Part I: Building blocks. 1. Folk convictions -- 2. Doubts about libertarianism -- 3. Nihilism and revisionism -- 4. Building a better theory -- Part II. A theory of moral responsibility. 5. The primacy of reasons -- 6. Justifying the practice -- 7. Responsible agency -- 8. Blame and desert -- 9. History and manipulation --10. Some conclusions.
Many prominent theories of moral responsibility rely on the notion of “tracing,” the idea that responsibility for an outcome can be located in (i.e., “traced back to”) some prior moment of control, perhaps significantly antecedent to the proximate sources of a considered action. In this article, I show how there is a problem for theories that rely on tracing. The problem is connected to the knowledge condition on moral responsibility. Many prima facie good candidate cases for tracing analyses appear to (...) violate the knowledge condition on moral responsibility. So, either we need to dispense with tracing approaches or we must refine our understanding of the knowledge condition or we are responsible less frequently than we suppose. (shrink)
Revisionism in the theory of moral responsibility is the idea that some aspect of responsibility practices, attitudes, or concept is in need of revision. While the increased frequency of revisionist language in the literature on free will and moral responsibility is striking, what discussion there has been of revisionism about responsibility and free will tends to be critical. In this paper, I argue that at least one species of revisionism, moderate revisionism, is considerably more sophisticated and defensible than critics have (...) realized. I go on to argue for the advantages of moderate revisionist theories over standard compatibilist and incompatibilist theories. (shrink)
We sometimes fail unwittingly to do things that we ought to do. And we are, from time to time, culpable for these unwitting omissions. We provide an outline of a theory of responsibility for unwitting omissions. We emphasize two distinctive ideas: (i) many unwitting omissions can be understood as failures of appropriate vigilance, and; (ii) the sort of self-control implicated in these failures of appropriate vigilance is valuable. We argue that the norms that govern vigilance and the value of self-control (...) explain culpability for unwitting omissions. (shrink)
In this article I propose a resolution to the history issue for responsible agency, given a moderate revisionist approach to responsibility. Roughly, moderate revisionism is the view that a plausible and normatively adequate theory of responsibility will require principled departures from commonsense thinking. The history issue is whether morally responsible agency – that is, whether an agent is an apt target of our responsibility-characteristic practices and attitudes – is an essentially historical notion. Some have maintained that responsible agents must have (...) particular sorts of histories, others have argued that no such history is required. Resolution of this contentious issue is connected to a wide range of concerns, including the significance and culpability of different forms of manipulation, the plausibility of important incompatibilist criticisms of compatibilism, and of course, a satisfactory account of moral responsibility. As it turns out, history matters sometimes, but less frequently than we might think. (shrink)
This article summarizes and extends the moderate revisionist position I put forth in Four Views on Free Will and responds to objections to it from Robert Kane, John Martin Fischer, Derk Pereboom, and Michael McKenna. Among the principle topics of the article are (1) motivations for revisionism, what it is, and how it is different from compatibilism and hard incompatibilism, (2) an objection to libertarianism based on the moral costs of its current epistemic status, (3) an objection to the distinctiveness (...) of semicompatibilism against conventional forms of compatibilism and (4) whether moderate revisionism is committed to realism about moral responsibility. (shrink)
This article summarizes the moderate revisionist position I put forth in Four Views on Free Will and responds to objections to it from Robert Kane, John Martin Fischer, Derk Pereboom, and Michael McKenna. Among the principle topics of the article are (1) motivations for revisionism, what it is, and how it is different from compatibilism and hard incompatibilism, (2) an objection to the distinctiveness of semicompatibilism against conventional forms of compatibilism, and (3) whether moderate revisionism is committed to realism about (...) moral responsibility. (shrink)
In recent years, reﬂection on the relationship between individual moral responsibility and determinism has undergone a remarkable renaissance. Incompatibilists, those who believe moral responsibility is incompatible with determinism, have offered powerful new arguments in support of their views. Compatibilists, those who think moral responsibility is compatible with determinism, have responded with ingenious counterexamples and alternative accounts of responsibility. Despite the admirable elevation of complexity and subtlety within both camps, the trajectory of the literature is somewhat discouraging. Every dialectical stalemate between (...) incompatibilists and compatibilists seems to be superseded by a similar though often more subtle stalemate.1 The stalemates have two sources. On the one hand, incompatibilists again and again ﬁnd powerful intuitive support from our folk concept. On the other hand, compatibilists seem right to insist that even if determinism were true, this would not mitigate our need for a concept of responsibility. (shrink)
Neil Levy (2007) argues that empirical data shows that psychopaths lack the moral knowledge required for moral responsibility. His account is intriguing, and it offers a promising way to think about the significance of psychopaths for work on moral responsibility. In what follows we focus on three lines of concern connected to Levy's account: his interpretation of the data, the scope of exculpation, and the significance of biological explanations for anti-social behavior.
The Luck Problem has existed in one form or another since David Hume, at least. It is perhaps as old as Stoic objections to the Epicurean swerve. Although the general issue admits of different formulations with subtly different emphases, the characterization of it that will serve as my target focuses on “cross-worlds” luck, a kind of luck that arises when the decision-making of agents is indeterministic.
I discuss experimental work by Nichols, and Nichols and Knobe, with respect to the philosophical problems of free will and moral responsibility. I mention some methodological concerns about the work, but focus principally on the philosophical implications of the work. The experimental results seem to show that in particular, concrete cases we are more willing to attribute responsibility than in cases described abstractly or in general terms. I argue that their results suggest a deep problem for traditional accounts of compatibilism, (...) and that they may cast some light on the literature surrounding Frankfurt cases. I also suggest a way in which mature philosophical convictions about free will may reflect a contingent process of refining and defending either of two competing strands of intuitions, and suggest that this may partly explain the persistence of philosophical debates about free will. (shrink)
Many prominent accounts of free will and moral responsibility make use of the idea that agents can be responsive to reasons. Call such theories Reasons accounts. In what follows, I consider the tenability of Reasons accounts in light of situationist social psychology and, to a lesser extent, the automaticity literature. In the ﬁrst half of this chapter, I argue that Reasons accounts are genuinely threatened by contemporary psychology. In the second half of the paper I consider whether such threats can (...) be met, and at what cost. Ultimately, I argue that Reasons accounts can abandon some familiar assumptions, and that doing so permits us to build a more empirically plausible picture of our agency. (shrink)
This paper outlines one way of thinking about the problem of free will, some general reasons for dissatisfactions with traditional approaches to solving it, and some considerations in favor of pursuing a broadly revisionist solution to it. If you are looking for a student-friendly introduction to revisionist theorizing about free will, this is probably the thing to look at.
Both legal and moral theorists have offered broadly “communicative” theories of criminal and moral responsibility. According to such accounts, we can understand the nature of responsibility by appealing to the idea that responsibility practices are in some fundamental sense expressive, discursive, or communicative. In this essay, I consider a variety of issues in connections with this family of views, including its relationship to free will, the theory of exemptions, and potential alternatives to the communicative model. Focusing on Michael McKenna’s Conversation (...) and Responsibility, I argue that communicative accounts, and the conversational model in particular, direct our attention to important and under-appreciated elements of our responsibility practices. However, rather than focusing on a model of conversation-as-address, as McKenna does, we do better to regard gossip as the paradigmatic conversational form that captures the main features of moral responsibility. (shrink)
In this paper I criticize libertarianism and skepticism about free will. The criticism of libertarianism takes some steps towards filling in an argument that is often mentioned but seldom developed in any detail, the argument that libertarianism is a scientifically implausible view. I say "take some steps" because I think the considerations I muster (at most) favor a less ambitious relative of that argument. The less ambitious claim I hope to motivate is that there is little reason to believe that (...) extant libertarian accounts satisfy a standard of naturalistic plausibility, even if they do satisfy a standard of naturalistic compatibility. The argument against skepticism about free will tries to show (1) perhaps the most prominent form of skeptical argument against the existence of free will does not work, and (2) there is a good general argument against skepticism about free will. (shrink)
Consider the following claim: “If an agent comes to be bad through a process that entirely bypasses her ability to appreciate and to respond to reasons, including moral reasons, she is not a responsible agent at all” (Levy 2007). Psychopathy is a wonderful example here, since there’s reason to think it has a strong genetic component. But why should we accept this claim that we have to absolve those who are born irrevocably bad?
The idea of moral responsibility is central to a wide range of our moral, social, and legal practices, and it underpins our basic notion of culpability. Yet the idea of moral responsibility is increasingly viewed with skepticism by researchers and scholars in psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and the law. Building Better Beings: A Theory of Moral Responsibility responds to these challenges, offering a new account of the justification of our practices and judgments of moral responsibility. Three distinctive ideas shape the account. (...) The first is the agency cultivation model, which holds that a system of responsibility practices can derive its justification from the way it supports our agency. The second idea, circumstantialism, is a new way of thinking about agential capacities. This is the view that the capacities required for moral responsibility are functions of agents in circumstances, rather than basic features of agents considered in themselves. The third idea is revisionism, or the idea that a satisfactory theory of moral responsibility will conflict with some aspects of ordinary commitments about freedom and moral responsibility. (shrink)
I examine the extent to which Dennett’s account in Freedom Evolves might be construed as revisionist about free will or should instead be understood as a more traditional kind of compatibilism. I also consider Dennett’s views about philosophical work on free agency and its relationship to scientiﬁc inquiry, and I argue that extant philosophical work is more relevant to scientiﬁc inquiry than Dennett’s remarks may suggest.
Standard models of practical rationality face a puzzle that has gone unnoticed: given a modest assumption about the nature of deliberation, we are apparently frequently briefly irrational. In what follows, I explain the problem, consider what is wrong with several possible solutions, and propose an account that does not generate the objectionable result.
I’ve been told that in the good old days of the 1970s, when Quine’s desert landscapes were regarded as ideal real estate and David Lewis and John Rawls had not yet left a legion of inﬂuential students rewriting the terrain of metaphysics and ethics respectively, compatibilism was still compatibilism about free will. And, of course, incompatibilism was still incompatibilism about free will. That is, compatibilism was the view that free will was compatible with determinism. Incompatibilism was the view that free (...) will was incompatible with determinism.1 What philosophers argued about was whether free will was compatible with determinism. Mostly, this was an argument about how to understand claims that one could do otherwise. You needn’t have bothered to talk about moral responsibility, because it was just obvious that you couldn’t have moral responsibility without free will. The literature was a temple of clarity. Then, somehow, things began to go horribly wrong. To be sure, there had been some activity in the 1960s that would have struck some observers as ominous. Still, it was not until the 1980s that those initial warning signs gave way to real trouble. The meanings of terms twisted. (shrink)
Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Moral Responsibility is an edited collection of new essays by an internationally recognized line-up of contributors. It is aimed at readers who wish to explore the philosophical and scientific arguments for free will skepticism and their implications.
I consider some themes and issues arising in recent work on moral responsibility, focusing on three recent books —Carlos Moya's Moral Responsibility, Al Mele's Free Will and Luck, and John Martin Fischer's My Way. I argue that these texts collectively suggest some difficulties with the way in which many issues are currently framed in the free will debates, including disputes about what constitutes compatibilism and incompatibilism and the relevance of intuitions and ordinary language for describing the metaphysics of free will (...) and moral responsibility. I also argue that each of the accounts raise more particular puzzles: it is unclear to what extent Moya’s account is properly an account of free will; Mele’s account raises questions about the significance of luck for compatibilist theories; and Fischer’s account of the value of responsibility as self-expression raises questions about the normative significance of moral responsibility. (shrink)
At least some serial killers are psychopathic serial killers. Psychopathic serial killers raise interesting questions about the nature of evil and moral responsibility. On the one hand, serial killers seem to be obviously evil, if anything is. On the other hand, psychopathy is a diagnosable disorder that, among other things, involves a diminished ability to understand and use basic moral distinctions. This feature of psychopathy suggests that psychopathic serial killers have at least diminished responsibility for what they do. In this (...) chapter I consider whether psychopathic serial killers might be properly said to be both evil and morally responsible for their actions. I argue that psychopathic serial killers are plausibly evil in at least one recognizable sense of the term, but that they are nevertheless not likely to be responsible for many of the evils they perpetuate. (shrink)
The present chapter is concerned with revisionism about free will. It begins by offering a new characterization of revisionist accounts and the way such accounts fit (or do not) in the familiar framework of compatibilism and incompatibilism. It then traces some of the recent history of the development of revisionist accounts, and concludes by remarking on some challenges for them.
connection to the action, or alternately, the idea that an agent must be in some sense responsive to reasons.1 Indeed, we might even understand much of the past couple of decades of philosophical work on moral responsibility as concerned with investigating which of these two approaches offers the most viable account of moral responsibility. Here, I wish to revisit an idea basic to all of this work. That is, I consider whether there is even a fundamental distinction between these approaches. (...) I will argue that the relationship between these two approaches to moral responsibility is much more complicated than is ordinarily assumed. I shall argue that there are reasons to think that one of these views may ultimately collapse into the other, and if not, that there is nevertheless reason to think one of these views has misidentiﬁed the features of agency relevant to moral responsibility. The view that follows is one that we might call the primacy of reasons. In the second half of the article I consider whether recent experimental work speaks in favor of the alternative to the primacy of reasons. Its proponents argue that it does. I argue that it does not. (shrink)
There is strikingly little agreement across academic fields about the existence of free will, what experimental results show, and even what the term ‘free will’ means. In Lee and Harris’ “A Social Perspective on Debates About Free Will” the authors argue that group identities and their attendant social rewards are part of the problem. As they portray it, “different philosophical stances create social groups and inherent conflict, hindering interdisciplinary intellectual exploration on the question of free will because people incorporate their (...) support for a particular stance into their identity” (ms 1). Lee and Harris’ exciting approach downplays the stated basis of academic disagreements, instead looking to social phenomena to explain why academic theorists adopt their positions. In particular, they argue that (1) philosophical convictions are structured by social group membership, and (2) the way such groups operate disfavors alternative philosophical commitments on free will. (shrink)
In terms of my own first-personal narrative, the most obvious proximal cause of my theorizing about agency was a graduate seminar on free will taught by Peter van Inwagen. It was my first semester of graduate school, and van Inwagen’s forceful presentation of incompatibilism made a big impression on me. I left that course thinking incompatibilism was both obvious and irrefutable. The only problem was that I didn’t stay at Notre Dame. I transferred to Stanford in the following year, where (...) I discovered the truth of a remark John Fischer once made: Indiana is for Incompatibilists and California is for Compatibilists. Some of the folks there who most influenced me, especially Michael Bratman and Ken Taylor, are thoroughgoing compatibilists. I was really struck by the fact that both of these smart, thoughtful guys seemed genuinely puzzled by the impulse to incompatibilism. I wasn’t entirely ready to give up on my incompatibilism (which was by then shifting from libertarianism to hard incompatibilism), but I felt a need to be able to find some way to reconcile it with an appreciation for the appeal that compatibilism clearly seemed to have for some otherwise compelling philosophers. And, so my interest in thinking about free agency and free action began to take root. So, that’s the intellectualized part of the story. But there is also the fact of my local conditions when all of this was going on. For good or ill, I kept taking seminars where the problem of free will would crop up in the course of things. Out of sheer laziness (or, as I like to think about it, out of a dimly sensed need to conserve my energies for later), I kept seizing on the topic as a subject matter for seminar papers, whether the course was on Hume, Aristotle, Nietzsche, philosophy of mind, or philosophy action. Thus, when it came time to write a dissertation, free will seemed like an obvious choice.. (shrink)
This is an essay on philosophical methodology, the disciplinary prejudices of the Anglophone philosophical world, and how these things interact with some aspects of the content and form of Latin American philosophy to preclude the latter's integration with mainstream Anglophone philosophical work. Among the topics discussed of interest to analytic philosophers: metaphilosophy, the status hierarchy of philosophical subfields, experimental philosophy, and patterns of openness and exclusion in philosophy. Among the topics of interest to philosophers interested in Latin American philosophy and (...) comparative philosophy: the nature of disputes about the existence of Latin American philosophy, the significance of this genre of writing, how contributions to it can proceed, and why metaphilosophical concerns in Latin America are problematic for the prospects for integration with the Anglophone philosophical world. (shrink)
In “Free Will and Substance Dualism: The Real Scientific Threat to Free Will?” Al Mele extends his groundbreaking work on scientific arguments against free will. He replies to charges that he has missed the real threat to free will posed by experimental work, and he focuses on two issues: (1) the claim that the “real” threat of scientific work is bound up with substance dualism, and (2) recent work by Soon et al. that has been taken to show that some (...) intentions can be predicted in advance. (shrink)
Proponents of the philosophy of liberation generally counsel that various forms of liberation in at least the Americas requires that we should fight Eurocentrism and resist the ontology and conceptual framework of Europe. However, most of the work done in this tradition relies heavily on the terminology and theoretical apparatus of various strands of European philosophy. The apparent disconnect between the aims and methods (or if you like, the theory and practice) has given rise to a criticism I call The (...) Eurocentrism Problem. I argue that the Eurocentrism Problem has not received an adequate reply, and that it reflects a number of underlying flaws in the philosophical program of the philosophy of liberation. These problems can largely be avoided if we significantly recast the philosophy of liberation, eliminating its reliance on the conceptual foundations provided by Levinas, Heidegger, and so on. (shrink)
Building Better Beings: A Theory of Moral Responsibility argues that the normative basis of moral responsibility is anchored in the effects of responsibility practices. Further, the capacities required for moral responsibility are socially scaffolded. This article considers criticisms of this account that have been recently raised by John Doris, Victoria McGeer, and Michael Robinson. Robinson argues against Building Better Beings’s rejection of libertarianism about free will, and the account of desert at stake in the theory. considers methodological questions that arise (...) from the account of desert, providing some additional resources for thinking about these issues within the framework of the account. McGeer objects to the particular mode of justification used to motivate the prescriptive aspect of the account. This article presents replies to each of these lines of response. (shrink)
There is very little study of Latin American Philosophy in the English-speaking philosophical world. This can sometimes lead to the impression that there is nothing of philosophical worth in Latin American philosophy or its history. The present article offers some reasons for thinking that this impression is mistaken, and indeed, that we ought to have more study of Latin American philosophy than currently exists in the English-speaking philosophical world. In particular, the article argues for three things: (1) an account of (...) cultural resources that is useful for illuminating the fact of cultural differences and variations in cultural complexity, (2) a framework for understanding the value of philosophy, and (3) the conclusion that there is demonstrable value to Latin American philosophy and its study. (shrink)
There is a familiar chain of reasoning that goes something like this: if everything is caused, no one is free, and thus, no one can be morally responsible. Reasoning like this has made scientific explanations of human behavior (e.g., biology, psychology, and neuroscience) threatening to familiar ideas of responsibility, blameworthiness, and merit. Rather than directly attacking the chain of reasoning that gives rise to these worries, I explore an alternative approach, one that begins by considering the "use" of moral responsibility. (...) What role does the concept play for us? What structure, if any, would an ideal set of practices and attitudes about moral responsibility have to it? I outline a new account of responsibility and consider what it might mean for traditional worries about causal, scientific explanations of human behavior. (shrink)
I don’t know whether undead beings exist. I also think it is an open question whether anyone is evil in, say, the way bad guys are depicted in supernatural horror films and serial killer movies. I do think it’s nevertheless puzzling that the undead are frequently portrayed as evil in that way. I’m inclined to think that if we were to stumble across any undead they would be less likely to be evil than any random live person we stumble across. (...) Consider this a call for some undead understanding. I am going to approach these conclusions in a roundabout way. First, I’ll try to sketch something of an ontology of the undead, an account of their nature and variety. Then, I’ll show how these considerations should change how we think about the undead and their purported propensity for evil. (shrink)
It is sometimes instructive to reflect on a problem as it appeared before our current philosophical presumptions became ingrained. In this context, Maurice Mandelbaum’s “Determinism and Moral Responsibility” is of particular interest. Published in 1960, it appeared only a few years before the wave of work that gave us much of our contemporary understanding of moral responsibility, free will, and determinism. Mandelbaum’s account repays reconsideration. Mandelbaum argues that (1) there is an underappreciated threat to “determinist” or compatibilist accounts of responsibility, (...) and (2) this threat can be met with a suitable compatibilist account of the etiology of action. (shrink)
I once heard a colleague opine that we would be better off if there were a 50-year moratorium on philosophers using the word 'autonomy'. He went on to argue that we could get along just fine without the word, and that a good number of confusions would be dispelled along the way. This collection of new papers goes a long way toward responding to this challenge in ways that both undercut and vindicate aspects of this complaint.
There are two standard theoretical responses to putative errors in ordinary thinking about some given target property: eliminativism or revisionism. Roughly, eliminativism is the denial that the target property exists, and revisionism is the view that the property exists, but that people tend to have false beliefs about it. Recently, Shaun Nichols has proposed a third option: discretionism. Discretionism is the idea that some terms have multiple reference conventions, so that it may be true to say with eliminativists that the (...) property does not exist, and true to say with revisionists that the property does exist. This article explores the viability of discretionism, and argues that it faces serious difficulties. Even if the difficulties faced by discretionism can be overcome, it is unclear that discretionism secures anything beyond what is already available to standard revisionist views. The article concludes with some reflections about Nichols’ account of the bare retributive norm. (shrink)
This essay considers two aspects of Joseph Raz's recent work: (1) his theory of responsibility, arising out his reflections on something he calls "our Being in the World," and (2) the methodological presumptions that guide his account. On the matter of responsibility, his notion of "domains of secure competence" is suggestive but unclear. Natural regimentations of the idea suggest a host of problems in the specification of competence, and whether the notion is to be understood subjectively or third-personally. On the (...) matter of methodology, Raz's approach gives rise to some serious concerns, including (1) whether armchair philosophical reflection is the best way to generate an account, as he aims to, of essential features of experience, and (2) how to square his approach with accounts of responsibility, normativity, and rationality rooted in non-experiential but predictive and explanatorily valuable accounts of these matters. (shrink)