Ethics of whistleblowing

Eric Boot

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionaryScientificpeer-review


A whistleblower is someone who, in the course of her work, comes across wrongdoing in her organization and reports it with the aim of bringing a particular harmful policy to an end. Such a report can be submitted internally within one’s organization, externally to the proper supervisory authorities, or externally to the public, via the media. Of these three, the last raises the most ethical questions. Cases of such public whistleblowing often give rise to heedless and one-sided appraisals: the whistleblower is either reviled as a traitor or extolled as a hero. The ethics of whistleblowing intends to make moral sense of whistleblowers’ actions. Often, whistleblowing is seen as something that requires justification, indicating that it is morally wrongful. But for what reasons might one view whistleblowing to be an, at least pro tanto, morally wrongful act? And, given this wrongfulness, under what conditions might it nonetheless be justified or morally permissible? At first glance, one might hesitate to view an act of whistleblowing as obligatory; experience shows that whistleblowers are often treated quite harshly; they are demoted, bullied, fired, and even imprisoned. In view of these personal risks, ought we not to view whistleblowing instead as an act of supererogation, beyond the call of duty?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge encyclopedia of philosophy
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Publication series

NameRoutledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy


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