Responsibility for Self: Agency and the Attitudes

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Rosner, Mark
Action , Attitudes , Moral Responsibility , Resentment , Blame , Ethics , Punishment , Harry Frankfurt , Akrasia , Volitionism , Choice , Agency
This thesis defends the claim that the core idea of moral responsibility is fixed by our best theory of agency. Such a theory concerns the proper conditions of attribution of an attitude or an action to an agent for the purposes of moral appraisal – or what I call the rational relations view. The first chapter attempts to outline and motivate the conception of agency that has as its core the idea that agents are responsible for the judgement-sensitive attitudes that can be appropriately attributed to them and that they can be morally responsible for those attitudes when their judgements have morally objectionable contents. In my second chapter I present and argue against what I take to be the strongest alternative to the rational relations view, the theory of moral responsibility that has been elaborated by Harry Frankfurt over a number of years. The third chapter addresses a concern that conceptions of responsibility that are too closely tied to theories of agency can either be too superficial in their assessment and evaluation of the agent or actually unfair in their determinations of responsibility. The fourth chapter extends this discussion of the unfairness charge by explicitly addressing the question of the value of moral responsibility. My final chapter concerns an issue that lies at the intersection of questions in the philosophy of agency and moral responsibility: how to make sense of and be open to criticism for our acts of irrationality. I take the example of akratic, or weak-willed action, where an agent acts contrary to her better judgement (or what she judges best in a situation) as a paradigm instance of irrationality. I argue that RR has adequate resources to make sense of this phenomenon. At base, this thesis aspires to show that by elaborating an attractive picture of our agency we can at the same time shed light on what it means to be a responsible agent – one for whom it is intelligible and valuable to say we are morally responsible for our attitudes and actions.
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