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Given that the conception of the person as an autonomous agent is a cultural construction, inquiry is directed to its potentials and shortcomings for cultural life. While such a conception contributes to sustaining the moral order, it also supports an individualist ideology and social divisiveness. As an alternative to the conception of moral autonomy, I explore the potentials of relational being, an orientation that views relational process (as opposed to individual agents) as the wellspring of all meaning. Such an orientation sees all moral concepts and action as issuing from coordinated action. However, at the same time that relational process generates moral orders, so does it establish the grounds for “immorality” and social conflict, which undermines the relational process of creating moral order. Thus, a concept of “second-order morality” is advanced, which seeks to reestablish a more inclusive first-order morality. Responsibility for productive processes of relationship is invited. Recent innovations in dialogic practices lend themselves to relational responsibility.

Keywords: action; agency; autonomy; causality; collaboration; cultural construction; dialogic practice; discourse; individualism; intelligibility; justice; meaning; moral order; relational coordination; relational ontology

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Kenneth J. Gergen is a Senior Research Professor in the department of Psychology, Swathmore College, 500 College Ave. Swathmore, PA 19081, USA and the President of the Taos Institute;, Email:

Publication date: March 1, 2011

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