Moral Agent

A moral agent is a person who has the ability to discern right from wrong and to be held accountable for his or her own actions. Moral agents have a moral responsibility not to cause unjustified harm.

Traditionally, moral agency is assigned only to those who can be held responsible for their actions. Children, and adults with certain mental disabilities, may have little or no capacity to be moral agents. Adults with full mental capacity relinquish their moral agency only in extreme situations, like being held hostage.

By expecting people to act as moral agents, we hold people accountable for the harm they cause others.

So, do corporations have moral agency? As artificial intelligence develops, will robots have moral agency? And what about socially intelligent non-human animals such as dolphins and elephants?

Indeed, future philosophers and legal scholars will need to consider moral agency as it applies to these situations and others.