In This Article Moral Responsibility

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies and Textbooks
  • Free Will
  • Classic Texts
  • Some Earlier Contributions
  • Arguments against Control
  • Moral Reasons and Moral Address
  • Social and Political Approaches
  • Recent Collections and Current Debates

Philosophy Moral Responsibility
by
Garrath Williams
  • LAST REVIEWED: 16 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 March 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0079

Introduction

This article focuses on compatibilist approaches to moral responsibility—that is, approaches that see moral responsibility as compatible with the causal order of the world. A separate Oxford Bibliographies in Philosophy article considers “Free Will” and incompatibilist perspectives. Those approaches tend to give less attention to the forms of interaction involved in holding responsible and to the position of those who suffer wrongdoing. However, as Peter Strawson pointed out in a seminal essay (see Responsibility and the Reactive Sentiments), moral responsibility is intimately related to our reactions to one another. Similarly, consequentialist thinkers stress the social effects of holding people responsible for their actions, and these approaches have seen a marked revival in recent years (see Utilitarian and Consequentialist Approaches). This reflects a wider trend to consider the practices by which we hold people responsible and how these bear on relationships and wider social and political structures. Moral responsibility also bears on other topics of great practical importance, only briefly mentioned here. These include responsibility under the law (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Philosophy article on “Punishment”), the responsibilities of groups and organizations, accountability within organizations, and how distributive justice and individual responsibility are related.

General Overviews

A number of recent overviews give useful introductions and offer different approaches to the topic. Duff 1998 is a short, accessible introduction. Kutz 2002 is penetrating, though orientated by concerns in law and jurisprudence rather than morality. Williams 2017 surveys some of the most influential authors from the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy contains a comprehensive set of up-to-date articles: Talbert 2019 gives an overview; McKenna and Coates 2015 considers compatibilism; and Caruso 2018, Rudy-Hiller 2018, and Tognazzini and Coates 2018 cover more specific aspects of responsibility.

  • Caruso, Gregg. “Skepticism about Moral Responsibility.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2018.

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    Long entry that surveys skeptical arguments and considers what their practical implications might be for feelings such as resentment, practices of praise and blame, and punishment.

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

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

  • Kutz, Christopher. “Responsibility.” In Oxford Handbook of Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law. Edited by Jules Coleman and Scott Schapiro, 548–588. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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    Oriented toward legal debates. 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, and D. Justin Coates. “Compatibilism.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2015.

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

  • Rudy-Hiller, Fernando. “The Epistemic Condition for Moral Responsibility.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2018.

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    Explores how a person’s awareness, belief, or knowledge of what she is doing bears on her responsibility. Fairly technical.

  • Talbert, Matthew. “Moral Responsibility.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2019.

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    Clear introduction covering most of the topics and debates in this Oxford Bibliographies article. See also the author’s introductory book (Talbert 2016, cited under Anthologies and Textbooks).

  • Tognazzini, Neal A., and D. Justin Coates. “Blame.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2018.

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    The first part considers different approaches to blame, as involving a moral judgement, an emotional response, a conative state (e.g., desire), or serving a social purpose (e.g., protest). The second part examines moral factors that govern the appropriateness of blame.

  • Williams, Garrath. “Verantwortung, Rationalität und Urteil.” In Handbuch Verantwortung. Edited by Ludger Heidbrink, Claus Langbehn, and Janina Loh, 365–393. Wiesbaden, Germany: Springer VS, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-658-06110-4_21E-mail Citation »

    Survey article focusing on the significance of our abilities for moral reasoning and judgement in questions of moral responsibility. Considers how such abilities figure in the work of Susan Wolf (see Wolf 1990, cited in Moral Reasons and Moral Address); R. Jay Wallace (see Wallace 1994, cited in Responsibility and the Reactive Sentiments); John Martin Fischer and Mark Ravizza (see Fischer and Ravizza 1998, cited in Moral Reasons and Moral Address); and Angela M. Smith and Pamela Hieronymi (see Smith 2005 and Hieronymi 2014, cited in Arguments against Control). English version (“Responsibility, Rationality and Judgment”) available online.

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