What Moral Responsibility Requires

Abstract

The primary goal of this dissertation is to articulate and defend a robust commonsense libertarian theory of moral responsibility; that moral agents are the causes, and owners, of their actions, and in virtue of this it is appropriate to hold them praiseworthy or blameworthy for what they do. Here, I critique and defend two commonsense principles concerning moral responsibility - the control principle, and the principle of alternate possibilities. In recent years these principles have come under attack from philosophers seeking to propose a theory of moral responsibility consistent with a deterministic worldview. The existence of moral luck would mean that the control principle is false; I argue that moral luck is impossible. Harry Frankfurt famously presents a supposed counter-example to the principle of alternate possibilities; I argue Frankfurt's case turns on an equivocation between alternate possibilities and alternate outcomes. I contend that moral responsibility requires an agent to have full control of her actions, to be the author of what she is praiseworthy or blameworthy for. This view requires indeterminism of a special kind, agent-causation, where something is an agentcause if and only if at a given time, it, and only it, determines its actions, and was not determined to act in this way by outside forces. Only agent-causes can be truly responsible for their actions because only the actions of agent-causes can be traced back to them and no further. And finally I argue we have good reason to believe we are such agent-causes.

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