Much of the literature devoted to the topics of agent autonomy and agent responsibility suggests strong conceptual overlaps between the two, although few explore these overlaps explicitly. Beliefs of this sort are commonplace, but they mistakenly conflate the global state of being autonomous with the local condition of acting autonomously or exhibiting autonomy in respect to some act or decision. Because the latter, local phenomenon of autonomy seems closely tied to the condition of being responsible for an act, we tend (...) to think of the former, global phenomenon as a condition of responsibility as well. But one can act autonomously, or manifest autonomy with respect to some occurrent state, without satisfying the conditions for autonomous agency. Autonomous agency and responsible agency are logically distinct in part due to the varient conceptions of rationality each calls for. Both agent responsibility and holding a person responsible imply a fairly ``thick'''' form of rationality, where rationality embodies a normative component and is a matter of satisfying criteria that are objective in the sense that they are independent of what a person happens to want or to value. But autonomous agency calls for a quite different, ``thin'''' conception of instrumental rationality. (shrink)
Moral taint occurs when one’s personality has been compromised by the introduction of something that produces disfigurement of the moral psyche. While taint may be traced to vicarious liability for our voluntary associations, the thought that we might be responsible for taint and that taint is something we must confront and make amends for becomes problematic when taint is acquired by circumstantial luck. I argue that the idea of circumstantial taint—for example, the idea that people can be morally compromised by (...) their heritage—is coherent. In such cases, although taint is not due to a deficient level of care or to an unsavory quality of will, shame is the appropriate affect and atonement the appropriate response. The concept of moral taint is helpful in assisting our comprehension of more vexing cases of responsibility and blame where shame and a need for atonement exist. (shrink)
Mainstream accounts of responsible agency either overlook or discount wanton agents as plausible candidates for responsible agency. This is largely due to the compatibilist project of such accounts, and to their deemphasis of historical and modal considerations. I argue that wantons – those who are indifferent to the desires that move them to act – can and ought to be counted as responsible agents. Indeed, they deserve special blame for the acts of wrong doing that issue from their wanton behavior.