Foundations of Moral Agency: Respect and Responsibility

Respect and ResponsibilityBeing a respectful and responsible moral agent – that is – one with the capacity to act lays a foundation for a life of integrity. We cannot imitate others nor ingratiate others in order to be seen as a respectful and responsible moral agent. This is something that has to flow from our character. Our character is somewhat assessed by what other people perceive we think, say and do.

Before we can have respect for others, we must have self-respect. You cannot give to others what you do not give to yourself. You may feign respect, you may render respectful behaviour to others because of external forces – compliance with social norms, or compliance with force that is threatened toward your person. You are not giving respect to others if you do not respect your own inner self. This is an element of self-awareness.

Self awareness means you are aware of your own history, your moral obligation to act, and the Golden Rule. You can always reverse the Golden Rule and ask, “Would I like this done to me?”

Self respect is the quality of being worthy of esteem or respect. It has elements of dignity, self regard and self worth. We may look to other elements that make up self respect.

Respect has elements of respecting the rights of others … all others, whether they are well dressed, whether or not they are attractive or repulsive, whether or not they have done something we would not do. Respect always considers the rights and dignity of all persons. Always. Respect includes the right of conscience to disagree respectfully with others’ beliefs or behaviours.

Responsibility is the personal drive and efficacy to do what is right. Responsibility will always acknowledge the mistakes we make, and the duty to set an example for others to follow. Responsibility is being a positive influence.

Being a respectful and responsible moral agent is being a person with the power to act, with respect, with responsibility. There are those who have had their power to act snatched or stolen from them. They have been hurt, they have been gaslit, they have been made to doubt themselves and their truth. Other have been abused physically and/or suffered sexual abuse. Family violence, violation of one’s personal boundaries buries self respect and dignity and makes the road to personal efficacy a difficult road to travel. For many, it is the road less travelled. This is one reason why the Golden Rule in reverse is important. Would I want people to do this to me if this was my journey, my road to travel?

Language is a measure of competence. Swear words and denigrating language, put downs and vehemence do not convey respect and responsibility. They are indications of fear inside those who use such language and behave like so. A self-defensive wall has been put up. These people need to be shown the road back to self-respect. Without self respect, bereft of dignity and love, men and women cannot achieve true humanness. While they are human in form, they are demons in behaviour and language. As you understand, respect and responsibility are priceless where human flourishing is concerned.

Capacity to act as a responsible and respectful moral agent has to be developed. We need to define our moral baseline of right and wrong. When we do this we have a rule of thumb which becomes part of our character bank. This re-affirms our self identity. When we clarify our values within, act out our values, we come to integrity. Integrity is the fruit of building our personal capacity.

Capacity is defined as capability to perform or produce an action or an outcome. Capacity is built on inner resources derived from self-discipline and the ability to delay gratification. It has been shown that people who delay gratification nearly always reach their goals. Delay of gratification is the ability to forsee the outcomes of action or choice, and to make a new choice (or defer) in order to create a path, a road to achieving our goal.

In coming to a summary of moral agency – the power to act with respect and responsibility – we might best summarise this as “Help Ever, Hurt Never”.


The Character Pyramid