The Relation Between Forward-Looking and Backward-Looking Responsibility

  • Ibo van de PoelEmail author
Part of the Library of Ethics and Applied Philosophy book series (LOET, volume 27)


This contribution discusses the relation between forward-looking and backward-looking responsibility. The notion of forward-looking responsibility I focus on is, following Robert Goodin, that of seeing to it that a certain state of affairs obtains. In addition, I focus on two types of backward-looking responsibility: accountability and blameworthiness. I argue that accountability only entails blameworthiness if the agent cannot cite certain reasonable excuses like ignorance and compulsion (which were already mentioned by Aristotle). It is further argued that accountability can both be based on not properly discharging a forward-looking responsibility and on the breach of a duty that caused a certain negative consequence. I show that in both cases three general conditions need to apply in order to hold an agent reasonably accountable: a capacity condition, a causality condition and a wrongdoing condition. The exact content of these conditions, however, depends on whether accountability is based on a forward-looking responsibility that is not properly discharged or on the breach of a duty.


Moral Responsibility Moral Obligation Causality Condition Reactive Attitude Moral Community 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This paper was written as part of the research program “Moral Responsibility in R&D Networks”, which is supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) under grant number 360-20-160. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the International Conference on Moral Responsibility: Neuroscience, Organization & Engineering, Delft, August 24–27, 2009. I would like to thank the conference participants, my co-workers in the project Moral Responsibility in R&D networks, Sven Ove Hansson, and Michael Davis for comments on earlier versions. I am grateful to NIAS, the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, for providing me with the opportunity, as a Fellow-in-Residence, to rewrite and finish this paper during my stay in the academic year 2009–2010.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyDelft University of TechnologyDelftThe Netherlands

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