Libertarianism in all its varieties is widely taken to be vulnerable to a serious problem of present luck, inasmuch as it requires indeterminism somewhere in the causal chain leading to action. Genuine indeterminism entails luck, and lack of control over the ensuing action. Compatibilism, by contrast, is generally taken to be free of the problem of present luck, inasmuch as it does not require indeterminism in the causal chain. I argue that this view is false: compatibilism is subject to a (...) problem of present luck. Taken by itself, the compatibilist problem with present luck is less serious than the analogous problem confronting libertarianism. However, its effects are just as devastating for the entire account of freedom: the present luck confronting compatibilism is sufficient to undermine the compatibilist response to distant – constitutive – luck. (shrink)
It is, as Dana Nelkin (2004) says, a rare point of agreement among participants in the free will debate that rational deliberation presupposes a belief in freedom. Of course, the precise content of that belief – and, indeed, the nature of deliberation – is controversial, with some philosophers claiming that deliberation commits us to a belief in libertarian free will (Taylor 1966; Ginet 1966), and others claiming that, on the contrary, deliberation presupposes nothing more than an epistemic openness that is (...) entirely compatible with determinism (Dennett 1984; Kapitan 1986). Since, however, the claim that deliberation presupposes freedom is accepted by all sides in the free will debate, it ought to be possible to frame a minimal version that is neutral between compatibilism and incompatibilism, and which therefore can be accepted by everyone. Peter van Inwagen has advanced the best-known such claim: ‘all philosophers who have thought about deliberation agree on one point: one cannot deliberate about whether to perform a certain act unless one believes it is possible for one to perform it’ (van Inwagen 1983: 154). It is the purpose of this paper to argue that van Inwagen, and the many philosophers who have followed him in this regard, is wrong. (shrink)
BAT - the belief in ability thesis - states, roughly, that for an agent to be able rationally to deliberate between two or more alternatives, she must believe that she is metaphysically free to perform each alternative. I show, by way of a counterexample, that BAT is false.
In this paper, I introduce the notion of a Frankfurt Enabler, a counterfactual intervener poised, should a signal for intervention be received, to enable an agent to perform a mental or physical action. Frankfurt enablers demonstrate, I claim, that merely counterfactual conditions are sometimes relevant to assessing what capacities agents possess. Since this is the case, we are not entitled to conclude that agents in standard Frankfurt-style cases retain their responsibility-ensuring capacities. There is no principled rationale for bracketing counterfactual interveners (...) in standard Frankfurt-style cases, but admitting their relevance when they are Frankfurt enablers. I argue that the intuition that we ought to bracket counterfactual interveners is, at bottom, an expression of a mistaken internalist view about the mental. (shrink)
Frankfurt-style cases are widely taken to show that agents do not need alternative possibilities to be morally responsible for their actions. Many philosophers take these cases to constitute a powerful argument for compatibilism: if we do not need alternative possibilities for moral responsibility, it is hard to see what the attraction of indeterminism might be. I defend the claim that even though Frankfurt-style cases establish that agents can be responsible for their actions despite lacking alternatives, agents can only be responsible (...) if they possess certain powers, and possession of these powers is - arguably - incompatible with determinism. Because this is the case, Frankfurt-style cases fail to advance the debate between compatibilism and incompatibilism. (shrink)
What role, if any, does consciousness of our reasons for acting play in settling whether we may justifiably be held responsible for our actions? Most philosophers, and ordinary people, seem to assume that consciousness of this kind is essential for moral responsibility: if an agent fails to be conscious of their reasons for acting (and they are not responsible for that fact), they ought to be excused responsibility. Recently, however, this assumption has been rejected by researchers in a variety of (...) disciplines, from philosophers (for example Arpaly 2002; Sher 2009; Suhler & Churchland 2009) to cognitive scientists (Wegner 2002). In this paper, I want to make a start on defending the assumption. I will not address the arguments of these researchers directly. Rather, I will set out a case for thinking that consciousness of our reasons for acting is morally significant, in a manner that at least typically entails a difference in whether agents are morally responsible for their actions. (shrink)
_Libertarian restrictivists hold that agents are rarely directly free. However, they seek to reconcile their views_ _with common intuitions by arguing that moral responsibility, or indirect freedom (depending on the version of_ _restrictivism) is much more common than direct freedom. I argue that restrictivists must give up either the_ _claim that agents are rarely free, or the claim that indirect freedom or responsibility is much more common_ _than direct freedom. Focusing on Kane’s version of restrictivism, I show that the view (...) holds people responsible_ _for actions when (merely) compatibilist conditions are met. Since this is unacceptable by libertarian lights,_ _they must either accept that compatibilist conditions on moral responsibility are sufficient, or make their_ _restrictivism more extreme than it already is._. (shrink)
In “The Immorality of Punishment”, Michael Zimmerman attempts to show that punishment is morally unjustified and therefore wrong. In this response, I focus on two main questions. First, I examine whether Zimmerman’s empirical claims—concerning our inability to identify wrongdoers who satisfy conditions on blameworthiness and who might be reformed through punishment, and the comparative efficacy of punitive and non-punitive responses to crime—stand up to scrutiny. Second, I argue that his crucial argument from luck depends on claims about counterfactuals that ought (...) to be rejected. I conclude that though his arguments are powerful, they fall short of his ambitious aim of demonstrating that punishment is always seriously wrong. (shrink)
Noradrenergic pathways are involved in mediating the central and peripheral effects of physiological arousal. The aim of the present study was to investigate the role of noradrenergic transmission in moral decision-making. We studied the effects in healthy volunteers of propranolol (a noradrenergic beta-adrenoceptor antagonist) on moral judgement in a set of moral dilemmas pitting utilitarian outcomes (e.g., saving five lives) against highly aversive harmful actions (e.g., killing an innocent person) in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel group design. Propranolol (40 mg orally) (...) significantly reduced heart rate, but had no effect on self-reported mood. Importantly, propranolol made participants more likely to judge harmful actions as morally unacceptable, but only in dilemmas where harms were ‘up close and personal’. In addition, longer response times for such personal dilemmas were only found for the placebo group. Finally, judgments in personal dilemmas by the propranolol group were more decisive. These findings indicate that noradrenergic pathways play a role in responses to moral dilemmas, in line with recent work implicating emotion in moral decision-making. However, contrary to current theorising, these findings also suggest that aversion to harming is not driven by emotional arousal. Our findings are also of significant practical interest given that propranolol is a widely used drug in different settings, and is currently being considered as a potential treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder in military and rescue service personnel. (shrink)
Failures in self-regulation are predictive of adverse cognitive, academic and vocational outcomes, yet the interplay between cognition and self-regulation failure remains elusive. Two experiments tested the hypothesis that lapses in self-regulation, as predicted by the strength model, can be induced in individuals using cognitive paradigms and whether such failures are related to cognitive performance. In Experiments 1, the stop-signal task (SST) was used to show reduced behavioural inhibition after performance of a cognitively demanding arithmetic task, but only in people with (...) low arithmetic accuracy, when compared with SST performance following a simple discrimination task. Surprisingly, and inconsistently with existing models, subjects rapidly recovered without rest or glucose. In Experiment 2, depletions of both go-signal reaction times and response inhibition were observed when a simple detection task was used as a control. These experiments provide new evidence that cognitive self-regulation processes are influenced by cognitive performance, and subject to improvement and recovery without rest. (shrink)
The claim that addiction is a brain disease is almost universally accepted among scientists who work on addiction. The claim’s attraction rests on two grounds: the fact that addiction seems to be characterized by dysfunction in specific neural pathways and the fact that the claim seems to the compassionate response to people who are suffering. I argue that neural dysfunction is not sufficient for disease: something is a brain disease only when neural dysfunction is sufficient for impairment. I claim that (...) the neural dysfunction that is characteristic of addiction is not sufficient for impairment, because people who suffer from that dysfunction are impaired, sufficiently to count as diseased, only given certain features of their context. Hence addiction is not a brain disease (though it is often a disease, and it may always involve brain dysfunction). I argue that accepting that addiction is not a brain disease does not entail a moralizing attitude toward people who suffer as a result of addiction; if anything, it allows for a more compassionate, and more effective, response to addiction. (shrink)
The recent debate over the moral responsibility of psychopaths has centered on whether, or in what sense, they understand moral requirements. In this paper, I argue that even if they do understand what morality requires, the content of their actions is not of the right kind to justify full-blown blame. I advance two independent justifications of this claim. First, I argue that if the psychopath comes to know what morality requires via a route that does not involve a proper appreciation (...) of what it means to cause another harm or distress, the content of violations of rules against harm will be of a lower grade than the content of similar actions by normal individuals. Second, I argue that in order to intend a harm to a person?that is, to intend the distinctive kind of harm that can only befall a person?it is necessary to understand what personhood is and what makes it valuable. The psychopath's deficits with regard to mental time travel ensure that s/he cannot intend this kind of harm. (shrink)
A number of philosophers have recently argued that agents need not be conscious of the reasons for which they act or the moral significance of their actions in order to be morally responsible for them. In this paper, I identify a kind of awareness that, I claim, agents must have in order to be responsible for their actions. I argue that conscious information processing differs from unconscious in a manner that makes the following two claims true: (1) an agent’s values (...) ought to be identified with attitudes of which she is conscious, because having a value entails having a set of dispositions produced by conscious attitudes alone, and (2) that only actions settled upon by conscious deliberation are deeply attributable to agents, because only such actions express the agent’s evaluative stance. (shrink)
This paper is a response to Giubilini and Minerva's defence of infanticide. I argue that any account of moral worth or moral rights that depends on the intrinsic properties of individuals alone is committed to agreeing with Giubilini and Minerva that birth cannot by itself make a moral difference to the moral worth of the infant. However, I argue that moral worth need not depend on intrinsic properties alone. It might also depend on relational and social properties. I claim that (...) the in principle availability of neonates to participate in scaffolded interactions with carers might plausibly be seen as contributing to their moral worth. (shrink)
In a recent paper in this journal, Matt King and Peter Carruthers argue that the common assumption that agents are only (or especially) morally responsible for actions caused by attitudes of which they are conscious needs to be rethought. They claim that there is persuasive evidence that we are never conscious of our propositional attitudes; we ought therefore to design our theories of moral responsibility to accommodate this fact. In this reply, I argue that the evidence they adduce need not (...) worry philosophers. There is an ongoing debate over the role that consciousness of our attitudes plays in morally responsible behaviour, but the evidence they produce does not favour either side. Even if we are not conscious of our propositional attitudes as such - even if we lack introspective access to their content - we nevertheless reliably come to know their content. There are systematic differences between those attitudes of whose content we come to be aware and those we do not, and these differences are directly relevant to our moral responsibility. Moreover, coming to be aware of the content of our attitudes has effects on our behaviour, and these effects are directly relevant to our moral responsibility. The causal route whereby we come to be conscious of the content of our attitudes is irrelevant to whether they play the right kinds of roles to distinguish between actions for which we are responsible and actions for which we ought to be excused. (shrink)
In a recent paper, Ishtiyaque Haji and Michael McKenna argue that my attack on Frankfurt-style cases fails. I had argued that we cannot be confident that agents in these cases retain their responsibility-underwriting capacities, because what capacities an agent has can depend on features of the world external to her, including merely counterfactual interveners. Haji and McKenna argue that only when an intervention is actual does the agent gain or lose a capacity. Here I demonstrate that this claim is false: (...) capacities are dispositions that can be constituted by features of the environment that are currently inactive. I also reply to two other objections: that my argument begs the question against historical accounts of moral responsibility and that it leaves the very locus of free action, our mental acts, untouched. (shrink)
Human beings are subject to a range of cognitive and affective limitations which interfere with our ability to pursue our individual and social goals. I argue that shaping our environment to avoid triggering these limitations or to constrain the harms they cause is likely to be more effective than genetic or pharmaceutical modifications of our capacities because our limitations are often the flip side of beneficial dispositions and because available enhancements seem to impose significant costs. I argue that carefully selected (...) environmental interventions respect agents’ autonomy and are consistent with democratic decision making. (shrink)
It is sometimes objected that we cannot adopt skepticism about moral responsibility, because the criminal justice system plays an indispensable social function. In this paper, I examine the implications of moral responsibility skepticism for the punishment of those convicted of crime, with special attention to recent arguments by Saul Smilansky. Smilansky claims that the skeptic is committed to fully compensating the incarcerated for their detention, and that this compensation would both be too costly to be practical and would remove the (...) deterrent function from incarceration. I argue that the skeptic is not committed to full compensation of the offender, and that the costs of such compensation would in any case be far smaller than Smilansky thinks. In fact, I claim, the costs of the criminal justice system to which the skeptic is committed might be very much lower than the costs – economic, social and moral – we currently pay as a consequence of our system of punishment. (shrink)
One of the major conflicts in the social sciences since the Second World War has concerned whether, and to what extent, human beings have a nature. One view, traditionally associated with the political left, has rejected the notion that we have a contentful nature, and hoped thereby to underwrite the possibility that we can shape social institutions by references only to norms of justice, rather than our innate dispositions. This view has been in rapid retreat over the past three decades, (...) in the face of an onslaught from several different strands of psychology purporting to show that human nature has a content. In this paper, I argue for a third view: that human beings have a contentful nature, but that nature is uniquely flexible and therefore places relatively few constraints on the shape of our social institutions. Human beings are shaped, by nature, to be cultural animals. We are innately disposed to imitate the behavior of those around us, to a far greater degree than other animals: this disposition toward overimitation allows us to construct local traditions of behavior and thereby to adapt to an enormous variety of environments. These facts, in turn, ensure that human populations live embedded in local forms of life; thus our nature entails that we are deeply cultural animals. (shrink)
Some philosophers have criticized the use of psychopharmaceuticals on the grounds that even if these drugs enhance the person using them, they threaten their authenticity. Others have replied by pointing out that the conception of authenticity upon which this argument rests is contestable; on a rival conception, psychopharmaceuticals might be used to enhance our authenticity. Since, however, it is difficult to decide between these competing conceptions of authenticity, the debate seems to end in a stalemate. I suggest that we need (...) not resolve this debate to end the stalemate. New technologies which alter the self can be understood within the framework of the first conception of authenticity, I suggest, not as threatening the authentic self, but rather as bringing the outward appearance of the self into line with its deepest essence. Since psychopharmaceutical use can plausibly be understood on this model, it can be seen as enhancing our authenticity on either conception. (shrink)
The concept of luck has played an important role in debates concerning free will and moral responsibility, yet participants in these debates have relied upon an intuitive notion of what luck is. Neil Levy develops an account of luck, which is then applied to the free will debate. He argues that the standard luck objection succeeds against common accounts of libertarian free will, but that it is possible to amend libertarian accounts so that they are no more vulnerable to luck (...) than is compatibilism. But compatibilist accounts of luck are themselves vulnerable to a powerful luck objection: historical compatibilisms cannot satisfactorily explain how agents can take responsibility for their constitutive luck; non-historical compatibilisms run into insurmountable difficulties with the epistemic condition on control over action. Levy argues that because epistemic conditions on control are so demanding that they are rarely satisfied, agents are not blameworthy for performing actions that they take to be best in a given situation. It follows that if there are any actions for which agents are responsible, they are akratic actions; but even these are unacceptably subject to luck. Levy goes on to discuss recent non-historical compatibilisms, and argues that they do not offer a viable alternative to control-based compatibilisms. He suggests that luck undermines our freedom and moral responsibility no matter whether determinism is true or not. (shrink)
In a series of articles, Terry Horgan and Mark Timmons have argued that Richard Boyd’s defence of moral realism, utilizing a causal theory of reference, fails. Horgan and Timmons construct a twin Earth-style thought experiment which, they claim, generates intuitions inconsistent with the realist account. In their thought experiment, the use of (allegedly) moral terms at a world is causally regulated by some property distinct from that regulating their use here on Earth; nevertheless, Horgan and Timmons claim, it is intuitive (...) that the inhabitants of this world disagree with us in their moral claims. Since any disagreement would be merely verbal were the alleged moral facts identical to or constituted by different natural facts, the identity or constitution claim must be false. I argue that their argument fails. Horgan and Timmons’ thought experiment is underdescribed; when we fill out the details, I claim, we shall see that the challenge to moral realism fades away. I sketch two possible interpretations of the (apparently) moral claims of the inhabitants of moral Twin Earth. On one interpretation, they fail to disagree with us because they actually agree with us; on the other, they fail to disagree with us because they are not moralizers at all. Which interpretation is true, I argue, will depend on the facts that explain the differences between us and the inhabitants of moral twin Earth. (shrink)
The aim of this article is to argue, by example, for neuroethics as a new way of doing ethics. Rather than simply giving us a new subject matter—the ethical issues arising from neuroscience—to attend to, neuroethics offers us the opportunity to refine the tools we use. Ethicists often need to appeal to the intuitions provoked by consideration of cases to evaluate the permissibility of types of actions; data from the sciences of the mind give us reason to believe that some (...) of these intuitions are less reliable than others. I focus on the doctrine of double effect to illustrate my case, arguing that experimental results suggest that appeal to it might be question-begging. The doctrine of double effect is supposed to show that there is a moral difference between effects that are brought about intentionally and those that are merely foreseen; I argue that the data suggest that we regard some effects as merely foreseen only because we regard bringing them about as permissible. Appeal to the doctrine of double effect therefore cannot establish that there are such moral differences. (shrink)
I develop an account of weakness of the will that is driven by experimental evidence from cognitive and social psychology. I will argue that this account demonstrates that there is no such thing as weakness of the will: no psychological kind corresponds to it. Instead, weakness of the will ought to be understood as depletion of System II resources. Neither the explanatory purposes of psychology nor our practical purposes as agents are well-served by retaining the concept. I therefore suggest that (...) we ought to jettison it, in favour of the vocabulary and concepts of cognitive psychology. (shrink)
Nicholas Agar has recently argued that it would be irrational for future human beings to choose to radically enhance themselves by uploading their minds onto computers. Utilizing Searle’s argument that machines cannot think, he claims that uploading might entail death. He grants that Searle’s argument is controversial, but he claims, so long as there is a non-zero probability that uploading entails death, uploading is irrational. I argue that Agar’s argument, like Pascal’s wager on which it is modelled, fails, because the (...) principle that we (or future agents) ought to avoid actions that might entail death is not action guiding. Too many actions fall under its scope for the principle to be plausible. I also argue that the probability that uploading entails death is likely to be lower than Agar recognizes. (shrink)
The following is a transcript of the interview I (Yasuko Kitano) conducted with Neil Levy (The Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, CAPPE) on the 23rd in July 2009, while he was in Tokyo to give a series of lectures on neuroethics at The University of Tokyo Center for Philosophy. I edited his words for publication with his approval.
If Knobe is right that ordinary judgments are normatively suffused, how do scientists free themselves from these influences? I suggest that because science is distributed and externalized, its claims can be manipulated in ways that allow normative influences to be hived off. This allows scientists to deploy concepts which are not normatively suffused. I suggest that there are good reasons to identify these normatively neutral concepts with the folk concepts.
One reason for the widespread resistance to evolutionary accounts of the origins of humanity is the fear that they undermine morality: if morality is based on nothing more than evolved dispositions, it would be shown to be illusory, many people suspect. This view is shared by some philosophers who take their work on the evolutionary origins of morality to undermine moral realism. If they are right, we are faced with an unpalatable choice: to reject morality on scientific grounds, or to (...) reject our best- confirmed scientific explanation of our origins in order to save morality. Fortunately, as I show, we have no reason to accept the deflationary claims of some evolutionary ethicists: morality, as we ordinarily understand it, is fully compatible with evolution. (shrink)
This introduction to the special issue on empirically informed moral theory sketches the more important contributions to the field in the past several years. Attention is paid to experimental philosophy, the work of philosophers like Harman and Doris, and that of psychologists like Haidt and Hauser.