Beyond Agent-Regret: Another Attitude for Non-Culpable Failure

Journal of Value Inquiry 10:1-13 (2021)
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Imagine a moral agent with the native capacity to act rightly in every kind of circumstance. She will never, that is, find herself thrust into conditions she isn’t equipped to handle. Relationships turned tricky, evolving challenges of parenthood, or living in the midst of a global pandemic—she is never mistaken about what must be done, nor does she lack the skills to do it. When we are thrust into a new kind of circumstance, by contrast, we often need time to practice discernment, new forms of compassion, different kinds of courage, or whatever else conditions call for. Unfortunately, such practice usually takes the form of on-the-job training—it is hard to cultivate the skills of an excellent parent, for example, until we actually are parents. Even more unfortunately, on-the-job training basically guarantees mistakes. This paper focuses on errors that (a) cause harm to others, and that (b) we make non-culpably because our skills are (understandably) not yet up to snuff. It argues that agent regret—the attitude singled out for non-culpable failures by much moral philosophy—is inapt in such cases. Rather, we need an attitude I will call stoic determination.

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Luke Maring
Northern Arizona University


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