Moral agency  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Moral agency is a person's capacity for making moral judgments and taking actions that comport with morality.


Development and analysis

Most philosophers suggest that only rational beings, people who can reason and form self-interested judgments, are capable of being moral agents. Some suggest that those with limited rationality (for example, people who are mildly mentally disabled) also have some basic moral capabilities.

Determinists argue that all of our actions are the product of antecedent causes, and some believe this is incompatible with free will and thus claim that we have no real control over our actions. Immanuel Kant argued that whether or not our real self, the noumenal self, can choose, we have no choice but to believe that we choose freely when we make a choice. This does not mean that we can control the effects of our actions.

It is useful to compare the idea of moral agency with the legal doctrine of mens rea, which means guilty mind, and states that a person is legally responsible for what he does as long as he should know what he is doing, and his choices are deliberate. Some theorists discard any attempts to evaluate mental states and, instead, adopt the doctrine of strict liability, whereby one is liable under the law without regard to capacity, and that the only thing is to determine the degree of punishment, if any. Moral determinists would most likely adopt a similar point of view.

Distinction between moral agency and eligibility for moral consideration

Many, perhaps even most philosophers, tend to view morality as a transaction among rational parties, i.e., among moral agents. For this reason (e.g., Kant), they would exclude other animals from moral consideration. Others state that one must draw a distinction between moral agency and being subject to moral considerations, and that too much emphasis is placed on rationality as a requirement for being part of the moral realm. Utilitarian philosophers like Jeremy Bentham and Peter Singer have argued that the key to inclusion in the moral community is not rationality — for if it were, we might have to exclude some disabled people and infants, and might also have to distinguish between the degrees of rationality of healthy adults — but that the real object of moral action is the avoidance of suffering.


  • Singer, Peter, Animal Liberation, 1975.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Moral agency" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools