Manipulating Responsibility

Abstract

Manipulation arguments have become almost a cottage industry in the moral responsibility literature. These cases are used for a variety of purposes, familiarly to undermine some proffered set of conditions on responsibility, usually compatibilist conditions. The basic idea is to conceive of a case which intuitively includes responsibility-undermining manipulation but which meets the target account’s set of sufficient conditions on responsibility. The manipulation thereby serves as a counterexample to the target theory. More specifically, recent concern with manipulation cases has often been part of an argument for historical conditions on moral responsibility. Exercising control over an action is not necessarily enough to be responsible for it, one must have come to exercise that control in a non-deviant way. Manipulation cases are meant to illustrate how an agent can exercise the supposed sufficient control over an action, and yet intuitively fail to be responsible as a result of some manipulation. The argument concludes that manipulation of this sort must then be ruled out by one’s conditions on responsibility. Accounts that fail to rule out such manipulation are objectionable as a result. Manipulation arguments usually fit a general schema.1 One presents a case intuitively involving responsibility-undermining manipulation, but where all the conditions of the target account are met. Then one argues that there is no relevant difference between that case and ordinary action under the target account. Thus, one can conclude, the target account gets the wrong verdict for manipulation cases. Some variations on this schema seek a slightly grander conclusion. For example, some incompatibilists argue from the manipulation case through a principle that claims there to be no relevant difference between such a case and ordinary action in a deterministic universe. Thus, the conclusion reached is that if determinism is true, all responsibility is undermined.

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Matt King
University of Alabama, Birmingham

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