Hello: Almost two years ago -in January 2009- I was supposed to marry my fiancé with whom I have had a five-year relationship. Three weeks before our wedding, I just called her and cancelled everything over the telephone. That was a very mean and coward thing to do. I inflicted a serious emotional harm on her (and on myself too). A couple of months after I did such an awful thing (I can’t find a better word for that kind of action) I called her to apologize for what I have done. I explained her that I committed such a grave error because I was terrified of getting married. I wanted her back, but she refused me. Since then I’ve tried to gain her love again, but she just do not care for me anymore. I accept that as a fair outcome for my reckless behavior. I just deserve to be refused by my ex fiancé. What I haven’t been able to do until now is to cope with my regrets and my endless sense of guilt. I just can’t believe that I did what I did. I feel awful and unworthy of anything. I don’t need a priest...

If a friend were to tell you the poignant story that you relate I doubt that you would tell them that there ought to be no end to their guilt, that getting spooked by marriage and backing out is a sin that can never be forgiven. Think of yourself as a friend. You apologized many times. You have suffered.You did not by any means destroy your former fiance. Truly, it would be irrational to keep torturing yourself and if it is irrational no amount of reason is going to assuage the guilt. Perhaps though it isn't all guilt. Emotions are not as easy to individuate as things in the world. Perhaps there is a strong admixture of regret for not being with her, of missing her and feeling alone, maybe that is what you need to deal with the most and that could be very hard and painful. I hope very much that you get your soul back- it sure sounds as though you have a lot of it.

In The Stone column on the New York Times Site, there is an article about the issue of moral responsibility, in light of the notion that we are what we are because of such factors as genetics, environment, or perhaps determinism and/or chance. In the end the author stoically concludes, that despite it all in some sense we can choose to take responsibility for our actions. While I respect the author's sense of duty, can we fairly extend that same responsibility to other people? For example, could there still be any defense of punishment that isn't consequentalist. For that matter how can any nonconsequentialist ethical theory hold up against this argument?

Given the premises, I can't think of anything but a consequentialist defense of punishment or "correction." I also believe that that some of the arguments around this issue provide an opportunity for reflection on our powerful attachment to the rhetoric of "taking responsibility."We do not hear enough about our responsibility as a nation to create communities that nurture a sense of morality and connection with others. Many only want to talk about personal responsibility and it is often with a punitive edge. There might be other terms in which to couch the issue of moral striving.