Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 299–310 | Cite as

Want of Care: An Essay on Wayward Action

  • Gabriel S. Mendlow


Philosophers have taken little heed of the fact that people often act contrary to their better judgment not because they suffer a volitional infirmity like weakness of will or compulsion but instead because they care too little about what they judge best (they are unconcerned) or they care too much about something else (they are compromised). Unconcerned and compromised action, being varieties of akratic action that do not involve volitional infirmity, are phenomena worth examining not only in their own right but also for what they reveal about the better known varieties of akratic action for which they might easily be mistaken, such as weak-willed action and action (or inaction) that stems from accidie. Unconcern and compromise also are worth examining for what they reveal about a topic beyond philosophical psychology, namely, moral and legal accountability. Forgiveness, resentment, and retributive punishment each may have less to do with what an offender (morally) believes than with what he cares about.


Akrasia Weakness of will Accidie Caring Forgiveness Blame 



Many people gave me valuable feedback on the material in this essay. I especially would like to thank Facundo Alonso, Paul Audi, Richard Brooks, Sarah Buss, Jules Coleman, Stephen Darwall, Tamar Gendler, Adrienne Lapidos, Jed Lewinsohn, Sarah McGrath, Tristram McPherson, Alexander Nehamas, Maurice Richter, Gideon Rosen, Alex Sarch, Scott Shapiro, Michael Smith, Patrick Weil, Rebecca Wolitz, and my anonymous reviewers.


  1. Arpaly N (2003) Unprincipled virtue: an inquiry into moral agency. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  2. Bennett J (1974) The conscience of Huckleberry Finn. Philosophy 49:123–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bigelow J, Dodds SM, Pargetter R (1990) Temptation and the will. Am Philos Q 27:39–49Google Scholar
  4. Charlton W (1988) Weakness of will. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  5. Eisenberg T, Garvey SP, Wells MT (1998) But was he sorry? The role of remorse in capital sentencing. Cornell Univ Law Rev 83:1599–1637Google Scholar
  6. Frankfurt HG (1988) The importance of what we care about. In: Frankfurt HG (ed) The importance of what we care about. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 80–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Frankfurt HG (1999) On caring. Frankfurt HG, Necessity, volition, and love. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, In, pp 155–180Google Scholar
  8. Frankfurt HG (2004) The reasons of love. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  9. Gardner D (2010) Is this man the worst serial killer in U.S. history? Daily Mail (1 April)Google Scholar
  10. Hampton J (1992) An expressive theory of retribution. In: Cragg W (ed) Retributivism and its critics. F. Steiner Verlag, StuttgartGoogle Scholar
  11. Hampton J, Murphy JG (1988) Forgiveness and mercy. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  12. Hare RM (1952) The language of morals. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  13. Hieronymi P (2001) Articulating an uncompromising forgiveness. Philos Phenomenol Res 62:529–555CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Holton R (1999) Intention and weakness of will. J Philos 96:241–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Holton R (2003) How is strength of will possible? In: Stroud S, Tappolet C (eds) Weakness of will and practical irrationality. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  16. Holton R (2009) Willing, wanting, waiting. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jackson F (1984) Weakness of will. Mind 93:1–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jaworska A (1999) Respecting the margins of agency: Alzheimer’s patients and the capacity to value. Philos Publ Aff 28:105–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Jaworska A (2007) Caring and internality. Philos Phenomenol Res 74:529–568CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jeffrey RC (1974) Preferences among preferences. J Philos 71:377–391CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lipman M (1995) Caring as thinking. Inquiry 15:1–13Google Scholar
  22. O’Hear MM (1997) Remorse, cooperation, and “Acceptance of Responsibility”: the structure, implementation, and reform of Section 3E1.1 of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Northwest Univ Law Rev 91:1507–1573Google Scholar
  23. Phillips DZ, Price HS (1967) Remorse without repudiation. Analysis 28:18–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ryle G (1958) On forgetting the difference between right and wrong. In: Melden AI (ed) Essays in moral philosophy. University of Washington Press, SeattleGoogle Scholar
  25. Schwitzgebel E (2002) A phenomenal, dispositional account of belief. Nous 36:249–275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Shoemaker DW (2003) Caring, identification, and agency. Ethics 114:88–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Singer P (1972) Famine, affluence, and morality. Philos Publ Aff 1:229–243Google Scholar
  28. Singer P (1999) The Singer solution to world poverty. The New York Times Magazine (5 September)Google Scholar
  29. Strawson PF (2003) Freedom and resentment. In: Watson G (ed) Free will, 2nd edn. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  30. Tenenbaum S (2003) Accidie, evaluation, and motivation. In: Stroud S, Tappolet C (eds) Weakness of will and practical irrationality. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  31. Tennyson AL (1842) Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere: a fragment. Accessed 20 February 2013
  32. Tudor SK (2008) Why should remorse be a mitigating factor in sentencing? Crim Law Philos 2:241–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Wallace RJ (2000) Caring, reflexivity, and the structure of volition. In: Betzler M, Guckes B (eds) Autonomes Handeln: Beiträge zur Philosophie von Harry G. Frankfurt. Akademie Verlag, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  34. Ward BH (2006) Sentencing without remorse. Loyola Univ Chic Law J 38:131–167Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Law SchoolUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

Personalised recommendations