On the Relative Unimportance of Moral Responsibility

Ethical Perspectives 5 (3):188-199 (1998)
We standardly believe that people are morally responsible for at least some of their conduct. We think, for example, that we are praiseworthy for some of our deeds and blameworthy for others. Traditionally it has been thought that at least two conditions must be satisfied for a person to be responsible for her intentional actions: a control condition which says, loosely, that the person acts voluntarily; and an epistemic one which requires, roughly, that the person not be relevantly ignorant of what she is doing. In this paper, I shall confine attention to a core element of the epistemic condition. After clarifying this element, I’ll motivate the suggestion that specifically moral goals, concerns, or ideals in the everyday lives of very many of us do not take pride of place. This simple fact, in association with the core epistemic element of responsibility, I believe, reveals that the ‘scope’ of moral responsibility is restricted. Next, I propose and attempt to defend the view that though people are not morally responsible for much of their behaviour in the day-to-day business of living, they are responsible — not just causally — but ‘normatively’ as I shall say, for a good deal of what they do. I shall end by producing a sketch of the concept of ‘normative responsibility’.
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