Mark Johnston has recently argued that four-dimensionalist theories of persistence are incompatible with some of our most basic ethical and prudential principles. I argue that although Johnston’s arguments succeed on a worm-theoretic account of persistence, they fail on a stage-theoretic account. So much the worse, I conclude, for the worm theory.
It is often natural to compare two events by describing one as ‘more of a cause’ of some effect than the other. But what do such comparisons amount to, exactly? This paper aims to provide a guided tour of the recent literature on ‘degrees of causation’. Section 2 looks at what I call ‘dependence measures’, which arise from thinking of causes as difference‐makers. Section 3 looks at what I call ‘production measures’, which arise from thinking of causes as jointly sufficient (...) for their effects. Finally, section 4 examines the important question of whether there is any sense in which an agent is more responsible for an outcome in virtue of her action being more of a cause of it. I describe a puzzle that emerges from this question, and explore various strategies for resolving it. (shrink)
Are there ‘degrees of causation’? Yes and no: causation is not a scalar relation, but different causes can contribute to a causing of an effect to different extents. In this paper, I motivate a probabilistic analysis of an event’s degree of contribution to a causing of an effect and explore some of its consequences.
Much of our ordinary thought and talk about responsibility exhibits what I call the ‘pie fallacy’—the fallacy of thinking that there is a fixed amount of responsibility for every outcome, to be distributed among all those, if any, who are responsible for it. The pie fallacy is a fallacy, I argue, because how responsible an agent is for some outcome is fully grounded in facts about the agent, the outcome and the relationships between them; it does not depend, in particular, (...) on how responsible anyone else is for that same outcome. In this paper, I explore how the pie fallacy can arise by considering several different kinds of case in which two or more agents are responsible for the same outcome. I’ll end with some brief remarks on the potential consequences of my arguments for how to think about responsibility in war. (shrink)
In most cases, liability in tort law is all-or-nothing—a defendant is either fully liable or not at all liable for a claimant's loss. By contrast, this paper defends a causal theory of partial liability. I argue that a defendant should be held liable for a claimant's loss only to the degree to which the defendant's wrongdoing contributed to the causing of the loss. I ground this principle in a conception of tort law as a system of corrective justice and use (...) it to critically evaluate different mechanisms for “limiting” liability for consequences of wrongdoing and for “apportioning” liability between multiple wrongdoers. (shrink)
ABSTRACT Frankfurt cases are often presented as counterexamples to the principle that one is morally responsible for one’s action only if one could have acted otherwise. But ‘could have acted otherwise’ is context-sensitive; it’s therefore open to a proponent of this principle to reply that although there is a salient sense in which agents in Frankfurt-style cases couldn’t have acted otherwise, there’s another, different sense in which they could have, and it is this latter sense which is relevant to what (...) we are morally responsible for doing. In this paper, I will evaluate the prospects of this contextualist response. I will argue that despite some initial signs of promise, the response fails, for reasons that were clearly anticipated in Frankfurt’s original paper. (shrink)
This paper combines the ancient idea that causes necessitate their effects with Angelika Kratzer’s semantics of modality. On the resulting view, causal claims quantify over restricted domains of possible worlds determined by two contextually determined parameters. I argue that this view can explain a number of otherwise puzzling features of the way we use and evaluate causal language, including the difference between causing an effect and being a cause of it, the sensitivity of causal judgements to normative facts, and the (...) semantics of causal disagreements. (shrink)
It follows from David Lewis's counterpart-theoretic analysis of modality and his counterfactual theory of causation that causal claims are relativized to a set of counterpart relations. Call this Shlewis's view. I show how Shlewis's view can provide attractively unified solutions to similar modal and causal puzzles. I then argue that Shlewis's view is better motivated, by his own lights, than the view Lewis actually held, and also better motivated than a similar approach which relativizes causal claims to sets of ‘contrast (...) events’. (shrink)
Revisionist approaches to the ethics of war seem to imply that civilians on the unjust side of a conflict can be legitimate targets of defensive attack. In response, some authors have argued that although civilians do often causally contribute to unjustified global threats – by voting for war, writing propaganda articles, or manufacturing munitions, for example – their contributions are usually too ‘small’, or ‘remote’, to make them liable to be intentionally killed to avert the threat. What defenders of this (...) view lack, however, is a theory of causal contribution. This article sketches and defends a theory of causal contribution. We then apply it to the kinds of situation that defenders of the view are interested in. We argue, however, that since degrees of causal contribution turn out to be sensitive to particular features of the situation that are extrinsic to the agent's action, whether an agent makes a small or a large contribution to a threat may not only be very difficult to discern but in many cases may not line up very well with the kinds of intuition about liability that defenders of the view want to uphold. (shrink)
John Campbell has claimed that the interventionist account of causation must be amended if it is to be applied to causation in psychology. The problem, he argues, is that it follows from the so-called ‘surgical’ constraint that intervening on psychological states requires the suspension of the agent’s rational autonomy. In this paper, I argue that the problem Campbell identifies is in fact an instance of a wider problem for interventionism, extending beyond psychology, which I call the problem of ‘abrupt transitions’. (...) I then defend a solution to the problem, which replaces the surgical constraint with a weaker constraint on interventions that nevertheless does all the work the surgical constraint was designed to do. I conclude by exploring some interesting consequences of this weaker constraint for causation in psychology. (shrink)
Punishing someone for a crime before they have committed it is widely considered morally abhorrent. But there is little agreement on what exactly is supposed to be wrong with it. In this paper, I critically evaluate several objections to the permissibility of prepunishment, making points along the way about the connections between time, knowledge, desert, deterrence and duty. I conclude that, although the conditions under which it could permissibly be administered are unlikely ever to arise in practice, nevertheless in principle, (...) nothing is wrong with prepunishment after all. (shrink)
Is it possible to change the past—to make something that has happened not have happened? Past-alteration is widely believed to be ‘logically impossible’. But despite this, there have been few attempts to actually apply logical resources to the question of whether it is possible to change the past. This chapter articulates a novel tense logic and uses it to argue that past-alteration is possible—with just a single dimension of time—so long as it’s possible for time to have a certain kind (...) of structure: one which is ‘backwards-branching’ and in which the relation of precedence ‘comes apart’ from the relation of succession. The remainder of the chapter explores some of the metaphysical implications of this account of what it is to change the past. (shrink)
In his latest book Mechanical Choices, Michael Moore provides an explication and defence of the idea that responsibility comes in degrees. His account takes as its point of departure the view that free action and free will consist in the holding of certain counterfactuals. In this paper, I argue that Moore’s view faces several familiar counterexamples, all of which serve to motivate Harry Frankfurt’s classic insight that whether and to what extent one is responsible for one’s action has more to (...) do with what actually caused that action than with what one could or couldn’t have done instead. I then go on to sketch an alternative approach to degrees of responsibility that takes seriously this insight. I’ll argue that Moore ought to be sympathetic to this approach, inasmuch as it combines two familiar Moorean ideas: the idea that causal contribution comes in degrees, and the idea that acting freely is compatible with, and indeed entails, the fact that one’s action was caused by prior states of affairs. (shrink)
I defend an iterated knowledge condition on responsibility for outcomes: one is responsible for a consequence of one's action only if one was in a position to know that, for all one was in a position to know, one's action would have that consequence.
Accomplice liability makes people guilty of crimes they knowingly helped or encouraged others to commit, even if they did not commit the crime themselves. But this method of criminalizing aiders and abettors is fraught with problems. In this chapter, I argue that accomplice liability in the criminal law should be replaced with a system in which agents are criminalized on the basis of their individual contributions to causings of harm—the larger the contribution, the more severe the crime—regardless of whether those (...) contributions were made “through” the actions of another person. Not only would this avoid the issues associated with making the guilt of accomplices parasitic on the guilt of the principal, it would also fill gaps in the law concerning other cases to which accomplice liability does not apply. (shrink)