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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L085-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved March 22, 2018, from

Article Summary

To be responsible for something is to be answerable for it. We have prospective responsibilities, things it is up to us to attend to: these may attach to particular roles (the responsibilities of, for instance, parents or doctors), or be responsibilities we have as moral agents, or as human beings. We have retrospective responsibilities, for what we have done or failed to do, for the effects of our actions or omissions. Such responsibilities are often (but not always) moral or legal responsibilities.

The scope of our retrospective moral responsibilities is controversial. We are responsible for the intended results of our actions, but how far we are responsible for their foreseen effects, or for harms that we do not prevent when we could, depends on how we should define our prospective responsibilities, that is, on how far we should regard such foreseen effects, or such preventable harms, as our business. To say that I am responsible for some foreseen effect, or for a harm which I did not prevent, is to say that I should have attended to that effect or to that harm in deciding how to act; our retrospective responsibilities are partly determined by our prospective responsibilities.

I am responsible for something only if it is within my control. It is sometimes argued that I am therefore not responsible for that whose occurrence is a matter of luck; but it is not clear that we can or should try to make responsibility wholly independent of matters of luck.

We have responsibilities not merely as individuals, but also as members of organizations (organizations themselves have responsibilities in so far as they can be seen as agents). This raises the question of how far we are responsible for the actions of groups or organizations to which we belong.

Citing this article:
Duff, R.A.. Responsibility, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L085-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

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