This essay explores a conception of responsibility at work in moral and criminal responsibility. Our conception draws on work in the compatibilist tradition that focuses on the choices of agents who are reasons-responsive and work in criminal jurisprudence that understands responsibility in terms of the choices of agents who have capacities for practical reason and whose situation affords them the fair opportunity to avoid wrongdoing. Our conception brings together the dimensions of normative competence and situational control, and we factor normative (...) competence into cognitive and volitional capacities, which we treat as equally important to normative competence and responsibility. Normative competence and situational control can and should be understood as expressing a common concern that blame and punishment presuppose that the agent had a fair opportunity to avoid wrongdoing. This fair opportunity is the umbrella concept in our understanding of responsibility, one that explains it distinctive architecture. (shrink)
The prospects for moral realism and ethical naturalism have been important parts of recent debates within metaethics. As a first approximation, moral realism is the claim that there are facts or truths about moral matters that are objective in the sense that they obtain independently of the moral beliefs or attitudes of appraisers. Ethical naturalism is the claim that moral properties of people, actions, and institutions are natural, rather than occult or supernatural, features of the world. Though these metaethical debates (...) remain unsettled, several people, myself included, have tried to defend the plausibility of both moral realism and ethical naturalism. I, among others, have appealed to recent work in the philosophy of language—in particular, to so-called theories of “direct reference” —to defend ethical naturalism against a variety of semantic worries, including G. E. Moore's “open question argument.” In response to these arguments, critics have expressed doubts about the compatibility of moral realism and direct reference. In this essay, I explain these doubts, and then sketch the beginnings of an answer—but understanding both the doubts and my answer requires some intellectual background. (shrink)
SOME THINK THAT MORAL REALISTS CANNOT RECOGNIZE THE PRACTICAL OR ACTION-GUIDING CHARACTER OF MORALITY AND SO REJECT MORAL REALISM. THIS FORM OF ANTI-REALISM DEPENDS UPON AN INTERNALIST MORAL PSYCHOLOGY. BUT AN EXTERNALIST MORAL PSYCHOLOGY IS MORE PLAUSIBLE AND ALLOWS THE REALIST A SENSIBLE EXPLANATION OF THE ACTION-GUIDING CHARACTER OF MORALITY. CONSIDERATION OF THE PRACTICAL CHARACTER OF MORALITY, THEREFORE, DOES NOT UNDERMINE AND, INDEED, SUPPORTS MORAL REALISM.
Consequentialism is often criticized for failing to accommodate impersonal constraints and personal options. A common consequentialist response is to acknowledge the anticonsequentialist intuitions but to argue either that the consequentialist can, after all, accommodate the allegedly recalcitrant intuitions or that, where accommodation is impossible, the recalcitrant intuition can be dismissed for want of an adequate philosophical rationale. Whereas these consequentialist responses have some plausibility, associational duties represent a somewhat different challenge to consequentialism, inasmuch as they embody neither impersonal constraints nor (...) personal options, but rather personal constraints. Our intuitions about associational duties resist capture within the intellectual net of consequentialism, and such duties do admit of a philosophical rationale at least as plausible as anything the consequentialist has to offer. (shrink)
The situationist literature in psychology claims that conduct is not determined by character and reflects the operation of the agent’s situation or environment. For instance, due to situational factors, compassionate behavior is much less common than we might have expected from people we believe to be compassionate. This article focuses on whether situationism should revise our beliefs about moral responsibility. It assesses situationism’s implications against the backdrop of a conception of responsibility that is grounded in norms about the fair opportunity (...) to avoid wrongdoing that require that agents be normatively competent and possess situational control. Despite the low incidence of compassionate behavior revealed in situationist studies, situationism threatens neither situational control nor normative competence. Nonetheless situationism may force revision in our views about responsibility in particular contexts, such as wartime wrongdoing. Whereas a good case can be made that the heat of battle can create situational pressures that significantly impair normative competence and thus sometimes provide a full or partial excuse, there is reason to be skeptical of attempts to generalize this excuse to other contexts of wartime wrongdoing. If so, moral responsibility can take situationism on board without capsizing the boat. (shrink)
This contribution reconstructs and assesses Gideon Yaffe’s claims in his book Attempts about what constitutes an attempt, what can count as evidence that an attempt has been made, whether abandonment is a genuine defense, and whether attempts should be punished less severely than completed crimes. I contrast Yaffe’s account of being motivated by an intention and the completion of an attempt in terms of the truth of the completion counterfactual with an alternative picture of attempts as temporally extended decision trees (...) that are complete insofar as the agent has progressed toward the final act in the tree. I suggest that this alternative scalar conception of attempt may provide a more plausible account of the defense of abandonment. I also raise questions about whether Yaffe has provided an adequate justification of his mix of luck skepticism about censure and luck realism about punishment. (shrink)
Prudence and authenticity are sometimes seen as rival virtues. Prudence,as traditionally conceived, is temporally neutral. It attaches no intrinsic significance to the temporal location of benefits or harms within the agent’s life; the prudent agent should be equally concerned about all parts of her life. But people’s values and ideals often change over time, sometimes in predictable ways, as when middle age and parenthood often temporize youthful radicalism or spontaneity with concerns for comfort,security, and predictability. In situations involving diachronic, intrapersonal (...) conflicts of value, prudence—in particular,temporal neutrality—appears to require the agent to subordinate her current ideals to her future ones or at least to moderate pursuit of current ideals in light of future ones. But this demand may seem to sacrifice authenticity, if we suppose that authenticity requires acting on the ideals that the agent reflectively and sincerely accepts at the time of action. This tension between prudence and authenticity raises interesting questions about temporal neutrality, the structure of intrapersonal conflicts of value, the nature of ideals, and the demands of authenticity. After examining various aspects of this puzzle, I defend the commitments of prudence in situations involving intrapersonal value conflict and argue that authenticity—understood as being true to oneself— actually supports temporal neutrality. I conclude by suggesting how this defense of prudence lends credibility to the more general demand of temporal neutrality. (shrink)
This essay articulates a conception of responsibility and excuse in terms of the fair opportunity to avoid wrongdoing and explores its implications for insanity, incompetence, and psychopathy. The fair opportunity conception factors responsibility into conditions of normative competence and situational control and factors normative competence into cognitive and volitional capacities. This supports a conception of incompetence that recognizes substantial impairment of either cognitive or volitional capacities as excusing, provided the agent is not substantially responsible for her own incompetence. This conception (...) helps frame the question whether psychopathy is excusing. The most common rationale for excusing psychopathy appeals to claims about cognitive incompetence. However, there are good philosophical and empirical reasons to be skeptical that psychopaths lack the relevant cognitive capacities. There is more to be said for a volitional rationale for excuse. The crucial question here is whether the problems psychopaths have with impulse control and conforming their behavior to the relevant moral and criminal norms are systematic enough to demonstrate genuine volitional incompetence. The available empirical evidence should leave us skeptical about the merits of this volitional rationale for excuse. (shrink)
Whether morality has rational authority is an open question insofar as we can seriously entertain conceptions of morality and practical reason according to which it need not be contrary to reason to fail to conform to moral requirements. Doubts about the authority of morality are especially likely to arise for those who hold a broadly prudential view of rationality. It is common to think of morality as including various other-regarding duties of cooperation, forbearance, and aid. Most of us also regard (...) moral obligations as authoritative practical considerations. But heeding these obligations appears sometimes to constrain the agent's pursuit of his own interests or aims. If we think of rationality in prudential terms–as what would promote the agent's own interests–we may wonder whether moral conduct is always rationally justifiable. Indeed, we do not need to think of rationality in exclusively prudential terms to raise this worry. The worry can arise even if there are impartial reasons–that is, nonderivative reasons to promote the welfare of others. (shrink)
Hate speech employs discriminatory epithets to insult and stigmatize others on the basis of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or other forms of group membership. The regulation of hate speech is deservedly controversial, in part because debates over hate speech seem to have teased apart libertarian and egalitarian strands within the liberal tradition. In the civil rights movements of the 1960s, libertarian concerns with freedom of movement and association and equal opportunity pointed in the same direction as egalitarian concerns with (...) eradicating racial discrimination and the social and economic inequalities that this discrimination maintained. But debates over hate speech regulation seem to force one to give priority to equality or to liberty. On the one hand, egalitarian concerns may seem to require restricting freedom of expression. Hate speech is an expression of discriminatory attitudes that have a long, ugly, and sometimes violent history. As such, hate speech is deeply offensive to its victims and socially divisive. Though one might well be reluctant to restrict speech, it might seem that the correct response to hate speech, as with other forms of discrimination, is regulation. On the other hand, libertarian concerns may seem to constrain the pursuit of equality. Though one may abhor hate speech and its effects, the cure might seem at least as bad as the disease. Freedoms of expression are among our most fundamental liberties. Offensive ideas are part of the price one must pay to protect these constitutional rights. (shrink)
Consideration of the objection from the personal point of view reveals the resources of utilitarianism. The utilitarian can offer a partial rebuttal by distinguishing between criteria of rightness and decision procedures and claiming that, because his theory is a criterion of rightness and not a decision procedure, he can justify agents' differential concern for their own welfare and the welfare of those close to them. The flexibility in utilitarianism's theory of value allows further rebuttal of this objection; objective versions of (...) utilitarianism can treat self-determination or autonomy as a dominant good which trumps even large magnitudes of lesser goods such as pleasure. After the resources of utilitarianism are exhausted, though, there remains a worry, generated by the personal point of view, about utilitarianism's impartiality. But this worry is correctly viewed, not as a moral worry about the merits of utilitarianism as a moral theory, but as a worry about morality concerning the rationality or supremacy of impartial moral demands. Whether or not this worry can be answered, the fact that it arises supports rather than undermines a utilitarian account of morality. (shrink)
We have looked at worries about expressivism and other forms of noncognitivism. The externalist solution may also seem to be a solution of last resort, because it may seem to deny the platitude that moral judgments are motivationally efficacious. For this reason, we might look seriously at rationalist theories of moral motivation, because they promise to represent moral judgments as intrinsically motivational without giving up cognitivism.
This article examines whether a retributivist conception of punishment implies legal moralism and asks what liberalism implies about retributivism and moralism. It makes a case for accepting the weak retributivist thesis that culpable wrongdoing creates a pro tanto case for blame and punishment and the weak moralist claim that moral wrongdoing creates a pro tanto case for legal regulation. This weak moralist claim is compatible with the liberal claim that the legal enforcement of morality is rarely all‐thing‐considered desirable. Though weak (...) moralism has some plausibility, it does not follow from weak retributivism if legitimate state functions are limited in certain ways. (shrink)
This essay situates some recent empirical research on the origin, nature, role, and reliability of moral intuitions against the background of nineteenth-century debates between ethical naturalism and rational intuitionism. The legitimate heir to Millian naturalism is the contemporary method of reflective equilibrium and its defeasible reliance on moral intuitions. Recent doubts about moral intuitions—worries that they reflect the operation of imperfect cognitive heuristics, are resistant to undermining evidence, are subject to framing effects, and are variable—are best addressed by ethical naturalism (...) as part of a broad dialectical equilibrium. (shrink)
This argument would show weak internalism to be a conceptual truth. But this argument is not compelling. Sometimes when we say that I have a reason to φ, we mean • (a) There is a behavioral norm that enjoins φ-ing and applies to me. In this sense of reason, moral norms do imply reasons. There are as many kinds of reasons as there are norms, including moral reasons, legal reasons, reasons of etiquette. But we often have something more in mind (...) in ascribing reasons. (shrink)
It is common to regard love, friendship, and other associational ties to others as an important part of a happy or flourishing life. This would be easy enough to understand if we focused on friendships based on pleasure, or associations, such as business partnerships, predicated on mutual advantage. For then we could understand in a straightforward way how these interpersonal relationships would be valuable for someone involved in such relationships just insofar as they caused her pleasure or causally promoted her (...) own independent interests. But many who regard love, friendship, and other associational ties as an important part of a happy or flourishing life suppose that in many sorts of associations—especially intimate associations—the proper attitude among associates is concern for the other for the other's own sake, not just for the pleasure or benefits one can extract from one's associates. It is fairly clear how having friends of this sort is beneficial. What is less clear is how being a friend of this sort might contribute to one's own happiness or well-being. Even if we can explain this, it looks as if the contribution that friendship makes to one's happiness could not be the reason one has to care for friends, for that would seem to make one's concern for others instrumental, not a concern for the other for her own sake. (shrink)
Our puzzle about moral motivation can be seen as a tension that we encounter when we try to reconcile intellectual and practical aspects of morality. Cognitivists interpret moral judgments as expressing cognitive attitudes, such as belief. Moral judgments ascribe properties – axiological, deontic, and aretaic – to persons, actions, institutions, and policies. Internalists believe that moral judgments necessarily engage the will and motivate. We expect people to be motivated to act in accord with their moral judgments and would find it (...) odd for people to be systematically indifferent to what they judge morally significant. It is also a common view that motivation involves pro-attitudes, such as desires. We explain intentional action as the product of informational states, such as beliefs, and practical states, such as desires. But beliefs and desires are logically independent states; no belief entails any particular desire. These assumptions are in tension. (shrink)
I argue that disputes within constitutional theory about whether recent supreme court decisions exceed the scope of legitimate judicial review and disputes within legal theory about the nature and determinacy of law are best seen and assessed as disputes over the nature of legal interpretation. I criticize the interpretive assumptions on which these disputes generally depend and defend a theory of interpretation which tends to vindicate the determinacy of law even in hard cases and the style of recent court decisions (...) which many critics find troublesome. (shrink)
The situationist literature in psychology claims that conduct is not determined by character and reflects the operation of the agent's situation or environment. For instance, due to situational factors, compassionate behavior is much less common than we might have expected from people we believe to be compassionate. This article focuses on whether situationism should revise our beliefs about moral responsibility. It assesses the implications of situationism against the backdrop of a conception of responsibility that is grounded in norms about the (...) fair opportunity to avoid wrongdoing that require that agents to be normatively competent and possess situational control. Despite the low incidence of compassionate behavior revealed in situationist studies, situationism threatens neither situational control nor normative competence. Nonetheless situationism may force revision of our views about responsibility in particular contexts, such as wartime wrongdoing. Whereas a good case can be made that the heat of battle can create situational pressures that significantly impair normative competence and thus sometimes provide a full or partial excuse, there is reason to be skeptical of attempts to generalize this excuse to other contexts of wartime wrongdoing. If so, moral responsibility can take situationism on board without capsizing the boat. (shrink)
In The Sources of Normativity (1996) Christine Korsgaard provides a dialectical examination of different conceptions of the sources of normativity or reasons -- conceptions that appeal to voluntarism, realism, and reflective endorsement -- that culminates in her own Kantian or neo- Kantian conception of normativity that is grounded in autonomy. Her method is dialectical (Dialectical) inasmuch as her neo-Kantian conception is supposed to reveal the truth or grain of truth in each of the three prior conceptions. Korsgaard begins Lecture 1 (...) with a statement of the main problems that arise in connection with the normativity of ethics. She factors normative adequacy into answers to two kinds of problems (12-13). (shrink)
Thomas Nagel's The Possibility of Altruism (1970) is one of the few sustained attempts to reject instrumental and prudential conceptions of practical reason and to defend the possibility of practical reason that is impartial or altruistic. Nagel makes claims about both moral motivation and practical reason, and each claim has both negative and positive constituents.
Doubts about the adequacy of appeals to impartial practical reason give those with rationalist sympathies reason to explore the metaphysical, and not merely strategic, reconciliation of prudence and altruism contained in metaphysical egoism. Even if we recognize impartial practical reason, the supremacy of moral demands may depend upon the plausibility of metaphysical egoism. For as long as we recognize the demands of prudence, the conflict between altruism and prudence will threaten altruism's supremacy. We might consider one version of metaphysical egoism (...) that appeals to psychological reductionism about personal identity and exploits some Platonic and Aristotelian analogies between intrapersonal and interpersonal relations and concern. (shrink)
All forms of consequentialism make the moral assessment of alternatives depend in some way on the value of the alternatives, but they form a heterogeneous family of moral theories. Some employ subjective assumptions about value, while others employ objective assumptions. Some assess the value of alternatives directly, while others assess value indirectly. Some direct agents to maximize value, while others direct agents to satisfice. Some, such as utilitarianism, are impartial and concerned to promote agent-neutral value, while others, such as self-referential (...) altruism and perfectionist egoism, are partial and concerned to promote agent-relative value. This chapter focuses on the contrast between agent-neutral and agent-relative consequentialism. The chief attraction of agent-neutral consequentialism lies in its interpretation of impartiality. This interpretation is robust, and has the resources to answer criticisms that it cannot accommodate agent-relative constraints and options. However, it is difficult to fit associated duties into the intellectual net of agent-neutral consequentialism. Accommodating partiality requires an agent-relative form of consequentialism. (shrink)
Given these worries about strategic ethical egoism, we might conclude that morality and rationality are two independent points of view. We might agree that morality is impartial but insist that practical reason is instrumental or prudential. If so, we can see how there might be conflicts between practical reason and other-regarding morality, because other-regarding duties need not always advance the agent's own aims and interests. If there can be such conflicts, then immoral action is not necessarily irrational. If so, we (...) should reject the rationalist element in the problematic about the authority of morality. On this view, the authority, but not the scope or content, of morality depends on the aims or interests of agents. (shrink)
A cognitivist interpretation of moral inquiry treats it, like other kinds of inquiry, as aiming at true belief. A dialectical conception of moral inquiry represents the justification for a given moral belief as consisting in its intellectual fit with other beliefs, both moral and nonmoral. The essay appeals to semantic considerations to defend cognitivism as a default metaethical view; it defends a dialectical conception of moral inquiry by examining Sidgwick's ambivalence about the probative value of appeal to common moral beliefs (...) or intuitions. The essay then addresses two main concerns about the compatibility of cognitivist and dialectical conceptions of moral inquiry. The probative value of moral intuitions requires that they be sufficiently approximately true. The individual and collective benefits of regulating our interactions by norms like those of commonsense morality help explain how we can view ourselves as sufficiently reliable detectors of moral properties. But the probative value of moral intuitions may also seem threatened by the existence of pervasive moral disagreement both within and between cultures. However, a dialectical conception of moral inquiry has resources for resolving moral disagreement; in fact, the dialectical examination of diverse moral perspectives contributes to the justification of moral beliefs. (shrink)
David Brink presents a study of T. H. Green's Prolegomena to Ethics (1883), a classic of British idealism. Green develops a perfectionist ethical theory that brings together the best elements in the ancient and modern traditions and that provides the moral foundations for Green's own influential brand of liberalism. Brink's book situates the Prolegomena in its intellectual context, examines its main themes, and explains Green's enduring significance for the history of ethics and contemporary ethical theory.
Write a short paper, approximately 6-8 pages, on one of the following topics. (Some of these topics could also be considered for the longer paper. Some might be better suited for a short paper and some might be better suited for a long paper, but most could be adapted (narrowed or expanded) to work for either purpose.) It is possible to write on another topic, if you prefer, but it is necessary to meet with me in advance and to agree (...) on the contours of an alternate topic. This paper is due in class on Wednesday, May 2. (Students wishing to write the longer paper first should consult with me to okay their topic and set up a different timetable.) Students are welcome to consult me on the topics and readings associated with their papers. (shrink)
What role, if any, should our moral intuitions play in moral epistemology? We make, or are prepared to make, moral judgments about a variety of actual and hypothetical situations. Some of these moral judgments are more informed, reflective, and stable than others ; some we make more confidently than others; and some, though not all, are judgments about which there is substantial consensus. What bearing do our moral judgments have on philosophical ethics and the search for first principles in ethics? (...) Should these judgments constrain, or be constrained by, philosophical theorizing about morality? On the one hand, we might expect first principles to conform to our moral intuitions or at least to our considered moral judgments. After all, we begin the reflection that may lead to first principles from particular moral convictions. And some of our moral intuitions are more fixed and compelling than any putative first principle. If so, we might expect common moral beliefs to have an important evidential role in the construction and assessment of first principles. On the other hand, common moral beliefs often rest on poor information, reflect bias, or are otherwise mistaken. We often appeal to moral principles to justify our particular moral convictions or to resolve our disagreements. Insofar as this is true, we may expect first principles to provide a foundation on the basis of which to test common moral beliefs and, where necessary, form new moral convictions. (shrink)