A good number of people currently thinking and writing about reasons identify a reason as a consideration that counts in favor of an action or attitude.1 I will argue that using this as our fundamental account of what a reason is generates a fairly deep and recalcitrant ambiguity; this account fails to distinguish between two quite different sets of considerations that count in favor of certain attitudes, only one of which are the “proper” or “appropriate” kind of reason for them. (...) This ambiguity has been the topic of recent discussion, under the head “the wrong kind of reasons problem.”2 I will suggest that confusion about “the wrong kind of reason” will be dispelled by changing our account of what a reason is. While I agree both that reasons are considerations and that certain.. (shrink)
Many assume that we can be responsible only what is voluntary. This leads to puzzlement about our responsibility for our beliefs, since beliefs seem not to be voluntary. I argue against the initial assumption, presenting an account of responsibility and of voluntariness according to which, not only is voluntariness not required for responsibility, but the feature which renders an attitude a fundamental object of responsibility (that the attitude embodies one’s take on the world and one’s place in it) also guarantees (...) that it could not be voluntary. It turns out, then, that, for failing to be voluntary, beliefs are a central example of the sort of thing for which we are most fundamentally responsible. (shrink)
I hope to show that, although belief is subject to two quite robust forms of agency, "believing at will" is impossible; one cannot believe in the way one ordinarily acts. Further, the same is true of intention: although intention is subject to two quite robust forms of agency, the features of belief that render believing less than voluntary are present for intention, as well. It turns out, perhaps surprisingly, that you can no more intend at will than believe at will.
In this paper I consider fairness of blaming a wrongdoer. In particular, I consider the claim that blaming a wrongdoer can be unfair because blame has a certain characteristic force, a force which is not fairly imposed upon the wrongdoer unless certain conditions are met--unless, e.g., the wrongdoer could have done otherwise, or unless she is someone capable of having done right, or unless she is able to control her behavior by the light of moral reasons. While agreeing that blame (...) has a characteristic force, I am skeptical of this charge of unfairness. My skepticism concerns itself less with the particular conditions of fairness proposed than with the idea that blame can be rendered unfair by its characteristic force. If to blame a person were simply to perform certain intentional actions, then, as we will see, blame could be rendered unfair by its force. But to blame a person is not just to act in certain ways. It is, at least in large part, to make certain judgments or adopt certain attitudes. However, it is unclear how these attitudes or judgments carry "force"? and also unclear whether they can be rendered unfair by their force. Examining these issues, I will suggest that much of the force of blame is found in a set of judgments--most centrally, the judgment that one person failed to show proper regard for others. But, I will argue, once it is granted that such judgments are true, their characteristic force cannot render them unfair. (shrink)
A common line of thought claims that we are responsible for ourselves and our actions, while less sophisticated creatures are not, because we are, and they are not, self-aware. Our self-awareness is thought to provide us with a kind of control over ourselves that they lack: we can reflect upon ourselves, upon our thoughts and actions, and so ensure that they are as we would have them to be. Thus, our capacity for reflection provides us with the control over ourselves (...) that grounds our responsibility. I argue that this thought is subtly, but badly, confused. It uses, as its model for the control that grounds our responsibility, the kind of control we exercise over ordinary objects and over our own voluntary actions: we represent to ourselves what to do or how to change things, and then we bring about that which we represent. But we cannot use this model to explain our responsibility for ourselves and our actions: if there is a question about why or how we are responsible for ourselves and our actions, it cannot be answered by appeal to a sophisticated, self-directed action. There must be some more fundamental account of how or why we are responsible. I replace the usual account with a novel but natural view: responsible mental activity can be modeled, not as an ordinary action, but as the settling of a question. This shift will require abandoning the tempting but troublesome thought that responsible activity involves discretion and awareness—which, I argue, we must abandon in any case. (shrink)
I first pose a challenge which, it seems to me, any philosophical account of forgiveness must meet: the account must be articulate and it must allow for forgiveness that is uncompromising. I then examine an account of forgiveness which appears to meet this challenge. Upon closer examination we discover that this account actually fails to meet the challenge—but it fails in very instructive ways. The account takes two missteps which seem to be taken by almost everyone discussing forgiveness. At the (...) end, I sketch an alternative account of forgiveness, one that I think meets the challenge and avoids the missteps. (shrink)
I argue to a conclusion I find at once surprising and intuitive: although many considerations show trust useful, valuable, important, or required, these are not the reasons for which one trusts a particular person to do a particular thing. The reasons for which one trusts a particular person on a particular occasion concern, not the value, importance, or necessity of trust itself, but rather the trustworthiness of the person in question in the matter at hand. In fact, I will suggest (...) that the degree to which you trust a particular person to do a particular thing will vary inversely with the degree to which you must rely, for the motivation or justification of your trusting response, on reasons that concern the importance, or value, or necessity of having such a response. (shrink)
Nearly sixty years after its publication, P. F. Strawson’s “Freedom and Resentment” continues to inspire important work. Its main legacy has been the notion of “reactive attitudes.” Surprisingly, Strawson’s central argument—an argument to the conclusion that no general thesis (such as the thesis of determinism) could provide us reason to abandon these attitudes—has received little attention. When the argument is considered, it is often interpreted as relying on a claim about our psychological capacities: we are simply not capable of abandoning (...) the reactive attitudes, across the board, in something like the way we are simply not capable of remembering everything we are told. A different line interprets Strawson as relying on something like a conceptual point: you can neither support nor call into question the whole of a practice using notions that are, themselves, constituted by that practice. Neither interpretation would lead to you to expect what you will find, looking at the central text: Strawson twice accuses his opponent of being caught in some kind of contradiction. So neither interpretation, on its own, is correct. By providing a close reading of the central text, I do my best to articulate Strawson’s more interesting, and more powerful, argument. The argument depends on an underlying picture of the nature of moral demands and moral relationships—a picture that has gone largely unnoticed, that is naturalistic without being reductionistic, and that is, I think, worthy of serious consideration. (shrink)
Here I defend my solution to the wrong-kind-of-reason problem against Mark Schroeder’s criticisms. In doing so, I highlight an important difference between other accounts of reasons and my own. While others understand reasons as considerations that count in favor of attitudes, I understand reasons as considerations that bear (or are taken to bear) on questions. Thus, to relate reasons to attitudes, on my account, we must consider the relation between attitudes and questions. By considering that relation, we not only solve (...) the wrong-kind-of-reason problem, but we also bring into view rational agency—the use of reasons in thought. (shrink)
It has seemed to many philosophers—perhaps to most—that believing is not voluntary, that we cannot believe at will. It has seemed to many of these that this inability is not a merely contingent psychological limitation but rather is a deep fact about belief, perhaps a conceptual limitation. But it has been very difficult to say exactly why we cannot believe at will. I earlier offered an account of why we cannot believe at will. I argued that nothing could qualify both (...) as having been done “at will,” in the relevant sense, and as a belief. Thus, no believer could believe at will. If my arguments are correct, our inability to believe at will reveals no genuine lack in our powers of mind, any more than an inability to draw a square circle reveals a lack of artistic skill. My account has been recently criticized by Kieran Setiya, who has provided an account of his own. Here I revisit and defend my account, hopefully in a way that will both make my thought clearer and illumine some of the broader differences between Setiya’s approach and my own. I then briefly consider Setiya’s own argument, in part to further develop the contrast. (shrink)
Donald Davidson opens ‘Actions, Reasons, and Causes’ by asking, ‘What is the relation between a reason and an action when the reason explains the action by giving the agent's reason for doing what he did?’ His answer has generated some confusion about reasons for action and made for some difficulty in understanding the place for the agent's own reasons for acting, in the explanation of an action. I offer here a different account of the explanation of action, one that, though (...) minimal and formal, preserves the proper role for the agent's own reasons for acting. (shrink)
I will argue that making a certain assumption allows us to conceptualize more clearly our agency over our minds. The assumption is this: certain attitudes (most uncontroversially, belief and intention) embody their subject’s answer to some question or set of questions. I will first explain the assumption and then show that, given the assumption, we should expect to exercise agency over this class of attitudes in (at least) two distinct ways: by answering for ourselves the question they embody and by (...) acting upon them in ways designed to affect them according to our purposes—in roughly the way we exercise agency over most ordinary objects. (shrink)
There seems to be widespread agreement that to be responsible for something is to be deserving of certain consequences on account of that thing. Call this the “merited-consequences” conception of responsibility. I think there is something off, or askew, in this conception, though I find it hard to articulate just what it is. The phenomena the merited-consequences conception is trying to capture could be better captured, I think, by noting the characteristic way in which certain minds can rightly matter to (...) other such minds—the way in which certain minds can carry a certain kind of importance, made manifest in certain sorts of responses. Mattering, not meriting, seems to me central. However, since I cannot yet better articulate an alternative, I continue in the merit-consequences framework. I focus on a particular class of consequences: those that are non-voluntary, in a sense explained. The non-voluntariness of these reactions has two important upshots. First, questions about their justification will be complex. Second, they are not well thought of as consequences voluntarily imposed upon the wrongdoer by the responder. By focusing on merited consequences and overlooking non-voluntariness, we risk misunderstanding the significance of moral criticism and of certain reactions to moral failure. (shrink)
I here defend an account of the will as practical reason —or, using Kant's phrase, as " reason in its practical employment"—as against a view of the will as a capacity for choice, in addition to reason, by which we execute practical judgments in action. Certain commonplaces show distance between judgment and action and thus seem to reveal the need for a capacity, in addition to reason, by which we execute judgment in action. However, another ordinary fact pushes in the (...) other direction: the activities of the will are activities for which the person is answerable in a very particular sort of way. This answerability is most easily understood if willing involves settling a question. Settling a question seems to be a capacity of reason. Thus it can seem that activities of will are activities of our capacity for reasoning. I will suggest that we can accommodate the commonplaces while still understanding the will as reason in its practical employment, by abandoning the assumption that practical reasoning concludes in a judgment. Rather, reasoning which concludes in a judgment—reasoning directed at the question of whether p—is theoretical reasoning. In its practical employment, reason is directed at the question of whether to x; it concludes, not in a judgment about x-ing, but rather in an intention to x. (shrink)
In "Rational Capacities" Michael Smith outlines the sense of capacity he believes to be required before blame is appropriate. I question whether this sense of capacity is required. In so doing, I consider different ways in which blame might be conditioned.
In 1982, when T. M. Scanlon published “Contractualism and Utilitarianism,” he noted that, despite the widespread attention to Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, the appeal of contractualism as a moral theory had been under appreciated. In particular, the appeal of contractualism’s account of what he then called “moral motivation” had been under appreciated.1 It seems to me that, in the intervening quarter century, despite the widespread discussion of Scanlon’s work, the appeal of contractualism, in precisely this regard, has still been (...) under appreciated—even though Scanlon makes what he once called “moral motivation” central, throughout his work. My first aim, then, is to do my best to draw out and make vivid this appeal. I will do this by first considering the two questions that Scanlon thinks must be addressed by any moral theory, what he once called “the question of subject matter” and “the question of motivation.” I will spend some time first locating and explicating the second question, of motivation, and then displaying Scanlon’s answer to it—it is this answer which provides contractualism with its under-appreciated appeal. I will then return to the question of subject matter—which will, by that point, have been revealed as not wholly distinct from the question of motivation, as Scanlon understands it. But it is as an answer to this question that Scanlon’s theory is most often.. (shrink)
Many think of reasons as facts, propositions, or considerations that stand in some relation (or relations) to attitudes, actions, states of affairs. The relation may be an explanatory one or a “normative” one—though some are uncomfortable with irreducibly “normative” relations. I will suggest that we should, instead, see reasons as items in pieces of reasoning. They relate, in the first instance, not to psychological states or events or states of affairs, but to questions. That relation is neither explanatory nor “normative.” (...) If we must give it a label, we could call it “rational”—but that will mean, I think, only that the consideration bears on the question. By thus putting reasoning first, we not only avoid a handful of difficulties that have plagued thinking about reasons, but we also bring back to center-stage the importance of rational agency. (shrink)
I suggest that Fischer concedes too much to the consequence argument when he grants that we may not make a difference. I provide a broad sketch of (my take on) the dispute between compatibilists and incompatibilists, while suggesting that some of the discussion may have confused the freedom required for moral responsibility with a very different notion of autonomy. I introduce that less usual notion of autonomy and suggest that those who are autonomous, in this sense, do make a difference.
In his In Praise of Blame, George Sher aims to provide an analysis and defense of blame. In fact, he aims to provide an analysis that will itself yield a defense by allowing him to argue that morality and blame "stand or fall together." He thus opposes anyone who recommends jettisoning blame while preserving (the rest of) morality. In this comment, I examine Sher's defense of blame. Though I am much in sympathy with Sher's strategy of defending blame by providing (...) an analysis that shows its connection to our commitment to morality, I question his execution of this strategy. Sher hopes to defend our blaming practices by showing our dispositions to them to be a merely contingent consequence of a belief-desire pair that is itself justified by whatever justifies our commitment to morality. I doubt our blaming practices can be defended in this way. In explaining my doubts, I provide a short comparison of Sher's approach with that of P. F. Strawson in "Freedom of Resentment." I suggest that we might do better by exploring the connection between our commitment to morality and our blaming practices themselves. (shrink)
I first sketch the different things we might have in mind, when thinking about responsibility. I then relate each of those to possible investigations of human agency. The most interesting such relation, in my opinion, is that between agency and what I call “responsibility as mattering.” I offer some hypotheses about that relation.
I here press an often overlooked question: Why does the fairness of a sanction require an adequate opportunity to avoid it? By pressing this question, I believe I have come to better understand something that has long puzzled me, namely, what philosophers (and others) might have in mind when they talk about “true moral responsibility,” or the “condemnatory force” of moral blame, or perhaps even “basic desert.” In presenting this understanding of “condemnation” or of “basic desert,” I am presenting an (...) idea that I do not, myself, endorse—one to which I am, myself, opposed. I present and defend it, hoping that, if what I say accurately captures what people have in mind, it will also show how condemnation or desert, in this sense, can be left behind. (shrink)