Moral responsibility

Oxford Bibliographies Online (2010)
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[Bibliographic article focussing on compatibilist approaches to responsibility.] 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.



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Garrath Williams
Lancaster University

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