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The limited nature of self-control gives rise to awkward questions. Are people who get into trouble due to poor self-control really to blame, or simply the innocent victims of circumstances beyond their control? This long and pivotal chapter addresses what the limited nature of self-control means for moral responsibility. On the one hand, poor self-control might at times be a valid excuse, but on the other, we would not want a world in which everyone can claim to be nothing but the innocent victims of their endowments from birth and their social background. These considerations lead straight to one of the most vexing problems in philosophy: How is moral responsibility possible in a universe in which everything is caused by what came before? My strategy for tackling this question is to introduce three distinct epistemological standpoints to look at the problem and to consult two bodies of knowledge: the vast literature on free will and the scholarship on folk intuitions regarding criminal sentencing. Together, these three standpoints and two bodies of knowledge furnish the building blocks for guidelines to decide on matters of poor self-control and moral responsibility.
The opening chapter begins with the question why both in the academic literature and in real-world politics self-control has garnered so much less attention than intelligence. Due to the neglect of this crucial personality trait, the modern world has developed into an “iron cage” that poorly befits the realities of the human mind. The goal of this book is to correct this state of affairs. It details what psychology has learned about self-control and explores the implications of this knowledge for some key ideas underlying the current social order (i.e. moral responsibility and distributive justice) and for the ever-increasing emphasis on personal responsibility in politics. Having thus set the stage, this opening chapter gives an extensive overview of the main concepts, themes, and arguments of the book, including its conclusions and recommendations.
This chapter examines a central moral problem arising in connection with the law on State responsibility: the problem of justifying the liability of ordinary State subjects for the material fulfilment of the remedial duties arising from their State’s wrongs. After isolating the problem and explaining its relationship to the question of whether States are moral agents, it critically examines a range of different justifications for subject liability, with a focus on theoretical justifications that have received less extensive attention in the literature. It considers: (1) causal contribution, (2) benefitting, (3) duties of aid, (4) part-constitution, (5) authorisation, (6) fictive authorisation, (7) moral vicarious liability, (8) duties to support valuable institutions and (9) lesser evil. The overall conclusion is that, even when State subjects are not morally responsible for the wrong which triggered a remedial duty, there are not infrequently moral liability justifications for State subjects bearing the costs of remedial duties. However, in practice, the imposition of subject liability is likely to be fully justified only on lesser evil grounds.
Good self-control is a crucial factor in the distribution of life outcomes, ranging from success at school and work, to good mental and physical health, and to satisfying romantic relationships. While in the last decades psychologists have learned much about this all-important trait, both social theory and politics have not caught up. Many academics and policymakers still seem to believe that everybody has unlimited capacity for self-control and that maintaining discipline is purely a matter of volition. This book shows that such beliefs are fundamentally mistaken. It presents the state-of-the-art in research on self-control, explains why this trait has been largely overlooked, and sets out the profound implications of this psychological research for moral responsibility, distributive justice and public policy. It shows that the growing emphasis in politics on 'personal responsibility' is deeply problematic, and outlines alternatives more in accord with human psychology.
Carolina Sartorio has criticized the reasons-responsiveness theory of freedom for being inconsistent with the actual-sequence view motivated by the Frankfurt-style cases. Specifically, reasons-responsiveness conceived as a modal property does not pertain to the actual sequence of the agent's action and thereby it is irrelevant to the agent's freedom and moral responsibility. Call this the challenge of irrelevance. In this article, I present this challenge in a new way that overcomes certain limitations of Sartorio's argument. I argue that the root of the challenge is that reasons-responsiveness as an unmanifested modal property seems to be nonexplanatory for the agent's action. I show that reasons-responsiveness theorists will confront this challenge even if they do not endorse the actual-sequence view. Finally, I deflate this challenge with David Lewis's model of causal explanation, showing that reasons-responsiveness is explanatory in virtue of providing information about the causal history of the agent's action.
In this essay, I argue that if we assume with free will skeptics that people lack moral responsibility, or at least a central form of it, we may still maintain that people are ‘basically’ deserving of certain treatment in response to their behavior. I characterize basic-desert justifications for treatment negatively, as justifications that do not depend on consequentialist, contractualist, or relational considerations. Appealing to attributionist accounts of responsibility as well as the symbolic value of protest, I identify protest as a response that may be basically deserved even in the absence of free will, on the grounds that it is a fitting response to the intrinsic features of agents and their actions. The position defended is not a standard form of semi-compatibilism as it allows that some responses to behavior—such as punishment—that would be basically deserved were people free are not basically deserved in the absence of free will.
What is self-blame, and what is its role in an adequate theory of moral responsibility? Moreover, what of guilt? In this chapter, I will examine the role of both self-blame and guilt within the context of a conversational theory of moral responsibility. Some philosophers have recently placed guilt and self-blame at the heart of moral responsibility’s nature. They also have in turn made the deservingness of both the most fundamental normative consideration in justifying the harms of blaming. Doing so appears to threaten conversational and other communicative theories of moral responsibility. In response, I will argue that guilt and self-blame cannot play the fundamental grounding role in a theory of moral responsibility. As a result, conversational and other communicative theories are not in jeopardy. Rather, what is required is a proper appreciation of the aim and norms of our blaming practices wherein guilt and also self-blame are meant to fit as responses to the blame of others as well as oneself. Along the way, I will also argue that self-blame and guilt are distinct things. While it is natural to think that to experience guilt just is to blame oneself, this is not so. Although the two are tightly connected, the relationship is nevertheless contingent; one can blame oneself without experiencing guilt, and one can experience guilt without blaming oneself.
Blame is multifarious. It can be passionate or dispassionate. It can be expressed or kept private. We blame both the living and the dead. And we blame ourselves as well as others. What’s more, we blame ourselves, not only for our moral failings, but also for our non-moral failings: for our aesthetic bad taste, gustatory self-indulgence, or poor athletic performance. And we blame ourselves both for things over which we exerted agential control (e.g., our voluntary acts) and for things over which we lacked such control (e.g., our desires, beliefs, and intentions). I argue that, despite this manifest diversity in our blaming practices, it’s possible to provide a comprehensive account of blame. Indeed, I propose a set of necessary and sufficient conditions that aims to specify blame’s extension in terms of its constitution as opposed to its function. And I argue that this proposal has a number of advantages beyond accounting for blame in all its disparate forms.
Let F be a fact in virtue of which an agent, s, is blameworthy for performing an act of A-ing. We argue for the following three theses (with slight qualification of the first):
(Reason) F is (at some time) a reason for s to feel guilty (to some extent) for A-ing;
(Desert) s’s having this reason suffices for s’s deserving to feel guilty for A-ing; and
(Ground) what grounds s’s deserving to feel guilty for A-ing is simply what grounds that feeling’s being a fitting response by s to her A-ing.
In light of these theses, we address several claims that have been made regarding responsibility and desert. We take issue with the divorce of desert from responsibility. We find acceptable a claim regarding blameworthiness and reason to induce guilt, and we defend the idea that it is non-instrumentally good that one who is blameworthy be subject to a fitting feeling of guilt. Finally, we argue against a view on which desert of blame has a teleological dimension.
Since half of this book is devoted to advocating a particular ethical attitude, readers might reasonably conclude that the author feels ethical evaluation is a very good thing. In fact, I believe it is often (though not invariably) good when aimed at one’s own actions, but almost always a fairly bad thing when aimed at other people’s actions. To make matters worse, we appear to have a greater inclination toward the latter than toward the former. This brief afterword turns from descriptive and normative ethics to a third form of ethical study, metaethics. In it, I summarize arguments bearing on the very idea of free will, maintaining that it is a plausible notion only from a first-person perspective on a necessarily incompletely described world. That view of free will entails that, in general, ethical blame should be very narrowly restricted to the first-person perspective. Indeed, with regard even to oneself, it is confined to the present and future.
Orthodoxy holds that the difference between weakness of will and compulsion is a matter of the resistibility of an agent's effective motivation, which makes control-based views of agency especially well equipped to distinguish blameworthy weak-willed acts from non-blameworthy compulsive acts. I defend an alternative view that the difference between weakness and compulsion instead lies in the fact that agents would upon reflection give some conative weight to acting on their weak-willed desires for some aim other than to extinguish them, but not to their compulsive desires. This view allows identificationist theorists of moral responsibility to explain why weak-willed actions, but not compulsive actions, are attributable to agents such that they can, in theory, be praised or blamed for them. After motivating and presenting the view in detail, I show how it has unique resources for explaining the ethics of managing one's compulsions.
Compatibilist libertarianism claims that alternate possibilities for action at the agential level are consistent with determinism at the physical level. Unlike traditional compatibilism about alternate possibilities, involving conditional or dispositional accounts of the ability to act, compatibilist libertarianism offers us unqualified modalities at the agential level, consistent with physical determinism, a potentially big advance. However, I argue that the account runs up against two problems. Firstly, the way in which the agential modalities are generated talks past the worries of the incompatibilist in the traditional free will problem. As such, it fails to dispel the worries that determinism generates for the incompatibilist. Secondly, in spite of the ingenious use of the supervenience thesis and multiple realizability, the position still allows us to generate the old worry that determinism at the physical level would mean no alternate possibilities at the level of agency. In particular, I develop a new example, the ‘atomic slit case’ that demonstrates how physical level information is salient to what is possible at the agential level, motivating incompatibilism.
Discourse comprehension relies on the construction of a mental model that represents the unfolding in time of the events described. In causal scenarios, where the action of one agent (the enabler) temporally precedes and enables the action of another agent (the causer), discourse may reflect the underlying event structure by describing the enabler’s action first and then the causer’s action (story order) or may describe the causer’s action first (backward order). Studies in the literature have shown that adults consider causers to be more responsible than enablers in moral scenarios. Based on the assumption that story order favors the construction of a mental model of events, we conducted an experiment to test the prediction that preference for the causer over the enabler should be greater when events are presented in story order than in backward order. The participants in the experiment were 42 fifth-grade children, 42 adolescents, and 42 adults. The results of the experiment confirmed the prediction for all three groups of participants. We discuss the practical implications of these results for learning contexts, legal contexts, and the psychology of moral judgments.
Negligence liability is a fairer way to allocate responsibility for accidental infringement of IP rights. The chapter considers and rebuts four arguments that seek to defend the morality of strict liability in IP: the causation argument, the property argument, the fault argument, and the reciprocity argument. Because owners and users bilaterally cause accidents, legal responsibility ought not to fall unilaterally on one party as a categorical matter.
This Element provides a thorough overview of the free will debate as it currently stands. After distinguishing the main senses of the term 'free will' invoked in that debate, it proceeds to set out the prominent versions of the main positions, libertarianism, compatibilism, and free will skepticism, and then to discuss the main objections to these views. Particular attention is devoted to the controversy concerning whether the ability to do otherwise is required for moral responsibility and whether it is compatible with determinism, and to manipulation arguments against compatibilism. Two areas in which the free will debate has practical implications are discussed in detail, personal relationships and criminal justice.
I begin by giving an outline sketch of the psychopathic personality and setting out the central problem of the book: how should we respond to such a person and their actions, either at an interpersonal or a societal level? Should we blame or praise them, or hold other reactive attitudes towards them such as resentment or indignation, or should we treat them ‘objectively’, as a problem to be solved? If psychopaths are to be punished by society, could this be on the basis of desert and retribution, or only of considerations such as deterrence or the prevention of harm? In short, are they morally responsible? I consider and then reject a suggestion that this question can be settled a priori, based on the idea that conclusions based on psychopaths’ behaviour cannot without circularity be used to explain that behaviour. I then sketch the central argument of the book: 1. A person cannot be held responsible for failing to act on reasons that she is unable to recognise as reasons. 2. Psychopaths are unable to recognise reasons for action stemming from the interests, needs and concerns of others. 3. Hence, they are not responsible for failing to act on them.
In the concluding chapter, I summarise again the central argument of the book and the evidence I have offered at various stages in support of it. I take care to set out the limitations of this argument as well as its conclusions: the limited set of reasons, to which psychopaths are not responsible for responding, and the limited class of people to whom my conclusions apply, namely those who have a severe lack of empathy stemming from birth or childhood. Finally, I point to some issues which would require additional argument: whether society would be justified in pre-emptively incarcerating psychopaths, and whether people who exhibit psychopathic traits to a lesser degree might as a result have diminished responsibility.
Skepticism about blameworthiness says that there is good reason to doubt that, in our world, humans are ever blameworthy for their deeds. A significant problem for the discussion of this view is that it is unclear how to understand the kind of blame that should be at issue. This paper makes a new proposal. The basic idea is that the kind of blame skeptics should be skeptical about is constituted by responses that can violate the targets’ claims and by the responders’ thought that the targets have forfeited this claim because of their morally objectionable actions and because of how they were when they performed them. This view identifies an important part of our everyday lives and frames discussions about skepticism about blameworthiness in a new way.
This article deals with the similarities and differences between Ben Sira and Chrysippus regarding their solutions to the tension between free will and determinism. Both Ben Sira and Chrysippus argue for compatibilism, the theory that free will and determinism are compatible. However, Ben Sira and Chrysippus have different understandings of freedom required by moral responsibility. According to Chrysippus, consent is the internal cause of persons’ actions, and, thus, they should be responsible for these actions. By contrast, Ben Sira claims that although being shaped by God’s plan, persons could have done otherwise and, in this sense, are responsible for their sins. The first section of this article examines the texts of Ben Sira and Chrysippus regarding the problem of free will. The second section discusses the positions of Ben Sira and Chrysippus on compatibilism. The last section explains the possible influence of Chrysippus on Ben Sira and the main difference between their understandings of freedom.
Various theorists have endorsed the “communication argument”: communicative capacities are necessary for morally responsible agency because blame aims at a distinctive kind of moral communication. I contend that existing versions of the argument, including those defended by Gary Watson and Coleen Macnamara, face a pluralist challenge: they do not seem to sit well with the plausible view that blame has multiple aims. I then examine three possible rejoinders to the challenge, suggesting that a context-specific, function-based approach constitutes the most promising modification of the communication argument.