Consequences and Negative Responsibility


in Responsibility

Published in print May 1995 | ISBN: 9780198235781
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191679117 | DOI:
Consequences and Negative Responsibility

Show Summary Details


This chapter considers consequences, which often bear on the correct description of an action, and consequentialism, which claims that consequences are all-important. It argues against consequentialism. Actions are important not simply as causes in the course of events but as communications; and what they signify is therefore as relevant as what they bring about. There is a difference between what we do, which manifests what we have in mind to do, and what we do not do, which for the most part does not. We are responsible for what we do, but not for what we do not do, unless we are under some special obligation to do it. When we are under a special obligation—so that we cannot brush off the question ‘Why did you not…?’ with a ‘Why should I?’—we have a negative responsibility. Negative responsibility is an important extension of the concept, which underlies much of our social and political thinking.

Keywords: actions; consequentialism; negative responsibility; special obligation

Chapter.  9280 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.