The Significance of Unintentional Omission: Moral Responsibility for the Failure to Act
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Many people, if asked, would probably say that we are morally responsible only for actions we voluntarily and intentionally choose to perform. But the phenomenon of unintentional omission poses a special problem for this view about the preconditions of moral responsibility. Imagine a lifeguard who carelessly fell asleep while on duty and, as a result, failed (unintentionally) to assist a struggling swimmer as she should have. It seems that what the lifeguard is morally responsible for in this circumstance is not an intentionally chosen action, but an unintentional omission. I argue that unintentional omissions like these can at least sometimes be understood to reflect an agent's judgments about the significance of normative reasons. This is all that is required for an agent to be morally responsible for an unintentional omission. My argument helps to explain why the view that we are morally responsible only for actions we voluntarily and intentionally choose to perform is mistaken.
- Philosophy