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Moral Agency

  1. Gary Watson

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee294

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Watson, G. 2013. Moral Agency. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


The phrase “moral agency” is a term of art, but it designates an utterly familiar concept – the concept of an individual who can, to a significant extent, act effectively and competently in moral matters. This concept shows up in a variety of practical contexts. It is at issue when we worry about the criminal responsibility of 12-year-olds, or of psychotically deluded lawbreakers. From a different angle, it figures in our thoughts about whether to comply with the wishes of depressed hospital patients to discontinue life-support. These contexts exhibit different features of the concept. Moral agents are both autonomous (in other words, self-determining or self-governing; see Autonomy) and accountable.


  • agency;
  • ethics;
  • legal and political;
  • metaphysics;
  • moral status;
  • normative ethics;
  • responsibility