The Moral Significance of Unintentional Omission: Comparing Will-Centered and Non-will-centered Accounts of Moral Responsibility

  • Jason BenchimolEmail author
Part of the Library of Ethics and Applied Philosophy book series (LOET, volume 27)


It is reasonable to assume that much wrongdoing for which agents are generally thought blameworthy occurs by way of unintentional omission. In this paper, I explain why certain will-centered accounts of moral responsibility tend to struggle to provide convincing explanations of the theoretical basis for judgments of blameworthiness in cases of unintentional omission. To provide such explanations, these will-centered accounts typically rely upon a “tracing strategy”, according to which an agent’s blameworthiness for an unintentional omission necessarily presupposes that it is a casual result of some prior blameworthy intentional choice she apparently made. I argue that this sort of appeal to the tracing strategy, upon further inspection, produces distorting implications for the way we ordinarily think about the conditions of legitimate moral criticism in cases of unintentional omission. I conclude by identifying a peculiar assumption that defenders of these will-centered accounts of moral responsibility appear to adopt and that, once rejected, renders the volitionalist’s appeal to the tracing strategy unnecessary for purposes of explaining the conditions of blameworthiness for unintentional omission. The upshot of my investigation is rather modest, but it does remain unclear just what advantage, if any, will-centered accounts of moral responsibility enjoy over their rival non-will-centered accounts.


Moral Responsibility Moral Quality Moral Significance Moral Criticism Cognitive Failure 
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.



Thanks to Angela M. Smith, Janice Moskalik, and the participants of the University of Delft Conference on Moral Responsibility, Neuroscience, Organization, and Engineering for helpful comments on both written and presented versions of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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