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We might also approach the same issue with a somewhat different emphasis: What features of (normal, adult) human are involved in our holding one another responsible? Here responsibility names a virtue – a morally valuable character trait. One of the word’s original uses was to call for "responsible government." We can compare this with the more recent demand that corporations be "socially responsible." This aspect of responsibility has received very little philosophical attention.
So far as responsibility has a place in eighteenth and nineteenth century thought, then, this is in political contexts, where the concern is with responsible action and the principles of representative government.
In twentieth century philosophy, on the other hand, the emphasis has been on questions of free will and determinism: Is a person responsible for her actions or character?
Later sections also comment on the relation between legal and moral responsibility, and on the responsibility of collectives.
The article discusses four different areas of individual moral responsibility: (1) Responsible agency, whereby a person is regarded as a normal moral agent; (2) Retrospective responsibility, when a person is judged for her actions, for instance, in being blamed or punished; (3) Prospective responsibility, for instance, the responsibilities attaching to a particular role; and (4) Responsibility as a virtue, when we praise a person as being responsible.
It also enables us to relate responsibility to its original philosophical use, which was in political thought. It is also, as Paul Ricoeur has observed, "not really well-established within the philosophical tradition" (2000: 11).
This is reflected in the fact that we can locate two rather different philosophical approaches to responsibility.
In fact, there are several important uses of responsibility as it relates to individuals, which this article will tackle in turn.
There are also important questions about the distinction between moral and legal responsibility.
We evaluate people and groups as responsible or not, depending on how seriously they take their responsibilities. Sometimes we do this formally, for instance in legal judgment.
This article considers mainly moral responsibility, and focuses largely upon individuals.