Publication
Title
Agent-regret, finitude, and the irrevocability of the past
Author
Abstract
In 'Moral Luck,' Bernard Williams famously argued that "there is a particularly important species of regret, which I shall call 'agent-regret,' which a person can feel only towards his past actions." Much subsequent commentary has focused on Williams's claim that agent-regret is not necessarily restricted to voluntary actions, and questioned whether such an attitude could be rationally justified. This focus, however, obscures a more fundamental set of questions raised by Williams's discussion: what is the role in our moral psychology of evaluative attitudes that relate essentially to past exercises of our agency-occurrences which, by their very nature, cannot be repeated? On a standard conception, regret is directed principally towards actions that resulted from suboptimal deliberation. On this view, the main point of regret is to guide us away from similar poor decisions in the future. But Williams's key insight in 'Moral Luck,' I argue, is that there is a mode of evaluation of one's past actions and decisions that does not track considerations one could and should have been responsive to at the time, and is for this reason essentially retrospective. From this perspective, the full significance of regret cannot be captured in terms of a disposition to deliberate better in the future. Rather, the particular kind of painful of consciousness of the past embodied in regret amounts to a reflective, and essentially backward-looking, insight into the contingency and finitude of our own agency-that I am a particular person leading a particular life, and that the possibility of leading a different life is now gone forever. I end by making some speculative comments about the intractable question whether it is ultimately good or desirable to be disposed to regret one's past mistakes.
Language
English
Source (journal)
Topoi : an international review of philosophy. - Dordrecht
Publication
Dordrecht : Springer , 2023
ISSN
0167-7411 [print]
1572-8749 [online]
DOI
10.1007/S11245-023-09986-3
Volume/pages
(2023) , p. 1-12
ISI
001130230700001
Full text (Publisher's DOI)
Full text (publisher's version - intranet only)
UAntwerpen
Faculty/Department
Research group
Project info
Seeing things you don't see: Unifying the philosophy, psychology and neuroscience of multimodal mental imagery (STYDS).
Publication type
Subject
Affiliation
Publications with a UAntwerp address
External links
Web of Science
Record
Identifier
Creation 01.02.2024
Last edited 08.02.2024
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