This is a Tricky Situation: Situationism and Reasons-Responsiveness

The Journal of Ethics 21 (2):151-183 (2017)
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Situations are powerful: the evidence from experimental social psychology suggests that agents are hugely influenced by the situations they find themselves in, often without their knowing it. In our paper, we evaluate how situational factors affect our reasons-responsiveness, as conceived of by John Fischer and Mark Ravizza, and, through this, how they also affect moral responsibility. We argue that the situationist experiments suggest that situational factors impair, among other things, our moderate reasons-responsiveness, which is plausibly required for moral responsibility. However, even though we argue that situational factors lower the degree of our reasons-responsiveness, we propose that agents remain moderately reasons-responsive to the degree required for moral responsibility. Nonetheless, those affected by situational factors are arguably less morally responsible than those who are not subject to similar situational factors. We further evaluate an understanding of reasons-responsiveness which relativizes reasons-responsiveness to agents’ circumstances. We argue that the situationist data do not warrant this kind of divergence from Fischer’s and Ravizza’s account. We conclude by discussing what situationist experiments tell us about our relationship to non-reasons.



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Stephen Kearns
Florida State University

Citations of this work

Free Will, Self‐Creation, and the Paradox of Moral Luck.Kristin M. Mickelson - 2019 - Midwest Studies in Philosophy 43 (1):224-256.
Situationism, capacities and culpability.Adam Piovarchy - 2022 - Philosophical Studies 179 (6):1997-2027.
“Free will” is vague.Santiago Amaya - 2023 - Philosophical Issues 33 (1):7-21.

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References found in this work

Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior.John M. Doris - 2002 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
Causation and Free Will.Carolina Sartorio - 2016 - Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press UK.
Moral Character: An Empirical Theory.Christian B. Miller - 2013 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
Reasons as Evidence.Stephen Kearns & Daniel Star - 2009 - Oxford Studies in Metaethics 4:215-42.

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