Nobody's perfect: Moral responsibility in negligence

Ori J. Herstein*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Given the unwittingness of negligence, personal responsibility for negligent conduct is puzzling. After all, how is it that one is responsible for what one did not intend to do or was unaware that one was doing? How, therefore, is one's agency involved with one's negligence so as to ground one's responsibility for it? Negligence is an unwitting failure in agency to meet a standard requiring conduct that falls within one's competency. Accordingly, negligent conduct involves agency in that negligence is a manifestation of agency failure. Now, nobody's perfect. Human agency is innately fallible, and a measure of agency failure is, therefore, unavoidable. The more one's negligence manifests failure in one's agency as an individual, the more one is responsible for it. In contrast, the more one's negligence involves the shortcomings innate to all human agency the less responsible one becomes, because one's agency as an individual is less and less involved in one's failure. Determinative of the measure of individual and of human failings mixed into an instance of negligent phi-ing is the background quality of one's agency at meeting one's competency at phi-ing. That is, how able one is at delivering on what one is able to competently do. The more able, the less one's occasional instances of negligence involve manifestations of failures of one's agency as an individual-nobody's perfect- A nd are more manifestations of one's agency's innate human fallibility, making one less and less responsible for one's negligence.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)109-125
Number of pages17
JournalCanadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence.


  • moral responsibility
  • negligence
  • responsibility


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