Instrumentalism about moral responsibility revisited

Anneli Jefferson

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I defend an instrumentalist account of moral responsibility and adopt Manuel Vargas’ idea that our responsibility practices are justified by their effects. However, whereas Vargas gives an independent account of morally responsible agency, on my account, responsible agency is defined as the susceptibility to developing and maintaining moral agency through being held responsible. I show that the instrumentalism I propose can avoid some problems more crude forms of instrumentalism encounter by adopting aspects of Strawsonian accounts. I then show the implications for our understanding of responsibility: my account requires us to adopt a graded notion of responsibility and accept the claim that certain individuals may not be responsible because they are not susceptible to being influenced by our moral responsibility practices. Finally, I discuss whether the account is committed to allowing the instrumentalization of non-responsible individuals in cases where blaming them may benefit others’ moral agency.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Philosophical Quarterly
Early online date29 Dec 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Dec 2018


  • moral responsibility
  • consequentialism
  • reactive attitides
  • moral influence
  • instrumentalization


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