, and the Normativity of Social Roles



Abstract: We are all familiar with the way in which social roles, such as mother, father, professor, club football coach, citizen, and so on, confront us with clusters of duties that purport to bind us. Though we generally experience these role-duties as normatively binding, we might question this. What reason do role-occupants have for conforming to the duties that define their roles? I argue that the agent who identifies with her role thereby has a weighty and important justificatory reason for conforming to the role's defining duties: namely, the identifying agent realizes the fundamental goods of meaning and self-determination by doing so. This is an important normative ground of role-duties because it, unlike the grounds of natural duty or voluntary assumption, ensures that the duties it grounds are not alien impositions but rather are elements of the identifying agent's wellbeing. I also argue that role-identification provides a reason that shares many of the characteristics of a moral reason, and I argue that role-identification in tandem with the principle of fair play grounds a moral duty to conform to one's role-duties.