South African Journal of Philosophy 28 (2):124-133 (2009)

Lindsay Kelland
Rhodes University
In this paper I argue that we are never morally responsible for our actions in the sense that we justly deserve to be rewarded or punished for them. I examine two distinctions: (1) the distinction set out by Gary Watson between two distinct types of responsibility: accountability and attributability and (2) the distinction set out by Ted Honderich between origination and voluntariness. I argue that Watson’s distinction maps onto Honderich’s distinction in the sense that we can only properly be held accountable if we are the originators of our actions, and actions can be seen as attributable to us as their authors if they flow voluntarily from our endorsed beliefs, intentions and character. It seems to me that attributability and accountability can be held apart so that an action can be attributable to me without this necessarily entailing that I can properly be held accountable for it in the sense of deserving the type of praise and blame that entails retributive-style reward and punishment. I argue further that compatibilists can only properly defend the weaker attributability. If my argument is correct then the classic determinist divide collapses – since compatibilism can only properly defend voluntariness and attributability and both concepts are prima facie compatible with hard determinism. Given this (and given the standard failures of libertarianism) I argue that it is most plausible for us to be committed to a new position in the free will debate which combines the important insights of compatibilism with the intuitive force of hard determinism
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DOI 10.4314/sajpem.v28i2.46669
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