Being Responsible, Taking Responsibility, and Penumbral Agency

David Enoch*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Taking as the point of departure Bernard Williams' influential thoughts about agentregret, the chapter distinguishes between being responsible and taking responsibility. The chapter argues that there is room in logical space for a normative power to make oneself - by an act of will - responsible for something (like the action of one's child, or one's country, or the unintended and unforeseen consequences of one's actions) where one would not have been responsible for that thing but for the act of taking responsibility. Furthermore, the chapter argues that we may sometimes be under a moral duty to exercise this power rendering ourselves responsible. After elaborating on the sense of 'responsibility' and the nature of the taking involved here, the chapter shows how the power (and sometimes duty) to take responsibility can explain and vindicate common intuitions about responsibility for events that are in the penumbra of our agency, like the actions of some close others, or indeed the consequences of our own actions in the kind of case that arguably gives rise to agent-regret. In this last kind of case, then, we have the beginning of an explanation of the phenomenon Williams drew attention to without a commitment to anything like moral luck.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationLuck, Value, and Commitment
Subtitle of host publicationThemes From the Ethics of Bernard Williams
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191741500
ISBN (Print)9780199599325
StatePublished - 20 Sep 2012

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© the several contributors 2012. All rights reserved.


  • Agency
  • Agent-regret
  • Bernard Williams
  • Collective responsibility
  • Moral luck
  • Normative powers
  • Promises
  • Responsibility
  • Taking responsibility


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