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Philosophy Research Archives

Volume 14, 1988/1989

Joel Feinberg
Pages 73-92

Responsibility Tout Court

One who is responsible tout court may be contrasted either with irresponsible persons or with non-responsible (incompetent) persons. Calling one responsible may be either merely describing, or it may be ascribing certain excellences of character. Praising a person for being generally responsible may indicate his/her willingness to take on new liability when s/he has a duty or responsibility to do so, or it may point to virtues which make for effective use of discretion, or it may be certification of moral trustworthiness. Common to all the states opposed to responsibility is a kind of unfitness for prospective or retrospective judgments of liability. Responsibility for . . . provides the contextual background for responsibilities tout court and also for the unity underlying their various ambiguities. One who is generally responsible in the “on balance” sense is responsible in all senses of the word. S/he is (all told) neither non-responsible, nor irresponsible, nor unresponsible and is a safe bet for assignments of prospective liability in virtue of good judgment, self-reliance, and trustworthiness. To describe him or her is to portray an ideal---not the only ideal that philosophical moralists have prescribed for human conduct and character---but an ideal peculiarly adapted to the needs of the modern world.

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