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Chapter 9: The Voluntary: What Moral Norms Bear Upon


The modes of responsibility are normative principles by which we can determine the morality of our acts. Acts themselves are existential principles in a different way; they make up one’s morally significant life. Before seeing how the modes determine the morality of acts, we must see clearly what human acts are. For this purpose, the present chapter distinguishes and clarifies choice and several other sorts of voluntariness.

This chapter is one of the most important. At every step of the way, readers should try to relate what is being discussed to their own experience. Although some classical terms are retained in their traditional senses, those who have studied human acts in a previous course in ethics or moral theology will find that the present analysis differs from what they previously learned. The reason is that previous analyses of human acts included obscurities and confusions avoided here—although defects probably remain in the present effort, too.

Moral norms direct human acts, but they primarily bear upon choices. They bear upon the rest of life to the extent that it is shaped by the will. One’s life depends on one’s will in various ways. Since there are diverse varieties of voluntariness, moral norms bear upon different aspects of human life in diverse ways. By considering the varieties of voluntariness, the nature and extent of moral responsibility is clarified.