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Responsible Action Robert Audi

Responsible Action Robert Audi

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Responsible Action and Virtuous CharacterAuthor(s): Robert AudiReviewed work(s):Source:
Ethics,
Vol. 101, No. 2 (Jan., 1991), pp. 304-321Published by:
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ResponsibleAction andVirtuousCharacter*Robertudi
Much of theiterature n moralresponsibilitysdominated ythequestiowhether moral responsibilityscompatiblewith determinism. ndeed,sometimesphilosophersassumethatactionsforwhich we bear moralresponsibilityreequivalentto free ctions,nd theyftenayittle boutmoralresponsibilityeyond llustratingheequivalence laimnd discussinthe relation between free action anddeterminism. hereis,howevermuch about moralresponsibilityhatneedsclarification; nd evenwhenwe understand what moralresponsibilitys, questions aboutitsscopepersist.My aimis toclarifyoth ts nature and its scope, and particularltoexploreourresponsibilityor ourcharacter.ndoingthisIshallpartiallyssess the Aristotelian dea thatourcharacter raitsre underourvoluntaryontrol.'THECONCEPTUALTERRITORYThere are variouskindsofresponsibility.ne is causal responsibility.hepressure of a treecan be responsiblefor the crookedness ofa trelliSimilarly,nagentcan beresponsibleorfireimply yvirtuefcausingit, houghto be sure we do not usually ttributeven causal responsibilitto agents unless wethinkheymightbear some otherkindof responsibility.nsharpcontrasts roleresponsibility,s illustratedya teacher'responsibility o presentcourse materialscompetently.Whereas causalresponsibilityor something presupposesits having occurred, role responsibilityortdoes not:thelatterneednot be fulfilled. he formeisusuallyttributed etrospectively,heatter suallyprospectively,hougit makessense to say that by being careless someonewill be responsibl
*Thearticle hasbenefitedfromdiscussionat theUniversityf NorthCarolinaatGreensboroSymposiumatwhichtwasgivenin1990, andparticularlyromremarksbmycommentator,GeraldDworkin, ndby Jeffreyoland,FerdinandSchoeman,RoberSchopp,andMichaelZimmerman.1.See,e.g.,Nicomacheanthics, k. 1, nwhichAristotleays hatmoralvirtue sformebyhabit1103a),and thatwearepraisedandblamed forvirtues ndvices1106a). Comparehisremarks, n bk.3, thatour charactersdeterminedyourchoosinggoodor evil1112),and that thevirtues areinourpowerandvoluntary" 1114b).Ethics101 (January1991):304-321
 
AudiResponsible ctionnd Virtuous haracter 305(a causal attribution) or aforestfire, r that a teacher was responsibleforgradingone hundredpapers by Monday (a role attribution) nd didit.Philosophicaldiscussionsof responsibility ave focusedmainly n athird kind, illustratedby the notion of an agent's moralresponsibilityfor givingup a military ecretor-as aresultofbeingkidnapped-notmorallyresponsible for failingto keep a promise. Ourwidest term forthismightbe normativeesponsibility,hich s above all a type of eligibilityfornormative ssessmentregarding n action.2The most common kindofassessment ppropriateto normative esponsibilitys moral; but onecould be normatively esponsibleinanother way, sayaestheticallyrprudentially. erhaps thecentral dea is that responsiblection, that s,action forwhichoneisnormatively esponsible,s anappropriatepartialbasis for assessmentof one's character nd indeed of anagent overall,insofar s such global assessments differentrom ssessmentf character.For instance, responsibleaction that fulfills duty countspositively ntheappraisalofcharacter;esponsible ctionthatwrongs omeonecountsnegatively; nd so forth.On the other hand, normativeresponsibilityshould notbe assumedtoapply onlytoaction. One maybe responsiblefor one's students'failingo know a certain technique, and that failureis not an action. Arguably,hisresponsibility ustbe owingto, say,one's decidingnot to teach the technique;but evenfthat s so,the responsibilityis stilltrulypredicable ofsomethingother than action.Is responsibilityfor non-actionsderivative, hen,fromresponsibilityor actions? This isamongthequestionsto beaddressedshortly.One of the most mportantistinctions e mustobservendiscussingresponsibilityof any sort)s betweendirect nd indirectinds.ConsiderJack,who isresponsiblefor a forestfire. He threwalighted cigaretteinto dry eaves and walkedon. Heisindirectly esponsiblefor thefireby virtueofdoing somethingthat causedit. Heis,on theotherhand,directly esponsibleforhe causativect-discardingtheighted igaretteindry eaves,or at leastfor some basic actbywhichhedid this,uchasthrowinghishandout andreleasinghisfingers presumablyknowingthat thecigarettewould remainlighted). Plainly,fwe areresponsiblefornything,earedirectly esponsibleoromething.t isnot reasonabletopositeither aninfiniteegressor a circle here.3Must all normativeesponsibility ltimatelyestonresponsibilityorbasic acts,understoodroughlys thosewe do notperformyperforminganyotheract(s)?Theanswersapparentlyyes, providedwearetalkingaboutresponsibilityorcts. Callthisview,hat llnormativeesponsibility
2.This isat least roughlyquivalenttowhatMichael Zimmermanallsappraisability;seeAn EssayonMoral ResponsibilityTotowa,N.J.:Rowman&Littlefield,988),esp.chap.1.3.Onsome viewsbasicactionisequivalenttovolition.leavethatpossibilitypen;thepointhereisthatthereapparentlymustbea behaviorallocusofresponsibilityoraction.The kindofbehaviorn questionis alargely ndependentmatter.

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