This year marks the 80 th anniversary of Clarence Darrow’s brilliant and passionate defense of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two wealthy teenagers who pled guilty to the kidnapping and murder of 14 year old Bobby Franks. On August 22, 1924 Darrow gave his famous twelve hour closing statement, bringing tears to the eyes of the presiding judge and saving his clients from the death penalty. Here are two excerpts from the summation.
Michael Smith’s The Moral Problem gives an admirably straightforward condition for moral rightness: an act is morally right in circumstance C only if under conditions of full rationality we would all want to perform that act. I will assume that this condition, if met, would make acts objectively right and therefore vindicate a robust form of metaethical realism. There remains the question, however, of whether this condition can be met. Smith considers several arguments that it cannot, and this paper will (...) argue that his response to one of them— Gilbert Harman’s “successful criminal” argument—is inadequate. Clear and straightforward as it is, Smith’s condition for moral rightness is deceptively strong for it requires a full convergence of desires. It appears that moral facts can exist only if there is unanimous agreement about how we would want to behave if we were fully rational. The unanimity requirement leaves Smith vulnerable to sensible knave style objections. If someone can be fully rational yet not desire to perform acts in accordance with morality, then according to Smith’s account, we should be skeptical about the existence of moral facts. Harman presents such an objection in the form of a successful criminal who does not observe the alleged requirement not to harm or injure people outside of his criminal organization. Most importantly, the criminal’s disregard of outsiders is not due to inattention, failure to consider or appreciate certain arguments, ignorance of relevant evidence, errors in reasoning, irrationality, unreasonableness, or weakness of will. If this criminal is truly rational and still desires to steal.. (shrink)
Theories of moral desert focus only on the personal culpability of the agent to determine the amount of blame and punishment the agent deserves. I defend an alternative account of desert, one that does not focus only facts about offenders and their offenses. In this revised framework, personal culpability can do no more than set upper and lower limits for deserved blame and punishment. For more precise judgments within that spectrum, additional factors must be considered, factors that are independent of (...) the agent and the offense. I refer to this as the ‘partial conception’ of desert because takes facts about victims—their behavior, desires, and attitudes—into account for desert judgments. On my view, then, agents who are equally culpable may deserve different amounts of blame or punishment, depending on these victim-related factors. (shrink)
Experimental philosophy is a new interdisciplinary field that uses methods normally associated with psychology to investigate questions normally associated with philosophy. The present review focuses on research in experimental philosophy on four central questions. First, why is it that people's moral judgments appear to influence their intuitions about seemingly nonmoral questions? Second, do people think that moral questions have objective answers, or do they see morality as fundamentally relative? Third, do people believe in free will, and do they see free (...) will as compatible with determinism? Fourth, how do people determine whether an entity is conscious? (shrink)
[Publisher's description:] When can we be morally responsible for our behavior? Is it fair to blame people for actions that are determined by heredity and environment? Can we be responsible for the actions of relatives or members of our community? In this provocative book, Tamler Sommers concludes that there are no objectively correct answers to these questions. Drawing on research in anthropology, psychology, and a host of other disciplines, Sommers argues that cross-cultural variation raises serious problems for theories that propose (...) universally applicable conditions for moral responsibility. He then develops a new way of thinking about responsibility that takes cultural diversity into account. -/- Relative Justice is a novel and accessible contribution to the ancient debate over free will and moral responsibility. Sommers provides a thorough examination of the methodology employed by contemporary philosophers in the debate and a challenge to Western assumptions about individual autonomy and its connection to moral desert. (shrink)
Experimental philosophy has received a great deal of attention in scholarly journals and the popular media. Often the topic of these articles is precisely what I claim is a non-issue – the value of experimental philosophy as a movement. And here I am writing about this same topic yet again. But I am not going to provide another argument for an obvious position. Instead, I’m writing this as an obituary – an obituary for the so-called controversy about experimental philosophy, and (...) an attempt to diagnose how it lived as long as it did. (shrink)
This paper develops a sympathetic critique of recent experimental work on free will and moral responsibility. Section 1 offers a brief defense of the relevance of experimental philosophy to the free will debate. Section 2 reviews a series of articles in the experimental literature that probe intuitions about the "compatibility question"—whether we can be free and morally responsible if determinism is true. Section 3 argues that these studies have produced valuable insights on the factors that influence our judgments on the (...) compatibility question, but that their general approach suffers from significant practical and philosophical difficulties. Section 4 reviews experimental work addressing other aspects of the free will/moral responsibility debate, and section 5 concludes with a discussion of avenues for further research. (shrink)
A collection of long, detailed interviews with philosophers and scientists who work on issues in ethics and moral psychology. The researchers interviewed include Galen Strawson, Philiip Zimbardo, Stephen Stich, Jonathan Haidt, Frans De Waal, Michael Ruse, Joshua Greene, Liane Young, Joe Henrich, and William Ian Miller.
Retributive emotions and behavior are thought to be adaptive for their role in improving social coordination. However, since retaliation is generally not in the short-term interests of the individual, rational self-interest erodes the motivational link between retributive emotions and the accompanying adaptive behavior. I argue that two different sets of norms have emerged to reinforce this link: (1) norms about honor and (2) norms about moral responsibility and desert. I observe that the primary difference between these types of retribution motivators (...) lies in where the normative focus is placed after an offense. In the first form of retribution, the normative focus is on the offended party. In the second, it is on the offender. Next, I show how each class of norms is well tailored to the particular features of the environment in which these forms of retributive behavior emerge. Finally, I consider some philosophical implications of these observations. I suggest that my account, if correct, would pose tough challenges for contemporary philosophical theories of moral responsibility and punishment. (shrink)
1. “All Theory is Against Free Will…” Powerful arguments have been leveled against the concepts of free will and moral responsibility since the Greeks and perhaps earlier. Some—the hard determinists—aim to show that free will is incompatible with determinism, and that determinism is true. Therefore there is no free will. Others, the “no-free-will-either-way-theorists,” agree that determinism is incompatible with free will, but add that indeterminism, especially the variety posited by quantum physicists, is also incompatible with free will. Therefore there is (...) no free will. Finally, there are the a priori arguments against free will. These arguments conclude that it makes no difference what metaphysical commitments we hold: free will and ultimate moral responsibility are incoherent concepts. Why? Because in order to have free will and ultimate moral responsibility we would have to be causa sui, or ‘cause of oneself.’ And it is logically impossible to be self-caused in this way. Here, for example, is Nietzsche on the causa sui. (shrink)
I aim to alleviate the pessimism with which some philosophers regard the 'objective attitude', thereby removing a particular obstacle which P.F. Strawson and others have placed in the way of more widespread scepticism about moral responsibility. First, I describe what I consider the objective attitude to be, and then address concerns about this raised by Susan Wolf. Next, I argue that aspects of certain attitudes commonly thought to be opposed to the objective attitude are in fact compatible with it. Finally, (...) I examine the prospects of someone who wishes to adopt the objective attitude permanently. In response to philosophers who claim that this would be psychologically impossible, I argue that our commitment to attitudes that presuppose moral responsibility can soften and fade, often without our noticing it. (shrink)
No one has expressed the destructive power of Darwinian theory more effectively than Daniel Dennett. Others have recognized that the theory of evolution offers us a universal acid, but Dennett, bless his heart, coined the term. Many have appreciated that the mechanism of random variation and natural selection is a substrate-neutral algorithm that operates at every level of organization from the macromolecular to the mental, at every time scale from the geological epoch to the nanosecond. But it took Dennett to (...) express the idea in a polysyllable or two. These two features of Darwinism undermine more wishful thinking about the way the world is than any other brace of notions since mechanism was vindicated in physics. (shrink)
In this paper I challenge the core of David Chalmers' argument against materialism-the claim that "there is a logically possible world physically identical to ours, in which the positive facts about consciousness do not hold." First, I analyze the move from conceivability to logical possibility. Following George Seddon, I consider the case of a floating iron bar and argue that even this seemingly conceivable event has implicit logical contradictions in its description. I then show that the distinctions Chalmers employs between (...) primary and secondary intensions, and a priori and a posteriori entailment, break down upon close examination-with iron bars and with consciousness it is impossible to know where primary intensions end and secondary intensions begin. I extend this analysis of logical possibility to the famous zombie thought experiment and conclude not that a zombie world is logically impossible, but rather that, at present, the question is open. Finally, I show how a similar line of argument may be used to undermine the "Mary the color scientist" thought experiment as well. (shrink)