Agency and responsibility: a common-sense moral psychology

Jeanette Kennett*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Is it ever possible for people to act freely and intentionally against their better judgement? Is it ever possible to act in opposition to one's strongest desire? If either of these questions are answered in the negative, the common-sense distinctions between recklessness, weakness of will and compulsion collapse. This would threaten our ordinary notion of self-control and undermine our practice of holding each other responsible for moral failure. So a clear and plausible account of how weakness of will and self-control are possible is of great practical significance. Taking the problem of weakness of will as her starting point, Jeanette Kennett builds an admirably comprehensive and integrated account of moral agency which gives a central place to the capacity for self-control. Her account of the exercise and limits of self-control vindicates the common-sense distinction between weakness of will and compulsion and so underwrites our ordinary allocations of moral responsibility. She addresses with clarity and insight a range of important topics in moral psychology, such as the nature of valuing and desiring, conceptions of virtue, moral conflict, and the varieties of recklessness (here characterised as culpable bad judgement) - and does so in terms which make their relations to each other and to the challenges of real life obvious. Agency and Responsibility concludes by testing the accounts developed of self-control, moral failure, and moral responsibility against the hard cases provided by acts of extreme evil.

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages240
ISBN (Electronic)9780191699146
ISBN (Print)0198236581, 9780199266302, 0199237071
Publication statusPublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Better judgement
  • Compulsion
  • Evil
  • Moral agency
  • Moral failure
  • Moral responsibility
  • Recklessness
  • Value
  • Virtue
  • Weakness of will


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