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Both the retrospective and prospective uses also raise the relation between legal and moral responsibility. Many important theories of responsibility relate to legal concerns, which will be discussed in a later section. As we pursue these topics, there is also the difficulty of seeing how they interrelate, so that it makes sense that we use the same word to raise each issue.
The discussion begins with the topics which philosophers have most often discussed: Moral Agency Normal human adults represent our paradigm case of responsible agents. What is distinctive about them, that we accord them this status? Thinking of retrospective responsibility in particular, why can be held accountable for their actions — justly praised or blamed, deservedly punished or rewarded?
The philosophical literature has explored three broad approaches to moral agency: Human beings have free will, that is, distinctive causal powers or a special metaphysical status, that separate them from everything else in the universe; Human beings can act on the basis of reason s ; Human beings have a certain set of moral or proto-moral feelings.
The first approach, although historically important, has largely been discredited by the success of modern science.
Science provides, or promises, naturalistic explanations of such phenomena as the evolution of the human species and the workings of the brain.
Almost all modern philosophers approach responsibility as compatibilists — that is, they assume that moral responsibility must be compatible with causal or naturalistic explanation of human thought and action, and therefore reject the metaphysical idea of free will.
There can be terminological confusion here. Among modern compatibilists, a contest remains, however, between the second and third approaches — positions that are essentially Kantian and Humean in inspiration.
It is indisputable, however, that our rationality is at the centre of his picture of moral agency. Kant himself does not speak of responsibility — the word was only just coming into the language of his day — but he does have much to say about imputation Zurechnungthat is, the basis on which actions are imputed to a person.
Kant was principally concerned with evaluation of the self. Although he occasionally mentions blame mutual accountabilityhis moral theory is really about the basis on which a person treats herself as responsible. The core of his answer is that a rational agent chooses to act in the light of principles — that is, we deliberate among reasons.
Therefore standards of rationality apply to us, and when we fail to act rationally this is, simply and crudely, a Bad Thing.
It is important to be aware that Kant sees reason as having moral content, so that there is a failure of rationality involved when we do something immoral — for instance, by pursuing our self-interest at the expense of others.
Even if we sometimes feel no inclination to take account of others, reason still tells us that we should, and can motivate us to do so. David Hume denied that reason can provide us with moral guidance, or the motivation to act morally. He is famous for his claim that "Reason is wholly inactive, and can never be the source of so active a principle as conscience, or a sense of morals" A Treatise of Human Nature, book 3, part 1, sect.
If we are moral agents, this is because we are equipped with certain tendencies to feel or desire, dispositions that make it seem rational to us to act and think morally.
Hume himself stressed our tendency to feel sympathy for others and our tendency to approve of actions that lead to social benefits and to disapprove of those contrary to the social good.
Another important class of feelings concern our tendencies to feel shame or guilt, or more broadly, to be concerned with how others see our actions and character. A Humean analysis of responsibility will investigate how these emotions lead us to be responsive to one another, in ways that support moral conduct and provide social penalties for immoral conduct.
This classic essay underlined the role of "reactive sentiments" or "reactive attitudes" — that is, emotional responses such as resentment or shame — in practices of responsibility.
The basic criticisms that each position makes of the other are simple. Kantians are vulnerable to the charge that they do not give a proper account of the role of feeling and emotion in the moral life. Humeans are vulnerable to the charge that they cannot give any account of the validity of reasoning beyond the boundaries of what we might feel inclined to endorse or reject: Can the Humean really hold that moral reasoning has any validity for people who do not feel concern for others?
So far as responsibility is concerned, Wallace is a well-regarded attempt to mediate between the two approaches. Rather differently, Pettit uses our susceptibility to reasons as the basis for an essentially interactive account of moral agency.
For our purposes, perhaps the most important point is that both positions highlight a series of factors important to responsibility and mutual accountability. Two further thoughts should be added which apply regardless of which side of this debate one inclines toward. One possible implication of this is that some other animals might have a degree of moral agency; another implication is that human beings may vary in the extent of their agency.
This seems clearly true of children as opposed to adults. Second, none of these factors has an obvious connection to free will, in the metaphysical sense that opposes free will to determinism. As we shall see, however, whether we emphasize the rational or the affective basis for responsible agency tends to generate characteristically different accounts of retrospective responsibility, where the issue of free will tends to recur.
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