Responsibility Matters

Peter A. French

Most of us spend a fair amount of time trying to avoid responsibility. That's not too astounding. What is surprising, says Peter French, is that we tend to dodge the good variety as well as the bad.

"The problem for most of us, excepting moral masochists, is that responsibility does get doled," he writes. "The strategy is either not to be in the receiving line or to find a way to get as little dumped on one's plate as possible, to trade off to others as much as one can. Consequently, the responsibility barter game is probably the most common experience ordinary people have with morality."

“This is a well-written, inventive and often delightful book that breaks new ground in some awfully well-trodden and often tedious territory. I love how French draws on movies, literature, and ordinary conversation to set up and sometimes help resolve philosophical discussions. His use of literature is excellent—Dickens on space and time, for example—and his philosophical follow-ups are challenging. This book will cause a stir and excite some real discussion.”

—Robert C. Solomon, author of Passion for Justice: Emotion and the Origins of the Social Contract

“French is clearly the most important American moral philosopher writing on the concept of responsibility. His essays are witty, sophisticated, and curmudgeonly. He sets the terms of the debate for the rest of us.”

—Larry May, author of Sharing Responsibility

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In Responsibility Matters, French investigates a variety of matters relating to responsibility-from theoretical aspects and elements of the concept of responsibility to specific areas of application and general issues in moral theory. Unlike Kant and others who see responsibility as a necessary presupposition of practical life, he believes it is a set of practices that we use to describe and understand individual and social behavior.

Using examples from literature, film, and current events as well as traditional philosophical literature, he raises questions about responsibility in political, environmental, legal, medical, corporate, and military justice matters. He also covers other issues, including fate, innocence, power, control, and individual and group responsibility.

About the Author

Peter A. French is the Lennox Distinguished Professor of Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at Trinity University. He is author of many books, including The Spectrum of Responsibility, Collective and Corporate Responsibility, and The Scope of Morality. He is also the editor of The Journal of Social Philosophy and Midwest Studies in Philosophy.