What Is the Meaning of Moral Responsibility?


The idea of moral responsibility is centuries old. It guides individuals, groups, organizations and industry and is analyzed through metaethics, normative ethics and applied ethics. Through these types of study and an understanding of the basic characteristics of the term, the broad scope of the moral responsibility can be comprehended.


  • The concept of moral responsibility implies that a person can be evaluated with praise or blame for actions based on a moral code. Moral responsibility suggests that the person is in control of her actions and no other element in the decision-making process interferes with the person's control of the situation. Moral responsibility is connected to ethics in that it creates standards for people to live by, such as in a code of ethics for business, schools or in professions.

Moral Agent

  • A moral agent must have the ability to determine reasons for behavior or analyze a situation. By being capable of moral reasoning, that person also ascribes to the moral code that is accepted within a society or group and, therefore, accepts that he can also be evaluated for being morally responsible by other moral agents.

Free Will

  • Stanford University states that in order for a person to be judged as being morally responsible that person must have taken an action of her own free will. Aristotle believed that free will only existed when the individual who had the power to make the decision, was aware of the alternatives open to her and had the opportunity to ponder what decision to make.


  • Metaethics is the study of the origins of moral responsibility. Within metaethics individuals try to uncover where the basis for moral responsibility is and what it means to society. Metaethics also analyzes if social ideas about moral responsibility and ethics are emotional, pertain to God or are simply creations of mankind to guide society.

Normative Ethics

  • Normative ethics create the moral or ethical code that people must live by. Within the moral or ethical code, duties are stated, moral behavior is specified, and consequences for ignoring the moral code are established. Professions such as teaching, social work and law have strict guidelines for moral responsibility that must be adhered to in order for professionals to continue to maintain employment.

Applied Ethics

  • Applied ethics involves the use of moral responsibility as it calls on members of society to analyze issues that are serious as part of human existence. Issues such as the death penalty, the right to die or abortion are only a few of the social concerns that involve applied ethics. Members of society refer to the moral standards that are accepted at the time to develop laws or determine human rights related to these issues.

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