It is taken to be platitude that I can be responsible only for my own actions. Many have taken this to entail the slogan that responsibility presupposes personal identity. In this paper, I show that even if we grant the platitude, the slogan is not entailed and is at any rate false. I then suggest what the relevant non-identity relation grounding the ownership of actions consists in instead.
Recently T. M. Scanlon and others have advanced an ostensibly comprehensive theory of moral responsibility—a theory of both being responsible and being held responsible—that best accounts for our moral practices. I argue that both aspects of the Scanlonian theory fail this test. A truly comprehensive theory must incorporate and explain three distinct conceptions of responsibility—attributability, answerability, and accountability—and the Scanlonian view conflates the first two and ignores the importance of the third. To illustrate what a truly comprehensive theory might look (...) like, I investigate what it would say about the difficult case of the psychopath. (shrink)
In this paper, I attempt to show that the moral/conventional distinction simply cannot bear the sort of weight many theorists have placed on it for determining the moral and criminal responsibility of psychopaths. After revealing the fractured nature of the distinction, I go on to suggest how one aspect of it may remain relevant—in a way that has previously been unappreciated—to discussions of the responsibility of psychopaths. In particular, after offering an alternative explanation of the available data on psychopaths and (...) their judgments of various sorts of norm transgressions, I put forward a hybrid theory of their responsibility, suggesting how they might be criminally responsible, while nevertheless failing to meet the conditions for an important arena of moral responsibility. (shrink)
Susan Wolf objects to the Real Self View (RSV) of moral responsibility that it is insufficient, that even if one’s actions are expressions of one’s deepest or “real” self, one might still not be morally responsible for one’s actions. As a counterexample to the RSV, Wolf offers the case of JoJo, the son of a dictator, who endorses his father’s (evil) values, but who is insane and is thus not responsible for his actions. Wolf’s data for this conclusion derives from (...) what she takes to be our “pretheoretic intuitions” about JoJo. As it turns out, though, experimental data on actual pretheoretic intuitions does not seem to support Wolf’s claim. In this paper, we present such data and argue that, at least with respect to this particular objection, the RSV can survive Wolf’s attack intact. (shrink)
In this introduction to the special issue of Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics on the topic of personal identity and bioethics, I provide a background for the topic and then discuss the contributions in the special issue by Eric Olson, Marya Schechtman, Tim Campbell and Jeff McMahan, James Delaney and David Hershenov, and David DeGrazia.
It has long been thought that certain key bioethical views depend heavily on work in personal identity theory, regarding questions of either our essence or the conditions of our numerical identity across time. In this paper I argue to the contrary, that personal identity is actually not significant at all in this arena. Specifically, I explore three topics where considerations of identity are thought to be essential – abortion, definition of death, and advance directives – and I show in each (...) case that the significant work is being done by a relation other than identity. (shrink)
This essay explores the boundaries of the moral community—the collection of agents eligible for moral responsibility—by focusing on those just inside it and those just outside it. In particular, it contrasts mild mental retardation with psychopathy, specifically among adults. For those who work with and know them, adults with mild mental retardation are thought to be obvious members of the moral community (albeit not full-fledged members). For those who work with and theorize about adult psychopaths, by contrast, they are not (...) members of the moral community (albeit not in such a full-fledged fashion as the insane). Both psychopaths and adults with MMR have a disability, and the essay is interested in how disability sometimes exempts one from the moral community and sometimes doesn't. It will be through two associated puzzles that we will eventually come to see the complicated tripartite relation between disability, responsibility, and moral community. (shrink)
What justifies our holding a <span class='Hi'>person</span> morally responsible for some past action? Why am I justified in having a special prudential concern for some future persons and not others? Why do many of us think that maximizing the good within a single life is perfectly acceptable, but maximizing the good across lives is wrong? In these and other normative questions, it looks like any answer we come up with will have to make an essential reference to personal identity. So, (...) for instance, it seems we are justified in holding X responsible for some past action only if X is identical to the <span class='Hi'>person</span> who performed that action. Further, it seems I am justified in my special concern for some future <span class='Hi'>person</span> only if he will be me. Finally, many of us think that while maximization within a life affects only one <span class='Hi'>person</span>, a metaphysical unity, maximization across lives affects many different, metaphysically distinct, persons, and so the latter is wrong insofar as it ignores this fundamental <span class='Hi'>separateness</span> of persons. (shrink)
Many philosophers have taken there to be an important relation between personal identity and several of our practical concerns (among them moral responsibility, compensation, and self-concern). I articulate four natural methodological assumptions made by those wanting to construct a theory of the relation between identity and practical concerns, and I point out powerful objections to each assumption, objections constituting serious methodological obstacles to the overall project. I then attempt to offer replies to each general objection in a way that leaves (...) the project intact, albeit significantly changed. Perhaps the most important change stems from the recognition that the practical concerns motivating investigation into personal identity turn out to be not univocal, as is typically thought, such that each of the different practical concerns may actually be related to personal identity in very different ways. (shrink)
In this paper I consider Derek Parfit’s attempt to respond to Rawls’ charge that utilitarianism ignores the distinction between persons. I proceed by arguing that there is a moderate form of reductionism about persons, one stressing the importance of what Parfit calls psychological connectedness, which can hold in different degrees both within one person and between distinct persons. In terms of this form of reductionism, against which Parfit’s arguments are ineffective, it is possible to resuscitate the Rawlsian charge that the (...) utilitarian maximizing approach to matters of distribution ignores something that is of moral relevance, viz., the difference between the degrees of connectedness that hold between different stages of the same person, and between that person and his nearest and dearest, and the lack of connectedness between that person and distant others who may be benefitted at his cost. To Parfit’s charge that reductionism sees the differences between persons as being ‘less deep’, I reply that the sense in which they are less deep is not at odds with their retaining their original moral importance, perhaps now better understood. (shrink)
Before being able to answer key practical questions dependent on a criterion of personal identity (e.g., am I justified in anticipating surviving the death of my body?), we must first determine which general approach to the issue of personal identity is more plausible, reductionism or non-reductionism. While reductionism has become the more dominant approach amongst philosophical theorists over the past thirty years, non-reductionism remains an approach that, for all these theorists have shown, could very well still be true. My aim (...) in this paper is to show that non-reductionism is actually either irrelevant – with respect to the practical questions we want answered – or logically impossible. In arguing for this conclusion, I draw from a case Derek Parfit has employed – the Combined Spectrum – and I provide a number of variations to it which ultimately reveal that we have no possible rational recourse other than to become reductionists. (shrink)
Unabridged dictionaries are dangerous books. In their pages man’s evilest thoughts find means of expression. Terms denoting all that is foul or blasphemous or obscene are printed there for men, women and children to read and ponder. Such books should have their covers padlocked and be chained to reading desks, in the custody of responsible librarians, preferably church members in good standing. Permission to open such books should be granted only after careful inquiry as to which word a reader plans (...) to look up, and how he plans to use it. (shrink)
According to a popular contemporary contractualist account of moral motivation, the most plausible explanation for why those who are concerned with morality take moral reasons seriously — why these reasons strike those who are moved by them with a particular inescapability — is that they stem from, and are grounded by, a desire to be able to justify one’s actions to others on grounds they could not reasonably reject.1 My.
offers each of these as a possible moral unit at various points.1 It is the aim of this paper, however, to suggest that, if Parﬁt’s two key arguments about the indeterminacy of identity and what matters in our identity are correct, we should take selves to be the signiﬁcant moral units in any metaphysically-grounded ethical theory. Furthermore, because Parﬁt’s own explanation of what the concept of the self involves is problematic in important respects, I hope to point out a few (...) ways in which this concept might be made clearer and more coherent. Finally, I will defend this intermediate view from objections stemming from each of the other two alternatives. I begin with a brief exposition of the Parﬁtian model. (shrink)
Ethical theories must include an account of the concept of a person. They also need a criterion of personal identity over time. This requirement is most needed in theories involving distributions of resources or questions of moral responsibility. For instance, in using ethical theories involving compensations of burdens, we must be able to keep track of the identities of persons earlier burdened in order to ensure that they are the same people who now are to receive the compensatory benefits. Similarly, (...) in order to attribute moral responsibility to someone for an act, we must be able to determine that that person is the same person as the person who performed the act. Unfortunately, ethical theories generally include a concept of a person and criteria of personal identity either as notions implied or presupposed by the already worked out theory, with little or no argument given in support of them. But both approaches are unsatisfactory, for each runs the risk of ignoring certain fundamental features of the way persons actually are. What is needed first is a plausible metaphysical account of persons and personal identity to which an ethical theory might then conform and apply. Derek Parfit has attempted to provide such an account in Reasons and Persons, where he argues for what he calls the reductionist view of persons and personal identity and then attempts to show how such a conception provides a metaphysical background that lends important partial support to utilitarianism. 1 But Parfit’s metaphysical view is neutral between two possible conceptions of personhood, and utilitarianism presupposes the truth of the more radical of the two conceptions, which precludes the possibility of there being a class of goods crucial to any plausible ethical theory. Utilitarianism thus presupposes a wildly implausible conception of persons, and so is itself implausible. (shrink)