If there is room for a substantial conception of the will in contemporary theorizing about human agency, it is most likely to be found in the vicinity of the phenomenon of normativity. Rational agency is distinctively responsive to the agent's acknowledgment of reasons, in the basic sense of considerations that speak for and against the alternatives for action that are available. Furthermore, it is natural to suppose that this kind of responsiveness to reasons is possible only for creatures who possess (...) certain unusual volitional powers, beyond the bare susceptibility to beliefs and desires necessary for the kind of rudimentary agency of which the higher animals are arguably capable. (shrink)
A familiar feature of our moral responsibility practices are pleas: considerations, such as “That was an accident”, or “I didn’t know what else to do”, that attempt to get agents accused of wrongdoing off the hook. But why do these pleas have the normative force they do in fact have? Why does physical constraint excuse one from responsibility, while forgetfulness or laziness does not? I begin by laying out R. Jay Wallace’s (Responsibility and the moral sentiments, 1994 ) theory of (...) the normative force of excuses and exemptions. For each category of plea, Wallace offers a single governing moral principle that explains their normative force. The principle he identifies as governing excuses is the Principle of No Blameworthiness without Fault: an agent is blameworthy only if he has done something wrong. The principle he identifies as governing exemptions is the Principle of Reasonableness: an agent is morally accountable only if he is normatively competent. I argue that Wallace’s theory of exemptions is sound, but that his account of the normative force of excuses is problematic, in that it fails to explain the full range of excuses we offer in our practices, especially the excuses of addiction and extreme stress. I then develop a novel account of the normative force of excuses, which employs what I call the “Principle of Reasonable Opportunity,” that can explain the full range of excuses we offer and that is deeply unified with Wallace’s theory of the normative force of exemptions. An important implication of the theory I develop is that moral responsibility requires free will. (shrink)
P.F. Strawson’s work on moral responsibility is well-known. However, an important implication of the landmark “Freedom and Resentment” has gone unnoticed. Specifically, a natural development of Strawson’s position is that we should understand being morally responsible as having externalistically construed pragmatic criteria, not individualistically construed psychological ones. This runs counter to the contemporary ways of studying moral responsibility. I show the deficiencies of such contemporary work in relation to Strawson by critically examining the positions of John Martin Fischer and Mark (...) Ravizza, R. Jay Wallace, and Philip Pettit for problems due to individualistic assumptions. (shrink)
At first sight, moral blame is an unpleasant thing. No one likes being blamed and few people like experiencing the negative emotions associated with blaming others. Therefore, some suggest a radical reform of our everyday moral life: We should replace our tendency to blame wrongdoers with a tendency to criticize them in a less harmful and more productive way. The blameless fight for the good by Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi may exemplify this alternative. Many philosophers, however, think (...) that such a reform would be bad. In this discussion note, I will focus on R. Jay Wallace’s claim that our tendency to blame wrongdoers stands in relation to some important good such that we would necessarily lose this good if we stopped blaming each other. He argues that blaming wrongdoers expresses one’s commitment to morality in a special way and that no other response could serve this function. I will show that there are forms of moral sadness in our psychological repertoire that differ from blame but have the same expressive dimension that blame is supposed to have. Thus, I will suggest that the question of whether we should try to get rid of our tendency to blame is still open. (shrink)
R. Jay Wallace argues in this book that moral accountability hinges on questions of fairness: When is it fair to hold people morally responsible for what they do? Would it be fair to do so even in a deterministic world? To answer these questions, we need to understand what we are doing when we hold people morally responsible, a stance that Wallace connects with a central class of moral sentiments, those of resentment, indignation, and guilt. To hold someone responsible, he (...) argues, is to be subject to these reactive emotions in one's dealings with that person. Developing this theme with unusual sophistication, he offers a new interpretation of the reactive emotions and traces their role in our practices of blame and moral sanction. With this account in place, Wallace advances a powerful and sustained argument against the common view that accountability requires freedom of will. Instead, he maintains, the fairness of holding people responsible depends on their rational competence: the power to grasp moral reasons and to control their behavior accordingly. He shows how these forms of rational competence are compatible with determinism. At the same time, giving serious consideration to incompatibilist concerns, Wallace develops a compelling diagnosis of the common assumption that freedom is necessary for responsibility. Rigorously argued, eminently readable, this book touches on issues of broad concern to philosophers, legal theorists, political scientists, and anyone with an interest in the nature and limits of responsibility. (shrink)
Normativity and the Will collects fourteen important papers on moral psychology and practical reason by R. Jay Wallace, one of the leading philosophers currently working in these areas. The papers explore the interpenetration of normative and psychological issues in a series of debates that lie at the heart of moral philosophy. Themes that are addressed include reason, desire, and the will; responsibility, identification, and emotion; and the relation between morality and other normative domains. Wallace's treatments of these topics are at (...) once sophisticated and engaging. Taken together, they constitute an advertisement for a distinctive way of pursuing issues in moral psychology and the theory of practical reason, and they articulate and defend a unified framework for thinking about those issues. The volume also features a helpful new introduction. (shrink)
I discuss three views of promising: the view is that promising is a social practice, and that our obligation to keep promises is related to the practice in some way; Scanlon’s non-practice view, and Wallace and Kolodny’s “hybrid view”. I shall argue that none of these accounts is satisfactory, and propose a fourth view: deflationism. Deflationism is the view that saying “I promise” merely adds emphasis and does not incur any extra obligation.
In this paper I seek to identify different sorts of freedom putatively linked to moral responsibility; I then explore the relationship between such notions of freedom and the Consequence Argument, on the one hand, and the Frankfurt-examples, on the other. I focus (in part) on a dilemma: if a compatibilist adopts a broadly speaking "conditional" understanding of freedom in reply to the Consequence Argument, such a theorist becomes vulnerable in a salient way to the Frankfurt-examples.
Normativity and the Will collects fourteen important papers on moral psychology and practical reason by R. Jay Wallace, one of the leading philosophers currently working in these areas.The papers explore the interpenetration of normative and psychological issues in a series of debates that lie at the heart of moral philosophy. Part I, Reason, Desire, and the Will, discusses the nexus linking normativity to motivation, including the relations between desire and reasons, the role of normative considerations in explanations of action, and (...) the normative commitments involved in willing an end. Part II, Responsibility, Identification, and Emotion, looks at questions about the rational capacities presupposed by accountable agency and the psychic factors that both inhibit and enable identification with what we do. It includes an interpretation of the Nietzschean claim that ressentiment is among the sources of modern moral consciousness. Part III, Morality and Other Normative Domains, addresses the structure of moral reasons and moral motivation, and the relations between moral demands and other normative domains. Wallace's treatments of these topics are at once sophisticated and engaging. Taken together, they constitute an advertisement for a distinctive way of pursuing issues in moral psychology and the theory of practical reason. The book articulates and defends a unified framework for thinking about those issues, while offering sustained critical discussions of other influential approaches. It should be of interest to every serious student of moral philosophy. (shrink)