Personal Responsibility Essay Introduction

These debates obviously center on the individual agent.

As such, they pose difficulties for understanding the topic of collective responsibility – an issue that twentieth century politics has raised with a new urgency.

Recent analytic moral philosophy has tended to ask two deceptively simple questions about responsibility: The first question is usually taken as a question about moral agency, the second as a question about holding people accountable for past actions.

As noted, however, this does not capture the variety of uses that we make of the concept.

In fact, there are several important uses of responsibility as it relates to individuals, which this article will tackle in turn.

Personal Responsibility Essay Introduction

There are also important questions about the distinction between moral and legal responsibility.We evaluate people and groups as responsible or not, depending on how seriously they take their responsibilities. Sometimes we do this formally, for instance in legal judgment.This article considers mainly moral responsibility, and focuses largely upon individuals.Would the truth of determinism eliminate such responsibility?Recent moral philosophy contains many attempts to show how responsible agency might be with the causal order of the universe.So far as responsibility has a place in eighteenth and nineteenth century thought, then, this is in political contexts, where the concern is with responsible action and the principles of representative government.In twentieth century philosophy, on the other hand, the emphasis has been on questions of free will and determinism: Is a person responsible for her actions or character?Nor does a concern with free will correspond to many everyday issues about responsibility – for example, questions of mutual accountability, defining a person’s sphere of responsibility, or judging a person as sufficiently responsible for a particular role.This Encyclopedia article will mainly deal with the responsibility of individual persons; another article considers collective moral responsibility.Later sections also comment on the relation between legal and moral responsibility, and on the responsibility of collectives.The article discusses four different areas of individual moral responsibility: (1) Responsible agency, whereby a person is regarded as a normal moral agent; (2) Retrospective responsibility, when a person is judged for her actions, for instance, in being blamed or punished; (3) Prospective responsibility, for instance, the responsibilities attaching to a particular role; and (4) Responsibility as a virtue, when we praise a person as being responsible.


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