What is Moral Responsibility?

What is Moral Responsibility?

Headlines in the US announce that Joe Paterno, the legendary American Football coach at Penn State University was fired. While it appears he acted in accordance with the law and reported cases of child-abuse by his assistant coach as they came to his attention, the claim is that he didn’t do enough and failed to fulfill his moral responsibility. Paterno is just the latest in a line of examples to demonstrate how an otherwise brilliant career and untainted record can vanish with a single act that demonstrates a lack of Moral Leadership.

But let’s consider how individuals fulfill their moral responsibility in the first place? And how do they know what their moral responsibilities are? In the past individuals actually received some form of moral education that offered a framework for their decisions and actions. Through religious institutions and traditional school curricula, individuals gained moral understanding and capabilities. Over time however secularization, the erosion of religious life and reorientation of education toward technical skills has pushed moral education into the background. If Paterno, who is 84 and presumably came from a traditional environment and enjoyed a traditional education has trouble living up to his moral responsibilities, what can we expect from current and future generations?

There is no way back to the “good old days”, but a new discourse around morality, moral responsibilities and moral leadership is clearly needed. And such a discourse must begin with broad yet crucial questions around notions such as truth and human nobility upon which any sense of moral responsibility is undeniably built.