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In This Article Moral Responsibility

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies And Textbooks
  • Free Will
  • Classic Texts
  • Moral Reasons And Moral Address
  • Arguments Against Control
  • Earlier Contributions
  • Social And Political Approaches

Philosophy Moral Responsibility
by
Garrath Williams

Introduction

Moral responsibility relates to many significant topics in ethics and metaphysics, such as the content and scope of moral obligations, the nature of human agency, and the structure of human interaction. This entry focuses on compatibilist approaches to moral responsibility—that is, approaches that see moral responsibility as compatible with the causal order of the world. This is partly because they have more to say about the nature of moral responsibility and the practices associated with it, and also because there is a seperate entry on free will. The entry also focuses mainly on the debates considered most significant by contemporary analytic philosophers. However, it also points to some earlier contributions and to some significant contributions from outside those debates. In particular, it is interesting that contemporary debates often focus on the agency of the responsible person, without attending to the forms of interaction that person may participate in. However, as Peter Strawson points out in a seminal essay (see Responsibility and the Reactive Sentiments), moral responsibility is intimately related to our reactions to one another. Should those reactions be understood by reference to features of the person held responsible, or by reference to the relationship between persons where some action or outcome is at issue, or even by reference to wider social and political structures? Moral responsibility also borders on a number of topics of great practical importance. These include responsibility under the law, the responsibilities of groups and organizations, accountability within organizations, and how distributive justice and individual responsibility are related. Again, this entry focuses largely on individual moral responsibility and only mentions a few social and legal discussions of responsibility with especial implications for how we think about individual responsibility.

General Overviews

A number of recent overviews give useful introductions, but offer different approaches to the topic. Duff 1998 and Eshleman 2009 are relatively accessible introductions; McKenna 2004 is more demanding and technical. Kutz 2002 is the most intellectually penetrating but is orientated by concerns in law and jurisprudence rather than morality.

  • Duff, Antony. “Responsibility.” In Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Vol 8. Edited by Edward Craig, 289–294. London: Routledge, 1998.

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    Useful short outline of the issues. See also the encyclopedia’s entries on Praise and Blame; Determinism and Indeterminism; Free Will.

  • Eshleman, Andrew. “Moral Responsibility.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009.

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    A useful short overview that gives some historical background and locates current approaches in the light of Peter Strawson’s influential contribution (Strawson 1962).

  • Kutz, Christopher. “Responsibility.” In Oxford Handbook of Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law. Edited by Jules Coleman and Scott Schapiro. USA: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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    Oriented toward legal debates. Nonetheless, a significant contribution arguing that the relational aspects of responsibility attribution are of critical importance. That is, we hold persons responsible within the context of particular relationships—personal, organizational or legal—and consider ourselves responsible to particular persons or bodies.

  • McKenna, Michael. “Compatibilism.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004.

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    Lengthy, technical and proficient overview of compatibilist approaches to moral responsibility, with an appendix on the most recent debates.

LAST MODIFIED: 11/26/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195396577-0079

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