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)
Responsibility and the Moral Sentiments offers an account of moral responsibility. It addresses the question: what are the forms of capacity or ability that render us morally accountable for the things we do? A traditional answer has it that the conditions of moral responsibility include freedom of the will, where this in turn involves the availability of robust alternative possibilities. I reject this answer, arguing that the conditions of moral responsibility do not include any condition of alternative possibilities. In the (...) terms that have become familiar, the book thus defends a compatibilist account of moral responsibility. (shrink)
The View from Here is a study of our must fundamental attitudes toward the past. The book explores the dynamics of affirmation and regret, tracing the connections of each to our ongoing attachments. The focus is on situations in which our attachments commit us to affirming events or decisions that we know to have been unfortunate or regrettable.
This paper addresses some connections between conceptions of the will and the theory of practical reason. The first two sections argue against the idea that volitional commitments should be understood along the lines of endorsement of normative principles. A normative account of volition cannot make sense of akrasia, and it obscures an important difference between belief and intention. Sections three and four draw on the non-normative conception of the will in an account of instrumental rationality. The central problem is to (...) explain the grip of instrumental requirements even in cases in which agents do not fully endorse the ends they are pursuing. The solution I propose appeals to coherence constraints on the beliefs that condition the distinctive volitional stance of intention. (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)
Promising is clearly a social practice or convention. By uttering the formula, “I hereby promise to do X,” we can raise in others the expectation that we will in fact do X. But this succeeds only because there is a social practice that consists (inter alia) in a disposition on the part of promisers to do what they promise, and an expectation on the part of promisees that promisers will so behave. It is equally clear that, barring special circumstances of (...) some kind, it is morally wrong for promisers to fail to do what they have promised to do. What is perhaps less clear is how the moral wrongness that is involved when promises are broken is related to the social practice that makes promising possible in the ﬁrst place. (shrink)
Rational agency may be thought of as intentional activity that is guided by the agent's conception of what they have reason to do. The paper identifies and assesses three approaches to this phenomenon, which I call internalism, meta-internalism, and volitionalism. Internalism accounts for rational motivation by appeal to substantive desires of the agent's that are conceived as merely given; I argue that it fails to do full justice to the phenomenon of guidance by one's conception of one's reasons. Meta-internalism explains (...) this phenomenon by postulating higher-order dispositions, consitutive of (rational) agency itself, which causally interact with the agent's normative beliefs to produce corresponding motivations to action. I show that meta-internalism comes to grief over cases of akrasia, insofar as it leaves no room for the capacity for rational guidance when agents voluntarily act at variance with their judgments about what they have reason to do. Volitionalism, I contend, improves on both internalism and meta-internalism. Its distinctive feature is the postulation of a kind of motivation that is directly subject to the agent's control, and independent of the dispositions and desires to which the agent is passively subject. (shrink)
Practical reason is the general human capacity for resolving, through reflection, the question of what one is to do. Deliberation of this kind is practical in at least two senses. First, it is practical in its subject matter, insofar as it is concerned with action. But it is also practical in its consequences or its issue, insofar as reflection about action itself directly moves people to act. Our capacity for deliberative self-determination raises two sets of philosophical problems. First, there are (...) questions about how deliberation can succeed in being practical in its issue. What do we need to assume — both about agents and about the processes of reasoning they engage in — to make sense of the fact that deliberative reflection can directly give rise to action? Can we do justice to this dimension of practical reason while preserving the idea that practical deliberation is genuinely a form of reasoning? Second, there are large issues concerning the content of the standards that are brought to bear in practical reasoning. Which norms for the assessment of action are binding on us as agents? Do these norms provide resources for critical reflection about our ends, or are they exclusively instrumental? Under what conditions do moral norms yield valid standards for reasoning about action? The first set of issues is addressed in sections 1-3 of the present article, while sections 4-5 cover the second set of issues. (shrink)
T. M. Scanlon's magisterial book What We Owe to Each Other is surely one of the most sophisticated and important works of moral philosophy to have appeared for many years. It raises fundamental questions about all the main aspects of the subject, and I hope and expect that it will have a decisive influence on the shape and direction of moral philosophy in the years to come. In this essay I shall focus on four sets of issues raised by Scanlon's (...) systematic argument, with the aim of clarifying some of Scanlon's central assumptions and presenting alternatives at several key points. The perspective from which I offer these comments is that of a reader who is sympathetic to Scanlon's general approach but not yet convinced on various points of detail. (shrink)
It is both common and natural to think of addiction as a kind of defect of the will. Addicts, we tend to suppose, are subject to impulses or cravings that are peculiarly unresponsive to their evaluative reflection about what there is reason for them to do. As a result of this unresponsiveness, we further suppose, addicts are typically impaired in their ability to act in accordance with their own deliberative conclusions. My question in this paper is whether we can make (...) adequate sense of this conception of addiction as a volitional defect. In particular, I want to focus on some philosophical assumptions, from the theory of action, that bear directly on the very idea that addiction might impair the agent’s volitional capacities. Understanding this idea, I shall argue, requires that we start out with an adequate conception of the human will. Only if we appreciate the kinds of volitional capacities characteristic of normal agents can we conceptualize properly the impairment of those capacities represented by addiction, and assess the implications of such impairment for questions of responsibility. (shrink)
A defence of the idea that there are sui generis duties of love: duties, that is, that we owe to people in virtue of standing in loving relationships with them. I contrast this non-reductionist position with the widespread reductionist view that our duties to those we love all derive from more generic moral principles. The paper mounts a cumulative argument in favour of the non-reductionist position, adducing a variety of considerations that together speak strongly in favour of adopting it. The (...) concluding section connects this debate with larger issues in moral theory concerning the general idea of obligation. (shrink)
According to T. M. Scanlon's buck‐passing account, the normative realm of reasons is in some sense prior to the domain of value. Intrinsic value is not itself a property that provides us with reasons; rather, to be good is to have some other reason‐giving property, so that facts about intrinsic value amount to facts about how we have reason to act and to respond. The paper offers an interpretation and defense of this approach to the relation between reasons and values. (...) I start by acknowledging the role that substantive values play in specifications of our reasons, noting that this poses an apparent challenge to the buck‐passing account. The challenge can be met, however, if we adopt a deliberative understanding of substantive value, an interpretation that I proceed to develop and defend. In conclusion I consider recent attempts to capture the agent‐relativity of reasons within a teleological framework for thinking about the relation between reasons and values. I argue that these approaches rest on a deliberative understanding of value; the teleological framework thus turns out to illustrate the basic insight of the buck‐passing approach, rather than offering an alternative to it. (shrink)
Reason and Value collects 15 new papers by leading contemporary philosophers on themes from the work of Joseph Raz. Raz has made major contributions in a wide range of areas, including jurisprudence, political philosophy, and the theory of practical reason; but all of his work displays a deep engagement with central themes in moral philosophy. The subtlety and power of Raz's reflections on ethical topics make his writings a fertile source for anyone working in this area. Especially significant are his (...) explorations of the connections between practical reason and the theory of value, which constitute a sustained and penetrating treatment of a set of issues at the very center of moral philosophy as it is practiced today. The contributors to the volume acknowledge the importance of Raz's contributions by engaging critically with his positions and offering independent perspectives on the topics that he has addressed. The volume aims both to honour Raz's accomplishments in the area of ethical theorizing, and to contribute to an enhanced appreciation of the significance of his work for the subject. (shrink)
A common strategy unites much that philosophers have written about the virtues. The strategy can be traced back at least to Aristotle, who suggested that human beings have a characteristic function or activity, and that the virtues are traits of character which enable humans to perform this kind of activity excellently or well. The defining feature of this approach is that it treats the virtues as functional concepts, to be both identified and justified by reference to some independent goal or (...) end which they enable people to attain. Some recent philosophers seem to have hoped that by following this perfectionist strategy, we might attain a more convincing account of our moral practices than rule-based theories of ethics have been able to provide. (shrink)
Questions about the possibility and nature of moral motivation occupy a central place in the history of ethics. Philosophers disagree, however, about the role that motivational investigations should play within the larger subject of ethical theory. These disagreements surface in the dispute about whether moral thought is necessarily motivating – ‘internalists’ affirming that it is,‘externalists’ denying this. [...] There are also important questions about the content of moral motivations. A moral theory should help us to make sense of the fact (...) that people are often moved to do the right thing, by identifying a basic motive to moral behaviour that is both widespread and intelligible, as a serious source of reasons. (shrink)
It is not a new thought that an adequate understanding of freedom and responsibility might require us to distinguish between the theoretical and practical points of view. This distinction is at the heart of the Kantian approach to moral philosophy. But while the Kantian strategy is deeply suggestive, it has proved difficult to work out the idea that freedom and responsibility are artifacts of the practical standpoint. Hilary Bok’s book Freedom and Responsibility provides a new interpretation and defense of the (...) broadly Kantian approach. It offers an illuminating account of the distinction between the practical and the theoretical points of view, and develops in an original way the thesis that freedom and responsibility need to be situated in the context of practical rather than theoretical reasoning. The book is a sophisticated statement of an important and underappreciated position; it is also pleasantly written and vigorously argued. I recommend it strongly to anyone with an interest in the issues it addresses. (shrink)
A defence of the idea that there are sui generis duties of love: duties, that is, that we owe to people in virtue of standing in loving relationships with them. I contrast this non‐reductionist position with the widespread reductionist view that our duties to those we love all derive from more generic moral principles. The paper mounts a cumulative argument in favour of the non‐reductionist position, adducing a variety of considerations that together speak strongly in favour of adopting it. The (...) concluding section connects this debate with larger issues in moral theory concerning the general idea of obligation. (shrink)
Jonathan Dancy’s Practical Reality defends a strikingly nonpsychologistic account of motivating reasons for action. I agree wholeheartedly with Dancy that normative reasons do not in general consist in psychological states. I also agree with Dancy that motivating reasons should be understood in a way that preserves their connection to the kinds of normative consideration that recommend or speak in favor of actions. Despite these significant points of agreement, however, I find myself resisting Dancy’s nonpsychologistic conclusion.
Jonathan Dancy’s Practical Reality defends a strikingly nonpsychologistic account of motivating reasons for action. When we explain what people do by citing their reasons, we are trying to isolate the considerations that were actually effective in moving them to act. But it is crucial, Dancy contends, that these considerations be understood in a way that preserves their connection to the normative contexts in which the concept of a reason also has a place. The considerations that move agents to act are (...) considerations that agents take to cast a favorable light on the actions they perform, and it is at least sometimes the case that peoples’ motivating reasons are also good reasons for action, considerations that really do recommend or speak in favor of the action that was undertaken. If we make the plausible further assumption that these normative reasons are typically not psychological states of the agents to whom they apply, it follows that motivating reasons equally cannot be understood in essentially psychological terms. The reasons for which people act are rarely if ever psychological states to which they are subject, but facts or states of the world of the sort that are capable of counting in favor of actions, and that in successful cases render sensible or reasonable the very actions that agents in fact perform. (shrink)
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)
My commentators have given me much to think about, and I am grateful to them for their serious engagement with my work. Their many objections coalesce primarily around the following issues, which I shall address in turn: the normative approach; praiseworthiness; practical reason and moral reasons; physical possibility; the exercise of general powers; nomic necessity and revisionism about blame; ultimate responsibility and control.