Ledger views belong to a broader class of views which regardresponsibility to be a matter of proper attributability. As GaryWatson has highlighted, the central concern in such views is whetherthe agent's action or attitude discloses her evaluative judgments orcommitments (1996). Satisfying some baseline conditions ofresponsibility as attributability would appear to be necessary inorder to be responsible in the sense of accountable. For example, itwould seem unfair to hold someone accountable for an action viareactive attitudes such as resentment or indignation, if the actionwas not properly attributable to the agent--say, because she succumbedto a genuinely coercive psychological compulsion. Yet beingresponsible in the attributability sense is not sufficient for beingresponsible in the accountability sense. As Watson points out, it maymake no sense to hold the agent responsible for the action inquestion, since it may not be the sort of thing for which they areaccountable to us. For example, one may think that in making a careerdecision, an acquaintance failed to give due consideration to whatwould most fully develop and exercise his talents. Though this is nota moral judgment in the narrow sense favored by accountabilitytheorists (that is, it is unconnected to any interpersonal demand, ormutual expectation, of the sort presupposed by the reactive attitudes)it is a case of finding fault in the way an agent has exercised hisjudgment. If responsibility as accountability and attributability cancome apart in this way, then there appear to be at least two distinctconcepts of responsibility.
Aristotle (384–323 BCE) seems to have been the first to constructa theory of moral responsibility. In the course of discussing human virtues and their correspondingvices, Aristotle pauses in Nicomachean Ethics III.1–5 toexplore their underpinnings. He begins with a brief statement of theconcept of moral responsibility—that it is sometimesappropriate to respond to an agent with praise or blame on the basisof her actions and/or dispositional traits of character(1109b30–35). A bit later, he clarifies that only a certain kind ofagent qualifies as a moral agent and is thus properly subject toascriptions of responsibility, namely, one who possess a capacity fordecision. For Aristotle, a decision is a particular kind of desireresulting from deliberation, one that expresses the agent's conceptionof what is good (1111b5–1113b3). The remainder of Aristotle'sdiscussion is devoted to spelling out the conditions under which it isappropriate to hold a moral agent blameworthy or praiseworthy for someparticular action or trait. His general proposal is that one isan apt candidate for praise or blame if and only if the action and/ordisposition is voluntary. According to Aristotle, a voluntary actionor trait has two distinctive features. First, there is a controlcondition: the action or trait must have its origin in the agent. Thatis, it must be up to the agent whether to perform that action orpossess the trait—it cannot be compelled externally. Second,Aristotle proposes an epistemic condition: the agent must be aware ofwhat it is she is doing or bringing about (1110a-1111b4).
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Since the reactive attitudes--when expressed and accompanied bytheir associated practices--may have consequences for the well-beingof an agent (especially in the case of those blaming attitudes andpractices involved in holding someone accountable for wrong-doing),they would seem to be appropriate only if it is fair that the agent besubject to them in the sense that s/he deserve them.This concern aboutfairness may be the original source of the merit-based view ofresponsibility. Relatedly, this line of thought may help explain thehistorical preoccupation with whether responsibility for an actionrequires the ability to have done otherwise. That is, the normativeconcern for a fair opportunity to avoid blame and sanction may liebehind the felt need to have access to alternatives. (Zimmerman:ch. 5; Wallace: 103–117; Watson 1996: 238–9; Magill 1997: 42–53;Nelkin 2012:31–50).
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Since the Stoics, the thesis of causal determinism, if true, and itsramifications, have taken center stage in theorizing aboutmoral responsibility. During the Medieval period, especially in thework of Augustine (354–430) and Aquinas (1225–1274), reflection onfreedom and responsibility was often generated by questions concerningversions of theological determinism, including most prominently: a)Does God's sovereignty entail that God is responsible for evil?; andb) Does God's foreknowledge entail that we are not free and morallyresponsible since it would seem that we cannot do anything other thanwhat God foreknows we will do? During the Modern period, there wasrenewed interest in scientific determinism—a changeattributable to the development of increasingly sophisticatedmechanistic models of the universe culminating in the success ofNewtonian physics. The possibility of giving a comprehensiveexplanation of every aspect of the universe—including humanaction—in terms of physical causes became much moreplausible. Many thought that persons could not be free and morallyresponsible if such an explanation of human action turned out to be true. Others argued that freedom and responsibility would not be undermined by the truth of scientific determinism. In keeping with thisfocus on the ramifications of causal determinism for moralresponsibility, thinkers may be classified as being one of two types:1) an incompatibilist about causal determinism and moralresponsibility—one who maintains that if causal determinism istrue, then there is nothing for which one can be morally responsible;or 2) a compatibilist—one who holds that a person canbe morally responsible for some things, even if both who she is andwhat she does is causally determined. In Ancient Greece, these positions were exemplified in the thought ofEpicurus (341–270 BCE) and the Stoics, respectively.
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There is an instructive ambiguity in Aristotle's account ofresponsibility, an ambiguity that has led to competing interpretationsof his view. Aristotle aims to identify the conditions under which itis appropriate to praise or blame an agent, but it is not entirelyclear how to understand the pivotal notion of appropriateness in hisconception of responsibility. There are at least two possibilities: a)praise or blame is appropriate in the sense that the agentdeserves such a response, given his behavior and/or traits ofcharacter; or b) praise or blame is appropriate in the sense that sucha reaction is likely to bring about a desired consequence, namely animprovement in the agent's behavior and/or character. These twopossibilities may be characterized in terms of two competinginterpretations of the concept of moral responsibility: 1) themerit-based view, according to which praise or blamewould be an appropriate reaction toward the candidate if and only ifshe merits—in the sense of ‘deserves’—sucha reaction; vs. 2) the consequentialist view, according towhich praise or blame would be appropriate if and only if a reactionof this sort would likely lead to a desired change in the agent and/orher behavior.