Nobody’s Perfect: Moral Responsibility in Negligence

23 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2019 Last revised: 6 Sep 2019

See all articles by Ori J. Herstein

Ori J. Herstein

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Faculty of Law; King's College London - Dickson Poon School of Law

Date Written: January 30, 2019


Given the unwittingness of negligence, personal responsibility for negligent conduct is puzzling. After all, how is it that one is responsible for what one did not intend to do or was unaware that one was doing? How, therefore, is one’s agency involved with one’s negligence so as to ground one’s responsibility for it? Negligence is an unwitting failure in agency to meet a standard requiring conduct that falls within one’s competency. Accordingly, negligent conduct involves agency in that negligence is a manifestation of agency failure. Now, nobody’s perfect. Human agency is innately fallible, and a measure of agency failure is, therefore, unavoidable. The more one’s negligence manifests failure in one’s agency as an individual, the more one is responsible for it. In contrast, the more one’s negligence involves the shortcomings innate to all human agency the less responsible one becomes, because one’s agency as an individual is less and less involved in one’s failure. Determinative of the measure of individual and of human failings mixed into an instance of negligent phi-ing is the background quality of one’s agency at meeting one’s competency at phi-ing. That is, how able one is at delivering on what one is able to competently do. The more able, the less one’s occasional instances of negligence involve manifestations of failures of one’s agency as an individual – nobody’s perfect – and are more manifestations of one’s agency’s innate human fallibility, making one less and less responsible for one’s negligence.

Keywords: responsibility, moral responsibility, negligence

Suggested Citation

Herstein, Ori J., Nobody’s Perfect: Moral Responsibility in Negligence (January 30, 2019). Canadian Journal of Law & Jurisprudence, Vol XXXII, No. 1 (2019); Hebrew University of Jerusalem Legal Research Paper No. 19-07; King's College London Law School Graduate Student Research Paper No. Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Ori J. Herstein (Contact Author)

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Faculty of Law ( email )

Mt. Scopus
Jerusalem, 91905


King's College London - Dickson Poon School of Law ( email )

Somerset House East Wing
London, WC2R 2LS
United Kingdom


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