Many philosophical theories of causation are egalitarian, rejecting a distinction between causes and mere causal conditions. We sought to determine the extent to which people’s causal judgments discriminate, selecting as causes counternormal events—those that violate norms of some kind—while rejecting non-violators. We found significant selectivity of this sort. Moreover, priming that encouraged more egalitarian judgments had little effect on subjects. We also found that omissions are as likely as actions to be judged as causes, and that counternormative selectivity appears to (...) apply equally to actions and omissions. (shrink)
Consider the idea that suffering of some specific kind is deserved by those who are guilty of moral wrongdoing. Feeling guilty is a prime example. It might be said that it is noninstrumentally good that one who is guilty feel guilty (at the right time and to the right degree), or that feeling guilty (at the right time and to the right degree) is apt or fitting for one who is guilty. Each of these claims constitutes an interesting thesis about (...) desert, given certain understandings of what desert is. After examining these claims, the paper briefly explores the idea that an offender might deserve certain forms of treatment by others. The paper concludes by contrasting the modest theses on which it focuses with a far bolder one, to the effect that if we are morally responsible, then it makes sense to suppose that some of us might deserve to suffer eternal torment. The more modest theses do not commit one to anything of this sort. (shrink)
Often when one omits to do a certain thing, there's no action that is one's omission; one's omission, it seems, is an absence of any action of some type. This paper advances the view that an absence of an action--and, in general, any absence--is nothing at all: there is nothing that is an absence. Nevertheless, it can result from prior events that one omits to do a certain thing, and there can be results of the fact that one omits to (...) do something. This is so even if absences cannot be causes or causal effects. (shrink)
Frankfurt-style cases are supposed to show that an agent can be responsible for doing something even though the agent wasn’t able to do otherwise. Neil Levy has argued that the cases fail. Agents in such cases, he says, lack a capacity that they’d have to have in order to be responsible for doing what they do. Here it’s argued that Levy is mistaken. Although it may be that agents in Frankfurt-style cases lack some kind of capability, what they lack isn’t (...) required for them to be responsible for doing what they do. Differences between actions and omissions, and between the requirements for responsibility for these two, are also discussed. (shrink)
This paper examines three views of what an omission or an instance of refraining is. The view advanced is that in many cases, an omission is simply an absence of an action of some type. However, generally one’s not doing a certain thing counts as an omission only if there is some norm, standard, or ideal that calls for one’s doing that thing.
It is widely held that one can be responsible for doing something that one was unable to avoid doing. This paper focuses primarily on the question of whether one can be responsible for not doing something that one was unable to do. The paper begins with an examination of the account of responsibility for omissions offered by John Martin Fischer and Mark Ravizza, arguing that in many cases it yields mistaken verdicts. An alternative account is sketched that jibes with and (...) explains judgments about a variety of omissions cases, including intentional omissions as well as simple failures to act. (shrink)
It is often said that if free will is incompatible with determinism, then free actions must be anomic, not covered by any law of nature. Here it is argued that there is no need for incompatiblists to hold this view. Even if freedom requires indeterminism, our freedom can be freedom to obey the laws.
Carl Ginet has advanced an account of action explanation on which actions can be entirely uncaused and action explanations need not cite causal factors. Several objections have been raised against this view, and Ginet has recently defended the account. Here it is argued that Ginet’s defense fails to come to grips with the chief problems faced by his view.
It is argued that intentionally omitting requires having an intention with relevant content. And the intention must play a causal role with respect to one’s subsequent thought and conduct. Even if omissions cannot be caused, an account of intentional omission must be causal. There is a causal role for one’s reasons as well when one intentionally omits to do something.
A disposition mask is something that prevents a disposition from manifesting despite the occurrence of that disposition’s characteristic stimulus, and without eliminating that disposition. Several authors have maintained that masks must be things extrinsic to the objects that have the masked dispositions. Here it is argued that this is not so; masks can be intrinsic to the objects whose dispositions they mask. If that is correct, then a recent attempt to distinguish dispositional properties from so-called categorical properties fails.
Skilled activity, such as shaving or dancing, differs in important ways from many of the stock examples that are employed by action theorists. Some critics of the causal theory of action contend that such a view founders on the problem of skilled activity. This paper examines how a causal theory can be extended to the case of skilled activity and defends the account from its critics.
This paper examines recent attempts to revive a classic compatibilist position on free will, according to which having an ability to perform a certain action is having a certain disposition. Since having unmanifested dispositions is compatible with determinism, having unexercised abilities to act, it is held, is likewise compatible. Here it is argued that although there is a kind of capacity to act possession of which is a matter of having a disposition, the new dispositionalism leaves unresolved the main points (...) of dispute concerning free will. (shrink)
An autonomous reason for intending to A would be a reason for so intending that is not, and will not be, a reason for A-ing. Some puzzle cases, such as the one that figures in the toxin puzzle, suggest that there can be such reasons for intending, but these cases have special features that cloud the issue. This paper describes cases that more clearly favour the view that we can have practical reasons of this sort. Several objections to this view (...) are considered and rejected. Finally, it is considered whether the existence of such reasons would conflict with an attractive coherence principle linking the rationality of intending with that of acting as intended. The paper concludes with a qualified affirmation of autonomous reasons for intending. (shrink)
Dispositions can be finkish, prone to disappear in circumstances that would commonly trigger their characteristic manifestations. Can a disposition be finkish because of something intrinsic to the object possessing that disposition? Sungho Choi has argued that this is not possible, and many agree. Here it is argued that no good case has been made for ruling out the possibility of intrinsic finks; on the contrary, there is good reason to accept it.
It is widely held that any justifying reason for making a decision must also be a justifying reason for doing what one thereby decides to do. Desires to win decision prizes, such as the one that figures in Kavka’s toxin puzzle, might be thought to be exceptions to this principle, but the principle has been defended in the face of such examples. Similarly, it has been argued that a command to intend cannot give one a justifying reason to intend as (...) commanded. Here it is argued that ordinary agents in ordinary cases can have justifying reasons for deciding that are not and will not be justifying reasons for doing what, in making those decisions, they come to intend to do. The paper concludes with some brief observations on the functions of decision-making. (shrink)
This paper develops three points in response to Habermas's ?The Language Game of Responsible Agency and the Problem of Free Will.? First, while Habermas nicely characterizes the appearance of freedom, he misconstrues its connections to deliberate agency, responsibility, and our justificatory practice. Second, Habermas's discussion largely overlooks grave conceptual challenges to our idea of freedom, challenges more fundamental than those posed by naturalism. Finally, a physicalist view of ourselves may be able to save as much of the appearance of freedom (...) as can the anti-physicalist naturalism that Habermas recommends. (shrink)
This paper examines the libertarian account of free choice advanced by Robert Kane in his recent book, The Significance of Free Will. First a rather simple libertarian view is considered, and an objection is raised against it the view fails to provide for any greater degree of agent-control than what could be available in a deterministic world. The basic differences between this simple view and Kane's account are the requirements, on the latter, of efforts of will and of an agent's (...) wanting more to do a certain thing than he wants to do anything else. It is argued here that neither of these features yields any improvement over the simple libertarian view; neither helps to meet the objection that was raised against the simple view. Finally, it is suggested that a modest defense of that view might be available. (shrink)
Nonreductive physicalism is currently one of the most widely held views about the world in general and about the status of the mental in particular. However, the view has recently faced a series of powerful criticisms from, among others, Jaegwon Kim. In several papers, Kim has argued that the nonreductivist's view of the mental is an unstable position, one harboring contradictions that push it either to reductivism or to eliminativism. The problems arise, Kim maintains, when we consider the causal powers (...) that mental properties are held to carry on the nonreductivist's view and the causal transactions into which mental events are said to enter. My aim here is less than that of defending nonreductive physicalism against all of Kim's criticisms. I wish primarily to call into question the claim that nonreductive physicalism is committed to emergentism with respect to the causal powers of the mental. As subsidiary points, I shall offer a limited defense of nonreductivism against two related objections that Kim raises. However, even if my conclusions are correct, problems remain for the nonreductivist's treatment of mental causation. I shall close the paper with a brief discussion of these difficulties. (shrink)
Most philosophers now accept that an agent may be responsible for an action even though she could not have acted otherwise. However, many who accept such a view about responsibility for actions nevertheless maintain that, when it comes to omissions, an agent is responsible only if she could have done what she omitted to do. If this Principle of Possible Action (PPA), as it is sometimes called, is correct, then there is an important asymmetry between what is required for responsibility (...) for actions and what is required for responsibility for omissions. However, I argue here that PPA is in fact false. It has been advanced on the basis of an insufficiently varied group of examples. Examination of a broader range of cases shows that responsibility for an omission sometimes is, and it sometimes is not, undermined by an inability to have acted. In Sections II and III, I offer two alternative principles to PPA governing ability and responsibility for omissions. (shrink)
To have free will is to have what it takes to act freely. When an agent acts freely—when she exercises her free will—what she does is up to her. A plurality of alternatives is open to her, and she determines which she pursues. When she does, she is an ultimate source or origin of her action. So runs a familiar conception of free will.