Towards a Theory of Moral Responsibility

Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh (1985)
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Abstract

This work consists of three connected essays on moral agency and responsibility. The first focuses on the Kantian conception of moral agency, in investigating the origins of the notion that moral responsibility presupposes radical freedom, or what Kant calls the freedom of absolute spontaneity. I argue that the need to postulate radical freedom was created by the problem of evil and by an associated difficulty for moral theory, which I call "the problem of moral license." I also attempt to show that Kant adduced no other plausible reasons for thinking that morality depends on our being radically free. ;The second chapter addresses the question of whether Aristotle held the view that there is no moral responsibility without radical responsibility. I argue that he did not hold this view, and that his apparent depiction of how agents control the development of their characters has a rather different purpose from what is commonly supposed. That purpose, I suggest, is to defend an analysis of moral responsibility on which an agent need not have acted voluntarily in order to be responsible, provided the conduct was negligent. ;The third chapter turns to the modern idea of negligence or fault, and recent attempts by legal theorists to revise the principles of tort liability in such a way as to do without the notion of fault altogether. Working from a broadly Aristotelian conception of moral agency, I reject these attempted reformulations on grounds that they are based on a mistaken conception of the relationships between moral responsibility, causal responsibility, and excuses

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Randall R. Curren
University of Rochester

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