Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 851–868 | Cite as

Claiming Responsibility for Action Under Duress

  • Carla BagnoliEmail author


This paper argues that to understand the varieties of wrongs done in coercion, we should examine the dynamic normative relation that the coercer establishes with the coerced. The case rests on a critical examination of coercion by threat, which is proved irreducible to psychological inducement by overwhelming motives, obstruction of agency by impaired consent or deprivation of genuine choice. In contrast to physical coercion, coercion by threat requires the coercee’s participation in deliberation to succeed. For this kind of coercion to be successful, there must be a normative relation established by the coercer and the coercee, in which they recognize each other as rational agents. In such cases, the coercee is wronged in the exercise of her deliberative powers. As a consequence, this form of coercion does not cancel the coercee’s moral responsibility for coerced action. Reclaiming the coercee’s responsibility for action under threat does not diminish the visibility and gravity of the coercer’s wrongdoing. On the contrary, it allows us to capture some features of the coercive relation that otherwise remain unfocused and thus identify the distinctive ways in which the coercee is wronged.


Coercion Responsibility Autonomy Choice Volitional necessity Deliberation Hard choices Robert Nozick Harry Frankfurt Onora O’Neill Christine Korsgaard 



A previous version of this paper has been presented as the Keynote Address of the Conference for the 20 Anniversary of Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, held at the University of Pavia in June 2017. Shorter versions were discussed at the workshop on “Moral responses to wrongdoing”, held at the University of Oslo in August 2017, at the Department of Philosophy at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, in January 2018, and at the University of Stockholm in March 2018. I would like to thank these audiences, and in particular Monika Betzler, Krister Bykvist, Cristina Bratu, Tim Campbell, Anthony Duff, Christel Fricke, Miranda Fricker, Anandi Hattiangadi, Wolfgang Huemer, Levi Spectre, Caj Strandberg, Åsa Wikforss, the editors of the special volume Emanuela Ceva and Lubomira Radoilska, and the referees of this journal, for their helpful comments.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Modena & Reggio EmiliaModenaItaly
  2. 2.University of OsloOsloNorway

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