Answerable Agency

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Elliott, Bryan
Responsibility , Metaethics , Blame , Voluntarism
The concept of responsibility is central to our moral practice. It is essential that any credible conception of responsibility appropriately tracks agency, that is, what an individual brings about as a consequence of their true self. The rational relations view is a contemporary theory of responsibility informed by recent work in the areas of practical reasoning and moral psychology, and offers a systematic and coherent account of the conditions for moral responsibility. However, the rational relations view faces challenges in deviating from concepts inherent in traditional responsibility theories, specifically the requirements of volitional control and a capacity for moral reasoning. I defend the rational relations view against these challenges, arguing first that volitional control is not a necessary (though sufficient) condition for ascribing responsibility, since such judgements track the evaluative commitment constitutive of our true selves, of which an agent need not be consciously aware. Consequently, against traditional volitional views of responsibility that characterize agents as authoring themselves, the rational relations view instead presents the practice as one of both self-discovery and self-creation. Next, I contend that no further capacity for moral reasoning beyond basic rational competence is required to be morally responsible, for being so simply consists in being answerable for one’s evaluative judgements. I argue those who require a further moral reasoning capacity commit the traditional mistake of conflating moral responsibility with blame, which I take to be distinct. In exploring this distinction, I make use of psychopathy as exemplifying a class of agents who seem to lack a capacity for moral reasoning. The rational relations view is ultimately advanced as an account tracking an agent’s true self without implying blameworthiness or praiseworthiness in its judgements of moral responsibility.
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