This book argues that moraldesert should be excluded as a consideration in normative and applied ethics, as it is likely that no-one ever morally deserves anything for their actions and, if they do, it is in most cases impossible to know what. I also explain how moral deliberation in relation to punishment, distributive justice and personal morality can proceed without appeals to moraldesert.
In The Geometry of Desert I used graphs to explore two common ideas about moraldesert, namely, that people differ in terms of how deserving they are, and that it is a good thing if people get what they deserve. I argued that desert is a more complex value than we normally recognize, and I laid out a number of alternative possible views, defending some of them. In a pair of critical discussions published in this journal, (...) Victor Tadros and Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen offer a variety of objections to several of the ideas I have put forward. In this essay I welcome their criticisms and respond to some of the main points they raise. (shrink)
Abstract The Kantian moral foundations of Nozickian libertarianism suggest that the claim that self?ownership grounds only negative rights to property should be rejected. The moral foundations of Nozick's libertarianism better support basing property rights on moraldesert. It is neither incoherent nor implausible to say that need can be a basis for desert. By implication, the libertarian contention that persons ought to be respected as persons living self?shaping lives is inconsistent with the libertarian refusal to (...) accept that claims of need can sometimes outweigh claims to property. (shrink)
If we want to see justice done with regard to responsibility, then we must either (i) allow that people are never morally responsible, (iia) show that luck is not ubiquitous or at least that (iib) ubiquitous luck is not moral, or (iii) show that ascriptions of responsibility can retain justice despite the omnipresence of luck. This paper defends (iii); ascriptions of responsibility can be just even though luck is ubiquitous.
Those found liable for negligently injuring others are required to compensate them, but current practices permit most tort feasors to spread the costs of their liability burdens through the purchase of insurance. Those found guilty of criminal offences, however, are not allowed to shift the burdens of their sentences onto others. Yet the reasons for not allowing criminal offenders to shift such burdens – harm reduction, retribution, and moral education – also appear to retain some force in relation to (...) negligent tort feasors. Arguments for and against limiting the abilities of negligent tort feasors to spread such costs, thus imposing a penalty on them, are discussed. The conclusion reached is that further consideration of such a penalty is warranted. (shrink)
In this paper, I engage with several of the intriguing theses Michael McKenna puts forward in his Conversation and Responsibility. For example, I examine McKenna’s claim that the fact that an agent is morally responsible for an action and the fact that an agent is appropriately held responsible explain each other. I go on to argue that despite the importance of the ability to hold people responsible, an agent’s being morally responsible for an action is explanatorily fundamental, and in this (...) sense responsibility is response-independent. I then explore some of the specific aspects of McKenna’s conversational theory before turning to his suggestion that the conversational nature of our responsibility practices gives us special kinds of reasons for accepting that agents are deserving of the harms of blame. Finally, I conclude by raising questions for his argument that the scope of blameworthy actions extends beyond that of impermissible actions. (shrink)
In this paper I critically assess Derk Pereboom’s book, Free Will, Agency, and Meaning in Life. In it, I resist Pereboom’s manipulation argument for incompatibilism and his indictment of desert-based accounts of moral responsibility.
As John Rawls makes clear in A Theory of Justice, there is a popular and influential strand of political thought for which brute luck – that is, being lucky in the so-called “lottery of life” – ought to have no place in a theory of distributive justice. Yet the debate about luck, desert, and fairness in contemporary political philosophy has recently been rekindled by a handful of philosophers who claim that desert should play a bigger role in theories (...) of distributive justice. In the present paper, we present the results of our attempts to fill in some of the missing empirical details of this debate. Our findings provide some preliminary evidence that, contrary to what most contemporary political philosophers have assumed, people are not as worried by natural luck as previously thought. Instead, people’s worries seem to be focused exclusively on inequalities generated by social luck. (shrink)
Through critical examination of three main contemporary approaches to describing moral responsibility, this book illustrates why philosophers must take into account the relationship between retrospective moral responsibility and desert of praise or blame. The author advances the moral attitude account, whereby desert of praise and blame depends on the agent’s moral attitudes in response to moral reasons, and retrospective moral responsibility results from expressions of those attitudes in overt behavior.
Much of the recent philosophical discussion about free will has been focused on whether compatibilists can adequately defend how a determined agent could exercise the type of free will that would enable the agent to be morally responsible in what has been called the basic desert sense :5–24, 1994; Fischer in Four views on free will, Wiley, Hoboken, 2007; Vargas in Four views on free will, Wiley, Hoboken, 2007; Vargas in Philos Stud, 144:45–62, 2009). While we agree with Derk (...) Pereboom and others that the compatibilist’s burden should be properly understood as providing a compelling account of how a determined agent could be morally responsible in the basic desert sense, the exact nature of this burden has been rendered somewhat unclear by the fact that there has been no definitive account given as to what the basic desert sense of moral responsibility amounts to. In Sect. 1 we set out to clarify the compatibilist’s burden by presenting our account of basic desertmoral responsibility—which we call retributivist desertmoral responsibility for purposes of clarity—and explain why it is of central philosophical and practical importance to the free will debate. In Sect. 2 we employ a thought experiment to illustrate the kind of difficulty that compatibilists of any stripe are likely to encounter in attempting to explain how determined agents can exercise the kind of free will needed for retributivist desertmoral responsibility. (shrink)
Fred Feldman is an important philosopher, who has made a substantial contribution to utilitarian moral philosophy. This collection of ten previously published essays plus a new introductory essay reveal the striking originality and unity of his views. Feldman's version of utilitarianism differs from traditional forms in that it evaluates behaviour by appeal to the values of accessible worlds. These worlds are in turn evaluated in terms of the amounts of pleasure they contain, but the conception of pleasure involved is (...) a novel one and the formulation of hedonism improved. In Feldman's view pleasure is not a feeling but a propositional attitude. He also deals with problems of justice that affect standard forms of utilitarianism. The collection is ideally suited for courses on contemporary utilitarian theory. (shrink)
This paper argues that "moral luck", understood as a susceptibility of moraldesert to lucky or unlucky outcomes, does not exist. The argument turns on the claim that epistemic inquiry is an indissoluble part of moral responsibility, and that judgment on the moral decision making of others should and can adjust for this fact; test cases which aim to isolate moral dilemmas from epistemic consideration misrepresent our moral experience. If the phenomena believed by (...) some philosophers to exemplify the need to admit moral luck as part of their explanation are analysed in the light of this insight, the case for "moral luck" dissolves. (shrink)
For many, the idea that people should be rewarded in proportion to what they deserve is the very essence of distributive justice. However, while the notion of moraldesert is otherwise widely accepted, Rawls rejects it entirely in his A Theory of Justice. Many authors have argued that Rawls’s claims about desert have serious and unappealing consequences for his conception of justice as fairness, and also that they deny the possibility of autonomous choice to the very agents (...) whose decisions are supposed to underlie Rawls’s approach to justice. In this paper, I analyze the arguments of those who believe that Rawls can be interpreted in a way that doesn’t in fact deny either desert or the possibility of autonomous action. I conclude by allowing for the interpretation that Rawls does not necessarily deny autonomous action, but I contend that he nevertheless finds the idea of preinstitutional desert entirely off the mark. (shrink)
Theories of moraldesert focus only on the personal culpability of the agent to determine the amount of blame and punishment the agent deserves. I defend an alternative account of desert, one that does not focus only facts about offenders and their offenses. In this revised framework, personal culpability can do no more than set upper and lower limits for deserved blame and punishment. For more precise judgments within that spectrum, additional factors must be considered, factors that (...) are independent of the agent and the offense. I refer to this as the ‘partial conception’ of desert because takes facts about victims—their behavior, desires, and attitudes—into account for desert judgments. On my view, then, agents who are equally culpable may deserve different amounts of blame or punishment, depending on these victim-related factors. (shrink)
The purely retributive moral justification of punishment has a gap at its centre. It fails to explain why the offender should not be protected from punishment by the intuitively powerful moral idea that afflicting another person (other than to avoid a greater harm) is always wrong. Attempts to close the gap have taken several different forms, and only one is discussed in this paper. This is the attempt to push aside the ‘protecting’ intuition, using some more powerful intuition (...) specially invoked by the situations to which criminal justice is addressed. In one aspect of his complex defence of pure retributivism, Michael S. Moore attempts to show that the emotions of well-adjusted persons provide evidence of moral facts which justify the affliction of culpable wrongdoers in retribution for their wrongdoing. In particular, he appeals to the evidential significance of emotions aroused by especially heinous crimes, including the punishment-seeking guilt of the offender who truly confronts the reality of his immoral act. The paper argues that Moore fails to vindicate this appeal to moral realism, and thus to show that intrinsic personal moraldesert (as distinct from ‘desert’ in a more restricted sense, relative to morally justified institutions) is a necessary and sufficient basis for punishment. Other theories of the role of emotions in morality are as defensible as Moore’s, while the compelling emotions to which he appeals to clinch his argument can be convincingly situated within a non-retributivist framework, especially when the distinction between the intuitions of the lawless world, and those of the world of law, is recognised. -/- . (shrink)
Basic desert is central to the dispute between compatibilists and incompatibilists over the four-case manipulation argument. I argue that there are two distinct ways of understanding the desert salient to moral responsibility; moraldesert can be understood as a claim about fitting responses to an agent or as a claim about the merit of the agent. Failing to recognize this distinction has contributed to a stalemate between both sides. I suggest that recognizing these distinct approaches (...) to moraldesert will help clarify a central source of disagreement between compatibilists and incompatibilists and assist both sides in resolving the current stalemate. (shrink)
In this paper, I explore the idea that someone can deserve resentment or other reactive emotions for what she does by attention to three psychological functions of such emotions – appraisal, communication, and sanction – that I argue ground claims of their desert. I argue that attention to these functions helps to elucidate the moral aims of reactive emotions and to distinguish the distinct claims of desert, as opposed to other moral considerations.
In this paper, I explore a new approach to the problem of determinism and moral responsibility. This approach involves asking when someone has a compelling claim to exemption against other members of the moral community. I argue that it is sometimes fair to reject such claims, even when the agent doesn’t deserve, in the sense of basic desert, to be blamed for her conduct. In particular, when an agent’s conduct reveals that her commitment to comply with the (...) standards of the moral community is deficient, and when her demand for exemption further exemplifies this deficiency, she cannot complain of unfair treatment if her demand is rejected. To support this contention, I argue that we are sometimes justified in rejecting otherwise valid moral appeals on the grounds that they are cynically motivated, especially when an agent merely seeks to exploit our commitment to comply with reasonable interpersonal standards. An advantage of this approach is that it affords compatibilists a middle path, allowing them to defend our practice of blaming on non-consequentialist grounds of fairness, even as they acknowledge the force of arguments for incompatibilism about basic desert. (shrink)
In the contemporary moral responsibility debate, most theorists seem to be giving accounts of responsibility in the ‘desert-entailing sense’. Despite this agreement, little has been said about the notion of desert that is supposedly entailed. In this paper I propose an understanding of desert sufficient to help explain why the blameworthy and praiseworthy deserve blame and praise, respectively. I do so by drawing upon what might seem an unusual resource. I appeal to so-called Fitting-Attitude accounts of (...) value to help inform a conception of desert or merit, one that can be usefully applied to discussions of moral responsibility. I argue that the view, which I call, Desert as Fittingness (DAF), merits additional attention. I do so by making two claims: First, that it does better than extant Fitting Attitude accounts of blameworthiness and praiseworthiness; second, that it has an initial plausibility with respect to informing a general account of desert. While these reasons are insufficient to show the view is true, they do make the case for taking the view seriously. (shrink)
This paper defends a minimal desert thesis, according to which someone who is blameworthy for something deserves to feel guilty, to the right extent, at the right time, because of her culpability. The sentiment or emotion of guilt includes a thought that one is blameworthy for something as well as an unpleasant affect. Feeling guilty is not a matter of inflicting suffering on oneself, and it need not involve any thought that one deserves to suffer. The desert of (...) a feeling of guilt is a kind of moral propriety of that response, and it is a matter of justice. If the minimal desert thesis is correct, then it is in some respect good that one who is blameworthy feel guilty—there is some justice in that state of affairs. But if retributivism concerns the justification of punishment, the minimal desert thesis is not retributivist. Its plausibility nevertheless raises doubt about whether, as some have argued, there are senses of moral responsibility that are not desert-entailing. (shrink)
In the paper, I try to cast some doubt on traditional attempts to define, or explicate, moral responsibility in terms of deserved praise and blame. Desert-based accounts of moral responsibility, though no doubt more faithful to our ordinary notion of moral responsibility, tend to run into trouble in the face of challenges posed by a deterministic picture of the world on the one hand and the impact of moral luck on human action on the other. (...) Besides, grounding responsibility in desert seems to support ascriptions of pathological blame to agents trapped in moral dilemmas as well as of excess blame in cases of joint action. Desert is also notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to determine (at least with sufficient precision). And, finally, though not least important, recent empirical research on people’s responsibility judgments reveals our common-sense notion of responsibility to be hopelessly confused and easily manipulated. So it may be time to rethink our inherited theory and practice of moral responsibility. Our theoretical and practical needs may be better served by a less intractable, more forward-looking notion of responsibility. The aim of the paper is to contrast the predominant, desert-based accounts of moral responsibility with their rather unpopular rival, the consequence- based accounts, and then show that the latter deserve more consideration than usually granted by their opponents. In the course of doing so, I assess, and ultimately reject, a number of objections that have been raised against consequentialist accounts of moral responsibility: that it (i) doesn’t do justice to our common-sense theory and practice of responsibility; (ii) ties responsibility too closely to influenceability, thereby exposing itself to the charge of counter-intuitivity; (iii) assigns undeserved responsibility (praise, blame) to agents; (iv) confuses ‘being responsible’ with ‘holding responsible’‚ and (v) provides the wrong-kind-of-reason for praise and blame. My negative and positive case may not add up to a knockdown argument in favor of revising our ordinary notion of responsibility. As long as the considerations adduced succeed in presenting the consequentialist alternative as a serious contender to a pre-arranged marriage between moral responsibility and desert, however, I’m happy to rest my case. (shrink)
There are two broadly competing pictures of moral responsibility. On the view I favor, to be responsible for some action is to be related to it in such a way that licenses attributing certain properties to the agent, properties like blameworthiness and praiseworthiness. Responsibility is attributability. A different view understands being responsible in terms of our practices of holding each other responsible. Responsibility is accountability, which “involves a social setting in which we demand (require) certain conduct from one another (...) and respond adversely to one another’s failures to comply with these demands” (Watson, Philos Top 24:227–248, 1996). My concern here is the relation between moral responsibility and desert. Plausibly, if someone is morally responsible for something wrong then they deserve blame, and it is on the basis of them being morally responsible and its being wrong that they deserve blame. In this paper, I try to make progress toward understanding why it would follow that being morally responsible for something supports a desert claim. I propose to do this by exploring how the “two faces” of responsibility should proceed. An important upshot is that we gain a new currency by which to evaluate extant theories of responsibility that might favor one or the other conception: do they carry plausible desert commitments? To illustrate this benefit, I argue that accountability theory carries implausible implications for deserved praise. (shrink)
In his recent monumental book On What Matters, Derek Parfit argues for a hard determinist view that rejects free will-based moral responsibility and desert. This rejection of desert is necessary for his main aim in the book, the overall reconciliation of normative ethics. In Appendix E of his book, however, Parfit claims that it is possible to mete out fair punishment. Parfit’s position on punishment here seems to be inconsistent with his hard determinism. I argue that Parfit (...) is mistaken here, in a way that leads him to unjustified optimism about the possibility of fair penalization. Insofar as we take the free will problem seriously, we cannot reconcile a belief in the absence of desert with a belief in the fairness of penalization. (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)
The paper defends the theoretical strength and consistency of Rawls's constructivism, showing its ability to articulate and convincingly weave together several key ethical ideas; yet it questions the political relevance of this admirable normative architecture. After having illustrated Rawls's conception of moral agency and practical reason, the paper tackles two criticisms raised by Scheffler. First the allegation of naturalism based on Rawls's disdain of common sense ideas on desert is rebutted. It is then shown that, contrary to Scheffler's (...) contention, Rawls takes proper account of our moral sentiments in the process of constructing his normative theory. Finally, the second criticism is assessed, namely the inability of Rawls's theory to increase consent around liberal policies. Despite disagreement with details of Scheffler's argument, it is suggested that the failure of recent normative liberal theories to have a political impact belies their inability to take into proper consideration the reality of politics. A more realistic appraisal of political life and of historical events and developments are called for if political philosophy wants to be something more than an academic exercise. (shrink)
A number of articles and empirical studies over the past decade, most by Paul Robinson and co-authors, have suggested a relationship between the extent of the criminal law's reputation for being just in its distribution of criminal liability and punishment in the eyes of the community – its "moral credibility" – and its ability to gain that community's deference and compliance through a variety of mechanisms that enhance its crime-control effectiveness. This has led to proposals to have criminal liability (...) and punishment rules reflect lay intuitions of justice – "empirical desert" – as a means of enhancing the system's moral credibility. In a recent article, Christopher Slobogin and Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein (SBR) report seven sets of studies that they argue undermine these claims of empirical desert and moral credibility and instead support SBR's proposed distributive principle of "individual prevention," a view that focuses on an offender's future dangerousness rather than on his perceived desert. -/- The idea that there is a relationship between the criminal law's reputation for justness and its crime-control effectiveness did not originate with Robinson and his co-authors. Rather, it has been a common theme among a wide range of punishment theory scholars for many decades. A particularly important conclusion of recent Robinson studies, however, is their confirmation that this relationship is a continuous one: even small nudges in moral credibility can produce corresponding changes in the community's deference to the criminal law. This is important because it shows that even piecemeal changes or changes at the margin – as in reforming even one unjust doctrine or procedure – can have real implications for crime-control. SBR's studies, rather than contradicting the crime-control power of empirical desert, in fact confirm it. Further, SBR's studies do not provide support for their proposed "individual prevention" distributive principle, contrary to what they claim. -/- While SBR try to associate their principle with the popular "limiting retributivism" adopted by the American Law Institute in its 2007 amendment of the Model Penal Code, in fact it is, in many respects, just the reverse of that principle. With limiting retributivism, the Model Code's new provision sets desert as dominant, never allowing punishment to conflict with it. SBR would have "punishment" essentially always set according to future dangerousness; it is to be constrained by desert only when the extent of the resulting injustices or failures of justice is so egregious as to significantly delegitimize the government and its law. This ignores the fact that even minor departures from justice may have an important cumulative effect on the system as a whole. What SBR propose – essentially substituting preventive detention for criminal justice – promotes the worst of the failed policies of the 1960s, where detention decisions were made at the back-end by "experts," and conflicts with the trend of the past several decades of encouraging more community involvement in criminal punishment, not less. (shrink)
Retributivist approaches to the philosophy of punishment are usually based on certain claims related to moraldesert. I focus on one such principle:Censuring Principle : There is a moral reason to censure guilty wrongdoers aversively.Principles like CP are often supported by the construction of examples similar to Kant’s ‘desert island’. These are meant to show that there is a reason for state officials to punish deserving wrongdoers, even if none of the familiar goals of punishment, such (...) as deterrence, will be achieved. When suitable variants of such examples are presented, however, it is evident that there cannot be much reason to punish such wrongdoers, even if there is some. The same problem besets claims that there is intrinsic value in the suffering of wrongdoers, or that wrongdoers deserve to suffer. All such claims are relatively weak normatively. (shrink)
In this paper I offer from a source compatibilist's perspective a critical discussion of "Four Views on Free Will" by John Martin Fischer, Robert Kane, Derk Pereboom, and Manuel Vargas. Sharing Fischer's semi-compatibilist view, I propose modifications to his arguments while resisting his coauthors' objections. I argue against Kane that he should give up the requirement that a free and morally responsible agent be able to do otherwise (in relevant cases). I argue against Pereboom that his famed manipulation argument be (...) resisted by contending that the agents in it are free and responsible. And I also argue against Vargas by challenging the sense in which his revisionist thesis differs from a position like Fischer's and mine. I close by reflecting on the nature of desert. All seem to assume it is central to the debate, but what is it? (shrink)
T.M. Scanlon has recently proposed what I term a ‘double attitude’ account of blame, wherein blame is the revision of one’s attitudes in light of another person’s conduct, conduct that we believe reveals that the individual lacks the normative attitudes we judge essential to our relationship with her. Scanlon proposes that this account justifies differences in blame that in turn reflect differences in outcome luck. Here I argue that although the double attitude account can justify blame’s being sensitive to outcome (...) luck, it cannot justify allocating blame differently when agents with the same attitudes differ only with respect to the luck-based outcomes of their actions. However, Scanlon’s own contractualist theory of morality can be invoked to show that the double attitude account is compatible with blame-based sanctions (e.g., compensation mandated when negligence or reckless result in harm) being sensitive to outcome luck. The resultant view of blame and luck remains desert-based while making sense of the common intuition that differences in outcome luck can matter to how lucky and unlucky individuals are justifiably treated. (shrink)
In Free Will, Agency, and Meaning in Life, Derk Pereboom proposes an optimistic model of life that follows on the rejection of both libertarian and compatibilist beliefs in free will, moral responsibility, and desert. I criticize his views, focusing on punishment. Pereboom responds to my earlier argument that hard determinism must seek to revise the practice of punishment in the direction of funishment, whereby the incarcerated are very generously compensated for the deprivations of incarceration. I claimed that funishment (...) is a practical reductio: of hard determinism. Pereboom replies, but I claim that he misses a key component of my reductio, the idea that moving in the direction of funishment will considerably weaken the deterrence of potential criminals so that hard determinism becomes self-defeating in practice. Beyond the challenge of funishment, I raise various other difficulties with Pereboom’s model, concerning its deeply unintuitive implications, the harm it does to the motivation of potential criminals, its weakness in resisting utilitarian-like dangers, and more. Our conclusions should lead to a re-evaluation of the compatibilist interpretation of moral life, as a richer, more plausible, and safer interpretation than hard determinism. This needs to be combined with a true hard determinist acknowledgment of the deep injustice and tragedy involved in punishment in light of the absence of libertarian free will. Such a complex view will come closer to doing justice to notions of justice, morality, and decency. (shrink)
The purpose of this paper is to provide a justification of punishment which can be endorsed by free will skeptics, and which can also be defended against the "using persons as mere means" objection. Free will skeptics must reject retributivism, that is, the view that punishment is just because criminals deserve to suffer based on their actions. Retributivists often claim that theirs is the only justification on which punishment is constrained by desert, and suppose that non-retributive justifications must therefore (...) endorse treating the people punished as mere means to social ends. Retributivists typically presuppose a monolithic conception of desert: they assume that action-based desert is the only kind of desert. But there are also personhood-based desert claims, that is, desert claims which depend not on facts about our actions, but instead on the more abstract fact that we are persons. Since personhood-based desert claims do not depend on facts about our actions, they do not depend on moral responsibility, so free will skeptics can appeal to them just as well as retributivists. What people deserve based on the mere fact of their personhood is to be treated as they would rationally consent to be treated if all they had in view was the mere fact of their personhood. We can work out the implications of this view for punishment by developing a hypothetical consent justification in which we select principles of punishment in the Rawlsian original position, so long as we are careful not to smuggle in the retributivist assumption that it is under our control whether we end up as criminals or as law-abiding citizens once we raise the veil of ignorance. (shrink)
In this paper, I explore the idea that someone can deserve resentment or other reactive emotions for what she does by attention to three psychological functions of such emotions—appraisal, communication, and sanction—that I argue ground claims of their desert. I argue that attention to these functions helps to elucidate the moral aims of reactive emotions and to distinguish the distinct claims of desert, as opposed to other moral considerations.
Current legal practice holds that a diagnosis of psychopathy does not remove criminal responsibility. In contrast, many philosophers and legal experts are increasingly persuaded by evidence from experimental psychology and neuroscience indicating moral and cognitive deficits in psychopaths and have argued that they should be excused from moral responsibility. However, having opposite views concerning psychopaths’ moral responsibility, on the one hand, and criminal responsibility, on the other, seems unfortunate given the assumption that the law should, at least (...) to some extent, react to the same desert-based considerations as do ascriptions of moral responsibility. In response, Stephen Morse has argued that the law should indeed be reformed so as to excuse those with severe psychopathy from blame, but that psychopaths that have committed criminal offences should still be subject to some legal repercussions such as civil commitment. We argue that consequentialist and norm-expressivist considerations analogous to those that support punishing psychopaths or at least retaining some legal liability, might also be drawn on in favour of holding psychopaths morally accountable. (shrink)
Free will skepticism maintains that what we do, and the way we are, is ultimately the result of factors beyond our control and because of this we are never morally responsible for our actions in the basic desert sense—the sense that would make us truly deserving of praise and blame. In recent years, a number of contemporary philosophers have advanced and defended versions of free will skepticism, including Derk Pereboom (2001, 2014), Galen Strawson (2010), Neil Levy (2011), Bruce Waller (...) (2011, 2015), and myself (Caruso 2012, 2013, forthcoming). Critics, however, often complain that adopting such views would have dire consequences for ourselves, society, morality, meaning, and the law. They fear, for instance, that relinquishing belief in free will and basic desertmoral responsibility would leave us unable to adequately deal with criminal behavior, increase anti-social conduct, and undermine meaning in life. -/- In response, free will skeptics argue that life without free will and basic desertmoral responsibility would not be as destructive as many people believe (see, e.g., Pereboom 2001, 2014; Waller 2011, 2015; Caruso 2016, forthcoming). According to optimistic skeptics, prospects of finding meaning in life or of sustaining good interpersonal relationships, for instance, would not be threatened. And although retributivism and severe punishment, such as the death penalty, would be ruled out, incapacitation and rehabilitation programs would still be justified (see Pereboom 2001, 2013, 2014; Levy 2012; Caruso 2016; Pereboom and Caruso, forthcoming). In this paper, I attempt to extend this general optimism about the practical implications of free will skepticism to the question of creativity. -/- In Section I, I spell out the question of creativity and explain why it’s relevant to the problem of free will. In Section II, I identify three different conceptions of creativity and explain the practical concerns critics have with free will skepticism. In Section III, I distinguish between three different conceptions of moral responsibility and argue that at least two of them are consistent with free will skepticism. I further contend that forward-looking accounts of moral responsibility, which are perfectly consistent with free will skepticism, can justify calling agents to account for immoral behavior as well as providing encouragement for creative activities since these are important for moral and creative formation and development. I conclude in Section IV by arguing that relinquishing belief in free will and basic desert would not mean the death of creativity or our sense of achievement since important and realistic conceptions of both remain in place. (shrink)
What would be the consequence of embracing skepticism about free will and/or desert-based moral responsibility? What if we came to disbelieve in moral responsibility? What would this mean for our interpersonal relationships, society, morality, meaning, and the law? What would it do to our standing as human beings? Would it cause nihilism and despair as some maintain? Or perhaps increase anti-social behavior as some recent studies have suggested (Vohs and Schooler 2008; Baumeister, Masicampo, and DeWall 2009)? Or (...) would it rather have a humanizing effect on our practices and policies, freeing us from the negative effects of what Bruce Waller calls the “moral responsibility system” (2014, p. 4)? These questions are of profound pragmatic importance and should be of interest independent of the metaphysical debate over free will. As public proclamations of skepticism continue to rise, and as the mass media continues to run headlines announcing free will and moral responsibility are illusions, we need to ask what effects this will have on the general public and what the responsibility is of professionals. (shrink)
In The Stubborn System of Moral Responsibility (2015), Bruce Waller sets out to explain why the belief in individual moral responsibility is so strong. He begins by pointing out that there is a strange disconnect between the strength of philosophical arguments in support of moral responsibility and the strength of philosophical belief in moral responsibility. While the many arguments in favor of moral responsibility are inventive, subtle, and fascinating, Waller points out that even the most (...) ardent supporters of moral responsibility acknowledge that the arguments in its favor are far from conclusive; and some of the least confident concerning the arguments for moral responsibility—such as Van Inwagen—are most confident of the truth of moral responsibility. Thus, argues Waller, whatever the verdict on the strength of philosophical arguments for moral responsibility, it is clear that belief in moral responsibility—whether among philosophers or the folk—is based on something other than philosophical reasons. -/- He goes on to argue that there are several sources for the strong belief in moral responsibility, but the following four are particularly influential: First, moral responsibility is based in a powerful “strike back” emotion that we share with other animals. Second, there is a deep-rooted “belief in a just world”—a belief that, according to Waller, most philosophers reject when they consciously consider it, but which has a deep nonconscious influence on what we regard as just treatment and which provides subtle (but mistaken) support for belief in moral responsibility. Third, there is a pervasive moral responsibility system—extending over criminal justice as well as “common sense”—that makes the truth of moral responsibility seem obvious, and makes challenges to moral responsibility seem incoherent. Finally, there is the enormous confidence we have in the power of reason, which mistakenly leads us to believe that our conscious, rational, and critically reflective selves are constantly guiding our behavior in accordance with our deep values. -/- In these comments, I would like to discuss the many points of agreement I have with Waller, providing along the way additional fuel for his skeptical fire (i.e., his moral responsibility skepticism and his skeptical analysis of the source of our strong belief in moral responsibility). I will also discuss, however, my one main point of disagreement—i.e., his desire to preserve the conception of free will. Waller believes free will can “flourish” in the absence of moral responsibility (see Ch.8), while I maintain they that the variety of free will that is of central philosophical and practical importance is the sort required for moral responsibility in a particular but pervasive sense. This sense of moral responsibility is set apart by the notion of basic desert and is purely backward-looking and non-consequentialist (see Pereboom 2001, 2014; Caruso and Morris, forthcoming). Understood this way, the sort of free will at issue in the historical debate is a kind of power or ability an agent must possess in order to justify certain kinds of desert-based judgments, attitudes, or treatments in response to decisions or actions that the agent performed or failed to perform. (shrink)
Consider the idea that suffering of some specific kind is deserved by those who are guilty of moral wrongdoing. Feeling guilty is a prime example. It might be said that it is noninstrumentally good that one who is guilty feel guilty (at the right time and to the right degree), or that feeling guilty (at the right time and to the right degree) is apt or fitting for one who is guilty. Each of these claims constitutes an interesting thesis (...) about desert, given certain understandings of what desert is. After examining these claims, the paper briefly explores the idea that an offender might deserve certain forms of treatment by others. The paper concludes by contrasting the modest theses on which it focuses with a far bolder one, to the effect that if we are morally responsible, then it makes sense to suppose that some of us might deserve to suffer eternal torment. The more modest theses do not commit one to anything of this sort. (shrink)