Manipulation and Moral Standing: An Argument for Incompatibilism

Philosophers' Imprint 12 (7) (2012)
A prominent recent strategy for advancing the thesis that moral responsibility is incompatible with causal determinism has been to argue that agents who meet compatibilist conditions for responsibility could nevertheless be subject to certain sorts of deterministic manipulation, so that an agent could meet the compatibilist’s conditions for responsibility, but also be living a life the precise details of which someone else determined that she should live. According to the incompatibilist, however, once we became aware that agents had been manipulated or ‘set up’ in the relevant way, we should no longer judge that they are responsible for their behavior, nor should we hold them responsible for it by blaming them, in case what they did was wrong. In this paper, I aim to shift the debate to different terrain. The focus so far has been simply on what we may or may not permissibly say or do concerning manipulated agents. But I believe a powerful new incompatibilist argument can be mounted from considering whether the manipulators themselves can justifiably blame the agents they manipulate in compatibilist-friendly ways. It seems strikingly counterintuitive to suppose that they may do so. The argument of this paper, however, is that, given the right story, incompatibilism provides the best explanation for why this is so. In short, the compatibilist must say that, while such manipulated agents are still responsible, the manipulators lack the moral standing to blame them. But I argue that, on compatibilist assumptions, this explanation ultimately fails.
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