Being in the world

Ratio 23 (4):433-452 (2010)
Abstract
Actions for which we are responsible constitute our engagement with the world as rational agents. What is the relationship between such actions and our capacities for rational agency? I take this to be a question about responsibility in a particular use of that term, which I shall call ‘responsibility2’. We are not responsible2 for all our intentional actions (actions under hypnosis, for example), but we can nevertheless be responsible2 for actions we do not adequately control, for negligent actions, and for non-intentional omissions. Appreciating this helps show that familiar principles of responsibility are false: those which delimit responsibility to intentional actions or to actions and outcomes under our control. In the attempt to fashion an alternative principle, cases of negligence prove pivotal. We hold ourselves and others responsible2 for conduct within our respective ‘domains of secure competence’, (i.e. that within which we are confident of doing what we set ourselves to do, barring events which defeat our competence), even when actions within that domain fail. The significance of this practice of holding ourselves and others responsible2 lies in the way it maintains our sense of who we are and of how we are related to the world in which we act.1
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