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An impressive post Michelle (if I may), and I'm very partial to the overall thesis. An account of responsibility I think overall must have the relational element you argue for here, and as part of the valuation component of responsibility--not just as a fuller metaphysical account.

One question for this part:

"If an agent is acting either against her own instrumental reasons (reasons she takes herself to have), or against her own substantive reasons (reasons she objectively ought to care about), then she is, to that extent and in that capacity, responsibility-impaired."

I might imagine that some agents fulfill one of these two requirements and yet be deemed socially heroic. Take a truck driver who, despite having a family to care for and who knows that she might well survive rear-ending a small car at high speed (assume conditions not due to her driving), elects in a moment to in a deliberate act of suicide steer her vehicle into a concrete abutment rather than kill the occupants of the car. She seems in violation of at least one of these conditions in some way, yet not responsibility-impaired. She exhibits in fact some ideal of responsibility, especially assessed socially.

Although I find this all most sympathetic, I don't think you can so lightly dismiss the problem of the Sidgwickian "dualism of practical reason". There are still many *societies* that prize inequality, antagonism and autarky as virtues. And Waller, at least, has made a point of differentiating moral responsibility from role responsibility, a division that you seem to see as less important in your framework?

I’m wondering about the recluse example. I like the idea that social roles have an important role to play in responsibility. But I wonder whether you need to commit to *only* social roles playing a role. Couldn’t the recluse have some obligations generated by non-social roles, and so be praiseworthy or blameworthy for exceeding or failing to meet those obligations? For example, we might think that the recluse has some obligations with respect to animals or works of art because of some non-social roles. Of course, your critic might then ask you to imagine the recluse has access to none of these things. But it seems that your point comes through more forcefully then: the recluse (perhaps in a weird possible world) with no other life or objects seems much less like a responsible agent. Then again, come to think of it, won’t even the recluse have obligations with respect to *herself*? Given that, it might seem that the recluse will at least be partially responsible.

Hi Michelle Ciurria,

Thanks for your post. It is very refreshing to read it, and I share an inclination to focus on some of the social aspects of responsibility you mention. I have two questions, that I hope can be helpful.

1. On the relational character of responsibility: As standardly defined, responsibility is the property/capacity (or a set of them) that makes an agent an appropriate target of some reactive attitude such as praise or blame. But according to this definition responsibility is directly related to values; values allow us to distinguish what is potentially blameworthy from what is potentially praiseworthy. Would you say that this relation to values makes responsibility relational, in the sense that someone can only be responsible given an extra fact about what is good or bad (but not neutral)? And, if so, would not this be a shorter route to the relationality thesis? (Or: What there is to be gained, for the relationality thesis only, from the focus on reasons?).

2. On enhancing responsible agency: From reading your post, I get a sense that there are two question being mixed. One thing is to promote the internal properties that are required for an agent to be responsible. Adequate care, nutrition, social bonds, etc. tend to make people more capable of caring about others, more sensitive to moral reasons, and more capable of self-control, and thus enhance responsible agency. But a different thing seems to be highlighted in the examples of the offender to be rehabilitated and the teacher that collaborates to find a solution to the classroom problem. In these cases, I think, what is primarily involved is the enhancement of good actions/attitudes (actions/attitudes for which the agent can be praiseworthy instead of blameworthy) and not so much the enhancement of responsibility as such. If someone is incarcerated, the assumption will be that he or she was blameworthy. Also, a teacher who fails to look for good information may be considered less praiseworthy, or even blameworthy in an extreme case. But here, again, the underlying assumption would be that the teacher is responsible in the first place, whether or not extra information was sought.


Nice post Michelle! I am only now catching up. My apologies for joining the party late. I am wondering if you ever responded to David Duffy's comment about Waller's distinction between moral responsibility and role responsibility. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on that distinction. Perhaps you can also say more about how you see your relational conception of moral responsibility connecting up with the issue of punishment. For example: Is individualistic punishment (e.g., institutional criminal punishment) justified if moral responsibility is relational? Despite my global skepticism of basic desert moral responsibility, I am sympathetic to the relational component of your account. But I'm wondering if there is a danger here for compatibilists who want to justify retributive punishment and backward-looking blame. If, for example, racism, sexism, systematic inequality, poverty, etc. can effect responsibility, perhaps we should also take it to reduce individual culpability when it comes to criminal punishment. Curious to hear your thoughts on punishment and how it links up.

Thank you for this insightful post on the impact of relationships on our agency and apologies for my rather late response. My question relates to Marcelo’s second point. Would you say that all environmental aspects that compromise one’s ability to live up to a standard, also impair the abilities that are required for being held responsible? And, relatedly, would you want to distinguish between external factors that only stop one from exercising one’s agency and external factors that impair one’s agency?

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