Manipulation by another person often undermines freedom. To explain this, a distinction is drawn between two forms of manipulation: indoctrination is defined as causing another person to respond to reasons in a pattern that serves the manipulator’s ends; coercion as supplying another person with reasons that, given the pattern in which he responds to reasons, lead him to act in ways that serve the manipulator’s ends. It is argued that both forms of manipulation undermine freedom because manipulators track the compliance (...) of their victims, while neutral causal mechanisms do not. Manipulators see to it that their victims comply even in the face of forces that threaten to derail them from the manipulator’s desired course. It is suggested that this has an impact on freedom because part of what we desire in wanting to be free is the availability of forms of life very different from those we actually enjoy. (shrink)
Gideon Yaffe presents a ground-breaking work which demonstrates the importance of philosophy of action for the law. Many people are serving sentences not for completing crimes, but for trying to. Yaffe's clear account of what it is to try to do something promises to resolve the difficulties courts face in the adjudication of attempted crimes.
Manifest Activity presents and critically examines the model of human power, the will, our capacities for purposeful conduct, and the place of our agency in the natural world of one of the most important and traditionally under-appreciated philosophers of the 18th century: Thomas Reid. For Reid, contrary to the view of many of his predecessors, it is simply manifest that we are active with respect to our behaviours; it is manifest, he thinks, that our actions are not merely remote products (...) of forces that lie outside of our control. Reid holds, instead, that actions are all and only those events that spring from active power and he produces insightful and imaginative arguments for the claim that only a creature with a mind is capable of having active power. He believes that only human beings, and creatures 'above us', are capable of directing events towards ends, of endowing them with purpose or direction, the distinctive feature of action. However, he also holds that all events, and not merely human actions, are products of active power, power possessed either by human beings or by God. This collection of theses leads Reid to the view that human behaviour and the progress of nature are both essentially teleological. Patterns in nature are the products of laws of which God is the author; patterns in human conduct are the products of character and the laws that individuals set for themselves. Manifest Activity examines Reid's arguments for this view and the view's implications for the nature of character, motivation and the special kind of causation involved in the production of human behavior. (shrink)
Under the “Willful Ignorance Principle,” a defendant is guilty of a crime requiring knowledge he lacks provided he is ignorant thanks to having earlier omitted inquiry. In this paper, I offer a novel justification of this principle through application of the theory that knowledge matters to culpability because of how the knowing action manifests the agent’s failure to grant sufficient weight to other people’s interests. I show that, under a simple formal model that supports this theory, omitting inquiry manifests precisely (...) the same degree of disregard of others’ interests as manifested in knowingly acting criminally. Several surprising implications of this view are described, including that when the agent’s method of inquiry has a non-zero false positive rate, his omission of inquiry does not make the same contribution to his culpability as knowledge, while it does, by contrast, when the false negative rate is non-zero. (shrink)
In his 'Inquiry', Reid claims, against Berkeley, that there is a science of the perspectival shapes of objects ('visible figures'): they are geometrically equivalent to shapes projected onto the surfaces of spheres. This claim should be understood as asserting that for every theorem regarding visible figures there is a corresponding theorem regarding spherical projections; the proof of the theorem regarding spherical projections can be used to construct a proof of the theorem regarding visible figures, and vice versa. I reconstruct Reid's (...) argument for this claim, and expose its mathematical underpinnings: it is successful, and depends on no empirical assumptions to which he was not entitled about the workings of the human eye. I also argue that, although Reid may or may not have been aware of it, the geometry of spherical projections is not the only geometry of visible figure. (shrink)
In Michael Moore's important book Causation and Responsibility, he holds that causal contribution matters to responsibility independently of its relevance to action. We are responsible for our actions, according to Moore, because where there is action, we typically also find the kind of causal contribution that is crucial for responsibility. But it is causation, and not action, that bears the normative weight. This paper assesses this claim and argues that Moore's reasons for it are unconvincing. It is suggested that sometimes (...) a person's responsibility for that to which he causally contributes depends on his recognition of an identity between himself and the protagonist of the event for which he is held responsible. Since this fact about identity is not captured by causal contribution, action matters to responsibility for reasons that are not exhausted by the fact that action involves causal contribution. The relevance of this idea for accomplice liability is also briefly discussed. (shrink)
Locke claimed that God superadded various powers to matter, including motion, the perfections of peach trees and elephants, gravity, and that he could superadd thought. Various interpreters have discussed the question whether Locke's claims about superaddition are in tension with his commitment to mechanistic explanation. This literature assumes that for Locke mechanistic explanation involves deducibility. We argue that this is an inaccurate interpretation and that mechanistic explanation involves a different type of intelligibility for Locke.
Whether we understand it descriptively or normatively, the slogan that ignorance of the law is no excuse is false. Our legal system sometimes excuses those who are ignorant of the law on those grounds and should. Still, the slogan contains a grain of truth; mistakes of law excuse less readily than mistakes of fact, and ought to. This paper explains the asymmetry by identifying a principle of excuse of the form “If defendant D has a false belief that p and (...) _____, then D is excused”, which has the following feature: it is true frequently when p is a non-legal proposition, but it is false often when p is a proposition about the law. Under this principle of excuse, mistakes excuse by showing the agent to have acceptable commitments for recognizing, weighing, and responding to reasons. Many mistakes of fact show this; they show that the agent’s deliberation led to objectionable action because of faulty inputs and not to fault in the deliberation itself. Mistakes of law, by contrast, frequently indicate that the agent has faulty commitments when it comes to legal reasons; they therefore do not provide excuse under the proposed principle of excuse. It is argued that this explanation of the asymmetry between mistakes of fact and law takes us a great distance towards explaining the relevance of mental state to responsibility, an issue of great importance to moral philosophy. (shrink)
Defendants who are being tried for accepting a temptation issued by the government sometimes employ the entrapment defense. Acquittal of some of them is thought to be justified either on the grounds that culpability was undermined by the temptation or on the grounds that the government acted objectionably in issuing the temptation . Advocates of the objective approach often criticize those who employ the subjective by citing what is here called “the problem of private entrapment”: we don’t grant a defense (...) to those who accept temptations issued by private parties, and so it can’t be, it is claimed, that temptation undermines culpability. This paper argues that there is a difference in culpability between a defendant who accepts a government-issued temptation and a defendant who accepts a temptation issued by a private party. This claim is supported by identifying a necessary condition for desert of legal punishment and arguing that the privately entrapped satisfy that condition while the governmentally entrapped do not. The difference, it is argued, is rooted in the fact that the government aims to cause the defendant to act illegally, while private parties, except in extraordinary cases, aim only to cause the defendant to act in a way that happens to be illegal. The paper also argues that, despite appearances to the contrary, advocates of the objective approach also encounter the problem of private entrapment. (shrink)
Much government and personal conduct is premised on the idea that a person made thereby to suffer deserves that suffering thanks to prior wrongdoing by him. Further, it often appears that one kind of suffering is more deserved than another and, in light of that, conduct inflicting the first is superior, or closer to being justified than conduct inflicting the second. Yet desert is mysterious. It is far from obvious what, exactly, it is. This paper offers and argues for a (...) theory of comparative desert. It offers an account of the conditions under which one harm is more deserved for past wrongdoing than another. The theory offered here can be stated, roughly, like so: One harm is more deserved for a wrongful act than another if, in light of it more than the other, the act is supported by reasons for the agent in a way similar to the way it ought to have been supported by reasons for him. The central task of the paper is to explain, elaborate and offer an argument for this theory. The paper also shows that, under the theory, differences in culpability—as between, for instance, intentionally rather than knowingly bringing about a harm—make a difference to desert. And the paper shows that under the proposed theory it is easier for the state to justify inflicting a punishment that is more deserved than it is to justify inflicting a punishment that is less deserved. (shrink)
This paper discusses Douglas Husak’s view that ignorance of the law always reduces culpability since the only fully culpable agents are those who are akratic—who act, that is, in a way that they judge to be wrongful, all things considered. The paper argues that this position is in tension with Husak’s avowed commitment to a reasons-responsiveness theory of culpability, given a plausible way of understanding what that means, and what a reason is.
Before the recent presidential election, a bipartisan congressional effort was made to pass a criminal justice reform bill. The bill faltered in part because of a proposed default mens rea provision: statutes silent on mens rea, that were not explicitly identified as strict liability by the legislature, would be taken to require for guilt proof of knowledge with respect to each material element. This paper focusses on a prominent line of disagreement about the default mens rea provision. Proponents argued that (...) it would reduce the number of unjust verdicts in corporate cases. They noted that there have been convictions of corporations and corporate officers for public welfare offenses in instances in which there was good reason to believe that the defendants lacked mens rea. They touted the legislation, then, as a way of reducing the false positive rate. Opponents noted that the provision would also reduce the rate of true positives in corporate prosecutions—convictions of those possessing mens rea who could not be proven to—and opposed the legislation on those grounds. Both sides, then, accepted that the relevant question was, in part, numerical: under the provision, would the reductions in guilty verdicts of those lacking mens rea outnumber and outweigh the increases in acquittals of those possessing it? This paper critically examines this numerical approach for assessing and justifying the default mens rea provision. The paper argues that there is a small domain under which it is appropriate to reason in such numerical terms about a default mens rea provision, but that that domain is so small as to make such arguments inappropriate when it comes to sweeping legislation, such as that proposed. The paper further argues that in light of this conclusion the default mens rea provision must be examined non-numerically, through appeal to principled considerations about the necessary conditions for morally justified infliction of punishment. When such arguments are freed from numerical considerations of the kind that dominated the public discussion of the legislation, they decide the matter: the default mens rea provision deserves bipartisan support. (shrink)
Courts and commentators are notoriously puzzled about the mens rea standards for complicity. Accomplices intend to aid, but what attitude need they have towards the crimes that they aid? This paper both criticizes extant accounts of the mens rea of complicity and offers a new account. The paper argues that an intention can commit one to an event’s occurrence without committing one to promoting the event, or making it more likely to take place. Under the proposed account of the mens (...) rea of complicity, an accomplice must have an intention that commits him to the crime’s occurrence, but need not commit him to making it more likely that the crime occurs. The paper traces the implications of this view both for several difficult complicity cases, and for ongoing debates among philosophers of action about the necessary and sufficient conditions of joint agency. (shrink)
Criminal law casebooks and treatises frequently mention the possibility that criminal liability for possession is inconsistent with the Voluntary Act Requirement, which limits criminal liability to that which includes an act or an omission. This paper explains why criminal liability for possession is compatible with the Voluntary Act Requirement despite the fact that possession is a status. To make good on this claim, the paper defends the Voluntary Act Requirement, offers an account of the nature of omissions of the kind (...) that need be included in that for which criminal liability is imposed in the absence of a voluntary act, and argues that possession is a status that is constituted in part by an omission of this sort. The result is that to hold people criminally liable for possession is to hold them criminally liable both for a status and for an omission, an omission that is part of what it is to have that status. The paper also distinguishes possession from vagrancy, which is not a proper object of criminal liability, precisely because of constraints placed by the Voluntary Act Requirement. And the paper argues that possession incident to dispossession is not a proper object of criminal liability because it does not involve an omission of the kind that other forms of possession involve. (shrink)
This paper is concerned to bring out the philosophical contribution that Thomas Reid makes in his discussions of promising. Reid discusses promising in two contexts: he argues that the practice of promising presupposes the belief that the promisor is endowed with what he calls 'active power' , and he argues against Hume's claim that the very act of promising—and the obligation to do as one promised—are "artificial," or the products of human convention . In addition to explaining what Reid says (...) in each of these two contexts, the paper demonstrates that the two discussions are linked. It is, in part, because he thinks that promises are a special kind of act —performable solely through the exercise of our native, natural capacities—that he thinks that the practice of promising presupposes active power. Towards this end, the paper explains how Reid conceives of active power and explains his concept of a social act. The paper argues that, when considered as part of a single, unitary conception of the nature of promises, Reid's two discussions provide important insights into the nature of promising, particularly with regard to the sense in which promisory obligations are conditional: they are conditional upon a rather short list of circumstances that are not within our power—a shorter list than those on which other obligations are conditional. (shrink)
Reid argues that Hume’s claim that justice is an artificial virtue is inconsistent with the fact that gratitude is a natural sentiment. This chapter shows that Reid’s argument succeeds only given a philosophy of mind and action that Hume rejects. Among other things, Reid assumes that one can conceive of one of a pair of contradictories only if one can conceive of the other—a claim that Hume denies. So, in the case of justice, the disagreement between Hume and Reid is, (...) at bottom, a disagreement over their respective conceptions of how the human mind works at its most fundamental level. (shrink)