Mad, bad, or disagreeing? On moral competence and responsibility

Philosophical Explorations 3 (3):262 – 281 (2000)
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Suppose that there is no real distinction between 'mad' and 'bad' because every truly bad-acting agent, proves to be a morally incompetent one. If this is the case: should we not change our ordinary interpersonal relationships in which we blame people for the things they do? After all, if people literally always act to 'the best of their abilities' nobody is ever to blame for the wrong they commit, whether these wrong actions are 'horrible monster'-like crimes or trivial ones, such as cycling on a footpath. This paper offers a skeptical solution, i.e., a solution that does not depend upon the existence of individual responsibility for extreme wrongdoing. I conclude that even in the 'worst case' that skepticism about the distinction between mad and bad is warranted, we are nevertheless justified to treat one another; in general, as morally competent agents who are often to blame for the wrong they commit.
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