Front Page Titles (by Subject) Autonomy and Taking Responsibility - Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4
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Autonomy and Taking Responsibility - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, October/December 1978, vol. 1, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Autonomy and Taking Responsibility
“Responsibility Management: The Primary Object of Moral Education.” Journal of Moral Education (UK), 7 (1978) 166–181.
Moral education in the sense of “responsibility management” or accepting personal responsibility inculcates individual autonomy.
“Personal freedom of action is the capacity to act on one's preferences for good reasons, unobstructed by various sorts of coercion or compulsions.” But such freedom also requires us to take rational responsibility for evaluating and correcting the consequences of our actions. A valid theory of moral education should stress “ascriptive responsibility,” which holds a person responsible for what he does or believes, regardless the degree of personal freedom or knowledge he had when he acted. This approach aims at increasing rational capacity and knowledge of self and others by asserting responsibility without exculpation. By accepting full responsibility for our acts, we assert our personal autonomy, our freedom.
This conception of moral responsibilities differs from legal liability. Morality seeks to develop character to a more perfect capacity for responsibility and freedom, whereas law permits and acts upon the possibility of diminished responsibility by reason of mental incapacity, ignorance, or excusing conditions. Morality under ascriptive responsibility demands strict liability for both acts and omissions, regardless of any excusing conditions.
As a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” holding ourselves responsible can guide us through feelings and “action-regulators” which compel us to take personal responsibility for our behavior. Thus ascriptive responsibility becomes the educational method by which one enhances real personal autonomy, the goal of moral education.
This method heightens personal awareness on the levels of intellect, will, and emotions. When we have fully internalized the habit of responsibility, the job of formal moral education is completed. A responsible person is a free person, one who habitually thinks for himself, rectifies his wrongs, and continues to instruct his own autonomy. Today social institutions often atrophy personal autonomy. Institutions encourage dependency, reward irresponsibility, while penalizing personal responsibility and excusing wrongs. The natural consequences of these failures to manage responsibility contribute to the decline in personal freedom characteristic of our present society. But as society and the law increasingly apply ascriptive responsibility, the resulting strengthened personal responsibility will diminish the need for custodians of our personal morality. Also, state regulations which, by definition, create more crimes and criminals, and less and less personal freedom, will become unnecessary.