Responsibility: distinguishing virtue from capacity

Polish Journal of Philosophy 3 (1):111-26 (2009)
Abstract
Garrath Williams claims that truly responsible people must possess a “capacity … to respond [appropriately] to normative demands” (2008:462). However, there are people whom we would normally praise for their responsibility despite the fact that they do not yet possess such a capacity (e.g. consistently well-behaved young children), and others who have such capacity but who are still patently irresponsible (e.g. some badly-behaved adults). Thus, I argue that to qualify for the accolade “a responsible person” one need not possess such a capacity, but only to be earnestly willing to do the right thing and to have a history that testifies to this willingness. Although we may have good reasons to prefer to have such a capacity ourselves, and to associate ourselves with others who have it, at a conceptual level I do not think that such considerations support the claim that having this capacity is a necessary condition of being a responsible person in the virtue sense.
Keywords responsibility  irresponsibility  virtue  character
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