|J. M. FISCHER
& M. RAVIZZA: MORALLY
RESPONSIBLE PEOPLE WITHOUT A FREEDOM
-- The Determinism and Freedom Philosophy Website --
Any idea that
the problem of determinism and freedom has given rise only to
attempts to solve it will not survive an acquaintance with various
philosophers -- including the pair whose approach is outlined below.
are resolute, but not single-minded. Fischer and Ravizza are
-- in the sense that they take determinism to be incompatible with
For many Incompatibilists, such an attitude carries with it the
that determinism is incompatible with moral responsibility. Indeed, the
latter thing is their main concern. Fischer and Ravizza, however,
determinism does not affect moral responsibility. They are
-- in the sense that they take determinism to be compatible with moral
responsibility. Their work, having to do with a person's responsiveness
to reasons, by way of his or her own reasons-responsive mechanism, has
had a good deal of attention, and calls out for more.
In this brief concluding chapter we first wish to present the overall argument of the book in a concise, nontechnical way. We hope this will provide a clear view of the argument. We shall then point to some of the distinctive--and attractive--features of our approach. Finally, we shall offer some preliminary thoughts about extending the account of moral responsibility to apply to emotions.
I. THE OVERALL ARGUMENT.
In presenting the overall argument of the book, we shall tell the story in a relatively simple way, leaving the details and complications aside. Of course, we do not wish in any way to minimize the potential problems and objections, or to suggest that the complications are unimportant. Rather, our goal here is to give a clear, brisk picture of our general account.
The leading idea of our theory of moral responsibility is that responsibility is associated with control. But we contend that there are two distinct kinds of control. Regulative control involves alternative possibilities: it is a kind of dual power of free action. In contrast, guidance control does not, by its nature, involve alternative possibilities. Whereas typically it might be thought that regulative and guidance control go together, the Frankfurt-type cases show that they are separate and distinct sorts of control. And, whereas typically it is thought that moral responsibility requires regulative control, we claim that moral responsibility--for actions, omissions, and consequences--simply requires guidance control. Thus, although we do not believe that moral responsibility requires alternative possibilities, we preserve the traditional association of moral responsibility with control.
But what, exactly, does guidance control consist in? On our view, guidance control should be understood in terms of two elements: the agent's "ownership" of the mechanism that actually issues in the relevant behavior, and the "reasons-responsiveness" of that mechanism. So, for example, an agent is morally responsible for an action, on our account, to the extent that this action issues from the agent's own, reasons-responsive mechanism.
We contend that individuals make certain kinds of mechanisms their own by taking responsibility for them. (When we speak of taking responsibility for a kind of mechanism, we understand this as "shorthand" for taking responsibility for behavior that issues from that kind of mechanism.) It is useful to distinguish two kinds of context in which an agent might take responsibility for the kind of mechanism that leads to his behavior. The typical case is one in which the individual does not explicitly engage in deep philosophical reflection on the relationship between causal determinism and moral responsibility. But there is also the possibility that an individual does precisely this--and thus calls into question many of his pre-reflective attitudes. We begin with the nonreflective case, and proceed to the reflective case.
As a child grows up, he is subject to moral education (imperfect as it may be). The child's parents--and others--react to the child in ways designed (in part) to get the child to take certain attitudes toward himself: to view himself in certain ways. Partly as a result of moral education, the child typically acquires the view of himself as an agent, in at least a minimal sense. That is, he sees that upshots in the world depend on his choices and bodily movements. Further, the child comes to believe that he is a fair target of certain responses--the "reactive attitudes" and certain practices, such as punishment--as a result of the way in which he exercises his agency. We claim that it is in virtue of acquiring these views of himself (as a result of his moral education) that the child takes responsibility. More specifically, it is in virtue of acquiring these views that the child takes responsibility for certain kinds of mechanisms: practical reasoning, non-reflective habits, and so forth. Ordinarily, people would not characterize a child's taking responsibility in exactly this way, but this theoretical characterization gives more precise expression to the idea that the child takes responsibility for actions which spring from certain sources (and not from others).
In a more reflective moment, an individual may ask whether he is indeed a "fair" target for the reactive attitudes and associated practices. For example, he may worry that, if causal determinism is true, then he would not, on balance, be an appropriate target for the reactive attutudes, even though the actual social practices involve the application of such attitudes. It should not be expected that knockdown arguments can be provided to force even the staunchest incompatibilist to put his doubts about the fairness of the reactive attitudes aside. Nevertheless, we have suggested that certain considerations should persuade many that, for practical purposes, they can accept that they are apt candidates (all things considered) for the reactive attitudes, even if causal determinism is true. If an individual is persuaded to take this sort of stance, then this is enough (together with the satisfaction of the other relevant conditions) for the individual to take responsibility in the reflective case.
When one takes responsibility, at a certain point in one's life, for a certain kind of mechanism, this functions as a kind of "standing policy" with respect to that kind of mechanism. So, for example, if one has in the past taken responsibility for the mechanism of ordinary practical reasoning (and in the absence of reconsideration of this mechanism), it follows that one takes responsibility for the currently-operating mechanism of ordinary practical reasoning: taking responsibility is, as it were, transferred via the medium of "sameness of kind of mechanism." Of course, as with other kinds of policies, this policy can be reevaluated periodically, and kinds of mechanisms not previously considered can be addressed at any time.
An individual, then, makes the mechanism that issues in his behavior his own by taking responsibility for it. This element in the account of moral responsibility--taking responsibility--renders our approach to moral responsibility genuinely historical. That is, it is necessary, in order for an individual to be morally responsibile for his behavior, that a process of taking responsibility--as defined above--have taken place at some point prior to the behavior. We hasten to say that the process need not be explicit, conscious, or reflective (although, of course, it can be). And we emphasize that our notion of taking responsibility differs from some ordinary understandings of this notion: it is not, for example, simply a matter of uttering statements, or performing certain actions. Rather, taking responsibility, on our view, is a matter of having certain (dispositional) beliefs about oneself (and having acquired those beliefs in appropriate ways).
That moral responsibility is a genuinely historical phenomenon is important. Consider an analogy. Being a genuine Picasso--and not a fake--is a historical phenomenon. That is, two paintings can be identical in all their "snapshot properties", and still it may be that one is a genuine Picasso, and one is not. Similarly, two individuals can be identical in all their snapshot properties, and still it may be that one is morally responsibile for the relevant behavior, and one is not. For example, if one individual has had his brain manipulated in certain ways, and has not had the opportunity to become aware of this manipulation and reflect on it, then he has not taken responsbility for the kind of mechanism that issues in his behavior. The brain-manipulation mechanism is a different kind of mechanism from ordinary practical reasoning; thus, even if the agent has taken responsibility for ordinary practical reasoning, it does not follow that he has taken responsibility for the brain-manipulation mechanism. Responsibility is genuinely historical; it requires the process of taking responsibility (at some point in the past) for the kind of mechanism that actually issues in the relevant behavior.
As we said above, guidance control has two components: the mechanism that issues in (say) the action must be the agent's own, and it must be suitably reasons-responsive. We now turn to the second component: reasons-responsiveness. It is important to distinguish different kinds of responsiveness to reasons. Strong reasons-responsiveness of the mechanism issuing in action requires a tight fit between sufficient reason and action; this is too much to demand for moral responsibility. Weak reasons-responsiveness requires a loose fit between sufficient reason and action; this is too little to demand for moral responsibility.
We defend the idea that the appropriate notion of responsiveness is somewhere "in between" strong and weak reasons-responsiveness: moderate reasons-responsiveness. A mechanism of kind K is moderately responsive to reason to the extent that, holding fixed the operation of a K-type mechanism, the agent would recognize reasons (some of which are moral) in such a way as to give rise to an understandable pattern (from the viewpoint of a third party who understands the agent's values and beliefs), and would react to at least one sufficient reason to do otherwise (in some possible scenario). That is, a mechanism is moderately responsive to reason insofar as it is "regularly" receptive to reasons (some of which are moral), and at least weakly reactive to reasons.
We contend that our account of guidance control of action has plausible results in a wide range of cases. In the Frankfurt-type cases, the agent cannot do (or choose) otherwise. But he nevertheless exercises guidance control. Recall that in "Assassin," Sam shoots the mayor on his own, but Jack's device ensures Sam will shoot the mayor, even if he is inclined to choose otherwise. That is, Sam's action results from his own, moderately reasons-responsive mechanism, even though he cannot do otherwise. In the alternative scenario--in which the counterfactual intervener intervenes--the mechanism is not the agent's own, and presumably it is not moderately responsive to reasons. Of course, this doubly-defective mechanism is different from the kind of mechanism that actually produces the action; and what is relevant to the agent's moral responsibility is the actual-sequence mechanism.
We hold individuals morally responsible not only for their actions, but for their failures to act as well. In addition, we hold people responsible for the consequences of their actions and omissions. (Perhaps we also hold people responsible for their emotions; we shall turn to this possibility below.) Our account of guidance control of actions--and thus moral responsibility for actions--provides the basis for accounts of guidance control of failures to act and consequences. First, we shall present the account of guidance control of consequences, and then we proceed to the account of guidance control of omissions.
Consequences can be construed as either particulars or universals. This distinction is made in terms of criteria of individuation: the causal antecedents of a consequence-particular are essential to it, while there can be various different causal routes to the same consequence-universal. The account of guidance control of consequence-particulars builds straightforwardly on the account of guidance control of actions. We suggest that S has guidance control of a consequence-particular C just in case S has guidance control of some act A (i.e., A results from S's own, moderately reasons-responsive mechanism), and it is reasonable to expect S to believe that C will (or may) result from A.
The account of guidance control of consequence-universals also builds on the resources of the account of guidance control of actions. With respect to consequence-universals, it is useful to distinguish two "stages" in the production of the consequence-universal: the inner mechanism leading to a bodily movement, and the outer process leading from that bodily movement to an event in the external world (apart from the agent). What is required, for guidance control of a consequence-universal, is that there be an appropriate sort of sensitivity in both stages; more specifically, guidance control here requires two linked and interlocked sensitivities. That is to say, the inner mechanism must be moderately responsive to reason, and the outer process must be suitably sensitive to the relevant bodily movement.
Of course, the moderate reasons-responsiveness of the inner mechanism requires that, holding fixed the operation of the relevant kind of mechanism, the agent is regularly receptive to reasons (some of which are moral) and at least weakly reactive to reasons. This implies that, holding fixed the operation of the actual mechanism, there is some appropriate scenario in which the agent moves his body in way B* (which is different from the way he actually moves his body). Now the sensitivity to bodily movement of the outer path requires that, holding fixed certain important features of the actual train of events, the agent's moving his body in way B* would result in a different consequence-universal. For example, in "Assassin," Sam's pulling the trigger is moderately responsive to reasons. Further, if he had not moved his finger so as to pull the trigger, and the non-intervention of Jack's device is held fixed, then the mayor would not have been shot. Thus, in "Assassin" Sam is morally responsible not only for his act of shooting the mayor, but for the consequence-universal, that the mayor is shot.
It is a delicate matter to specify which features of the actual course of events must be held fixed. First, we suggest that certain background conditions which determine what "kind of process" takes place must be held fixed. Having distinguished between these general conditions and what we call "triggering events," we employ the notion of a triggering event to specify what further things must be held fixed. In the relatively simple case in which there is no simultaneous overdetermination, we contend that one must hold fixed the non-occurrence of all actually-non-occurring triggering events.
Just as with actions, guidance control of consequences (either particular or universal) need not require alternative possibilities (i.e., genuine alternative possibilities open to the agent in which he brings about a different consequence). Further, the account of guidance control of consequence-universals can help to resolve a puzzle. The puzzle begins with the fact that there are certain cases, such as "Assassin" and "Missile 1", in which it seems that an agent can be held morally responsible for bringing about a consequence-universal, even though he could not have avoided doing so. (Recall that in "Missile 1" Elizabeth launches the missile on her own, and yet there is a failsafe device--parallel to the device installed in Sam's brain--that ensures that Washington, D.C. will be bombed.) But there are other cases, such as "Train" and "Missile 3," in which an agent cannot be held morally responsible for the consequence-universal, and in which it seems that it is precisely the fact that he or she cannot prevent the occurrence of the consequence-universal that makes it the case that he or she is not morally responsible for it. (In "Train," all the tracks lead to Syracuse. In "Missile 3," Elizabeth has already launched the missile; Joan can deflect it, but she is so positioned that the bomb must hit some part of Washington, D.C.)
If guidance control is the control associated with moral responsibility, then we can resolve the puzzle. In both "Assassin" and "Missile 1", the agents have guidance control of the relevant upshot. So, when Sam shoots the mayor on his own (without the intervention of Jack's device), it is both the case that his pulling the trigger is moderately responsive to reason and that the mayor's being shot is sensitive to Sam's moving his finger in this way. That is, if Sam moves his finger differently (and holding fixed the relevant background conditions), the mayor would not be shot. Similarly, when Elizabeth launches the missile on her own (without the intervention of any counterfactual intervener), it is both the case that her launching the missile is moderately responsive to reason and that Washington, D.C.'s being bombed is sensitive to Elizabeth's so moving her body. In all of the cases in which it seems that the agent is morally responsible for the consequence-universal, there are two linked and interlocked sensitivities: both the inner and outer paths are appropriately sensitive.
In contrast, in "Train," Ralph does not have guidance-control of the train's ending up in Syracuse. Here there may well be moderate reasons-responsiveness of the mechanism that leads to his bodily movements, but the world is such that, no matter how he moves his body, the train will end up in Syracuse. More carefully, holding fixed the relevant background conditions--the structure of the tracks, and so forth--no movement of Ralph's body will result in the train's not ending up in Syracuse. So there is no sensitivity of the second stage--the outer path. Similarly, in "Missile 3" Joan does not have guidance control of the missile's hitting Washington, D.C. Again, there may well be reasons-responsiveness of the mechanism that leads to Joan's bodily movments, but the world is such that, no matter how she moves her body, the missile will end up in Washington, D.C. That is, the second stage--the outer path--is not appropriately sensitive to Joan's bodily movments.
In none of the cases--"Assassin," "Missile 1," "Train," and "Missile 3"--can the relevant agent prevent the consequence-universal from obtaining. But in the first pair--and not the second--the agent has guidance control. Guidance control is thus a more refined instrument than alternative possibilities in the ascription of moral responsibility. It allows us to say just the right thing about a whole range of apparently puzzling cases.
The account of guidance control of failures to act (omisisons) builds on the accounts of guidance control of actions and consequences. It is useful here to distinguish simple from complex omissions. A simple omission is identical to (or fully constituted by) one's moving one's body in a certain way (where "moving one's body" can include keeping it still). For example, one's not keeping one's eyes directed straight ahead is fully constituted by one's looking to the left. Here it is very natural to say that guidance control of the omission is guidance control of the relevant bodily movement, i.e., one's looking to the left. Guidance control of the omission, in the case of a simple omission, is a special case of guidance control of actions.
We further contend that guidance control of complex omissions is a special case of guidance control of consequence-universals. A complex omission should be construed in terms of an agent's standing in a certain relation to what we call a "relatively finely-specified negative consequence-universal." So, when John fails to save the child in "Sloth" (in which the child is about to drown anyway), John brings it about that the child is not saved by him: John stands in the "bringing about" relation to the child's not being saved by him. In general, then, guidance control of complex omissions can be treated as a special case of guidance-control of consequence-universals. That is, guidance control of complex omissions is guidance control of certain relatively finely-specified negative consequence-universals.
Given the above approach to guidance control of omissions (and the association of guidance control with moral responsibility), we can resolve a second puzzle. There are various cases in which it seems that an agent is not morally responsible for failing to do something precisely because he cannot do that thing. For example, in "Sloth" John is not morally responsible for failing to save a drowning child, it might be thought, precisely because he cannot save the child: if he were to try to save the child, he would fail, since the child is about to drown in any case. And yet there are other cases in which an agent can apparently be held morally responsible for omitting to do something he cannot do. In "Frankfurt-type Sloth"--in which John would be overwhelmed by irresistible urges to do something else, if he were even to consider saving the child--John is morally responsible for failing to save the child, although he cannot save the child (in virtue of his propensity toward the irresistible impulses).
If guidance control is the basis of moral responsibility for omissions, then we can resolve the puzzle. Of course, in neither case does John have the power to save the child. But the cases differ with respect to John's possession of guidance control. In "Sloth" John lacks guidance control, whereas in "Frankfurt-type Sloth" he possesses it. Because the child will drown anyway very shortly in "Sloth," there is no sensitivity in the second stage, despite the presence of moderate reasons-responsiveness in the first stage. That is, no matter how John moves his body, the child will drown, and thus John will be related to the child's not being saved by him. In contrast, in "Frankfurt-type Sloth" there is sensitivity in both stages. That is, John's bodily movements are moderately reasons-responsive insofar as the irresistible urges occur in the alternative scenario and thus play no role in the actual mechanism leading to John's bodily movements. In addition, the supposition of the example is that the child would be saved, if John jumped into the water and swam to the child. Thus, in "Frankfurt-type Sloth" (and not "Sloth"), there are the two linked and interlocked sensitivities characteristic of guidance control. Again, guidance control is a more refined instrument than alternative possibilities in ascribing moral responsibility.
On our approach, actions and failures to act are treated symmetrically; in both cases, moral responsibility is based on guidance control, and thus in neither case does moral responsibility require alternative possibilities. In fact, we have now developed a relatively comprehensive "actual-sequence" theory of moral responsibility, according to which moral responsibility for any of the various items--actions, omissions, and consequences--does not require alternative possibilities. Moral responsibility, on our account, is a matter of how the actual sequence goes: it does not require the existence of open alternative pathways.
Traditionally, philosophers have been inclined to associate moral responsibility with the sort of control that involves alternative possibilities. In certain cases, it seems that the lack of alternative possibilities is what renders an agent inaccessible to the attitudes (and activities) constitutive of moral responsibility. But we have argued that it is not the lack of alternative possibilities in itself that makes it the case that an agent is not morally responsible. Rather, in those cases in which it appears that the lack of alternative possibilities is playing this role, we contend that some factor makes it the case both that the agent lacks alternative possiblities and that he lacks guidance control; further, we contend that it is the lack of guidance control that rules out moral responsibility.
The association of guidance control with moral responsibility, and the attendant claim that moral responsibility does not require alternative possibilities, implies that, if causal determinism threatens moral responsibility, it does not do so in virtue of ruling out alternative possibilties. Thus, the indirect argument for the incompatibility of causal determinism and moral responsibility--the argument which proceeds via considerations pertinent to alternative possibilities--fails. We also argue that a potent direct challenge to moral responsibility from causal determinism does not succeed.
This direct challenge employs the "Principle of the Transfer of Non-Responsibility," or "Transfer NR." This principle says (roughly) that if no one is morally responsible for the fact that p, and no one is morally responsible for the fact that if p then q, then it follows that no one is morally responsible for the fact that q. Given this principle and the assumption of the truth of causal determinism, one can generate an argument for incompatibilism as follows. If causal determinism is true, then there is some state of the universe b in the remote past, which, together with the laws of nature, entail that some agent S does A today. Clearly, S is not morally responsible for the fact that b obtained. And, arguably, S is not morally responsible for the fact that if b obtained, then he does A today. So, by "Transfer NR," we get the conclusion (which obviously can be generalized) that S is not morally responsible for doing A today.
We block this argument by impugning "Transfer NR." Examples involving pre-emptive over-determination show that "Transfer NR" is invalid. Consider, for example, "Erosion." In this example, Betty plants her explosives in the crevices of the glacier and detonates the charge at T1, causing an avalanche that crushes the enemy fortress at T3. Unbeknownst to Betty and her commanding officers, however, the glacier is gradually eroding (in a certain way). Had Betty not placed the dynamite in the crevices, some ice and rocks would have broken free at T2, starting an avalanche that would have crushed the enemy campy at T3. Here Betty is not morally responsible for the glacier's erosion. And she is not morally responsible for the fact that, if the glacier erodes as it does, then the enemy camp will be destroyed by an avalance at T3. And yet, in virtue of Betty's freely detonating the explosives at T1, she is at least in part morally responsible for the enemy camp's being destroyed at T3. Thus, "Transfer NR" must be rejected.
A proponent of the direct argument for incompatibilism may seek to revise "Transfer NR," but all the revisions we can think of appear to face the following problem. Either they, too, will be subject to counterexamples, or they will be insufficiently powerful to generate the incompatibilistic conclusion, or they will beg the question against the compatibilist. So, for example, one might wish to revise "Transfer NR" so that it says something like the following. If no one is morally responsible for p, and the events involved in p play a role in actually leading to q, and no one is morally responsible for its being the case that if p then q, then no one is morally responsible for q.
But now the revised principle is subject to counterexamples involving simultaneous overdetermination, such as "Erosion*" Here the erosion actually starts an avalanche that destroys the enemy camp at exactly the same time as the avalanche caused by Betty's dynamite. So Betty is not morally responsible for the erosion's starting an avalanche of a certain kind. And she is not morally responsible for its being the case that if there is an avalanche of that kind, the enemy camp will be destoyed at T3. And yet (in virtue of Betty's freely detonating the explosives at T1), she is at least in part morally responsible for the enemy camp's being destoyed at T3. Thus, the revised version of "Transfer NR" must be rejected.
Note, futher, that if one revises the principle so that the events leading from p to q are the only events leading to q, the principle now will not be potent enough to yield a general incompatibilism: the principle now will not yield the incompatibilistic result wherever there is simultaneous overdetermination. We suggest, finally, that further attempts to revise the principle will be ad hoc, or will result in the principle's being acceptable only to those already inclined strongly toward incompatibilism. In any case, the principle will have lost its dialectical power.
Having argued against both the direct
and indirect strategies of establishing incompatibilism, we claim that
we have offered a strong plausibility argument for compatibilism. Of
we do not aspire to present a decisive, knockdown argument. That is, we
have not sought to do coercive philosophy (in Nozick's terms),
rather to offer a certain kind of philosophical explanation. We have
to present an attractive compatibilistic picture. In doing this, we
explained why a historical theory of moral responsibility is
and how such a theory is possible--what its structure would be.
Further, we have presented the basic reasons why we believe such a
should be compatibilistic. We strongly commend these reasons to the
fair, and reasonable reader, even as we deeply respect those who remain
II. SOME DISTINCTIVE FEATURES OF OUR APPROACH.
II. A. Externalism.
Perhaps the most salient characteristic of our approach to moral responsibility is that it does not attend solely to "internal" features of an individual's mental economy. This distinguishes our approach from many of the alternatives. With some trepidation, we here introduce a distinction between "internalist" and "externalist" approaches to moral responsibility. Although this terminology is somewhat protean, we nevertheless believe that the distinction in question is an important one. Our approach to moral responsibility is "externalist:" we do not think that moral responsibility is solely a function of internal features of an agent's configuration of mental states and dispositions. Our externalist approach stands in stark contrast to (for example) the "hierarchical" approach of Harry Frankfurt.
But Frankfurt's approach to moral responsibility is certainly not the only sort of internalist account. It appears as if Gary Watson's approach, which requires a mesh between "rational" and "motivational" states, is an internalist account, insofar as it attends solely to the relationship between states from various systems of preferences. Similarly, the Humean view, according to which moral responsibility is based on the expression of character traits, appears to be fundamentally internalist: it focusses exclusively on the relationship between different elements or aspects of an agent's mental economy (broadly construed to include dispositional states such as character). That is, it posits a mesh between a particular preference and a certain character trait, but it does not "get outside" these aspects of the agent's internal makeup.
It is important to see that our denial of internalism has two distinct elements. First, our denial of internalism involves the claim that a consideration of an agent's history is essential to an evaluation of his moral responsibility. It is not the case that the only thing that matters for moral responsibility is the arrangement of mental states: it also matters how that arrangement "got there."
But our denial of internalism also
involves the claim that an agent's connection to the world is
to his moral responsibility. That is, the agent (holding fixed the
of the actual-sequence mechanism) must be appropriately responsive
to reasons presented by the world, in order to be morally responsible.
On our view, certain changes in the external world must be reflected in
changes in the agent, in order for him to be morally responsible. We
for certain patterns of reasons-recognition--a certain kind of
to external reality--as well as minimal reactivity to reasons.
the sort represented in a stark, powerful fashion by the approach of
Frankfurt--is doubly defective. It does not attend to the agent's
And it does not attend to his connection to the external
II. B. Compatibilism.
Additionally, we wish to emphasize that one of the great virtues of our approach to moral responsibility is that, on our account, it is highly plausible that moral responsibility is compatible with causal determinism. Thus, we can be relatively confident that our ascriptions of moral responsibility do not depend on the falsity of a certain sort of empirical thesis about the world. We would not have to withhold our attributions of moral responsibility, if we were convinced by a consortium of top-notch physicists that the universe is--surprisingly--causally deterministic.
Note, also, that our account of moral responsibility is entirely consistent with the falsity of causal determinism. That is, the conditions on taking responsibility and the conditions on responsiveness appear to be straightforwardly consistent with the truth of certain sorts of indeterminism. Now this is not to say that these conditions are consistent with all kinds of indeterminism. The conditions would not seem to be satisfied in a world in which there is a significant kind of randomness at the macroscopic level. (For example, it is doubtful that individuals would reveal consistent, understandable patterns of reasons-recognition if the relevant worlds were entirely random at the macroscopic level. Nor, presumably, would there be interlocking and linked sensitivities of the kind required by the account of moral responsibility for consequence-universals.) But, of course, this is no objection to our theory, as everyone would, presumably, deny that an individual has control of the sort required for moral responsibility in a random world.
Our approach insulates us from an infelicitous vulnerability to what might be called "metaphysical flipflopping." So, for example, Peter van Inwagen has argued forcefully that causal determinism is incompatible with moral responsibility. Since he is very confident that we are indeed morally responsible, he concludes that causal determinism must be false. But he says that, in the unlikely event he were convinced that causal determinism were true, he would probably reconsider his position that causal determinism is incompatible with moral responsibility!
More specifically, van Inwagen claims that, if he were convinced of the truth of causal determinism, he would probably jettison the relevant modal principle (which we have been calling "Transfer"). Presumably, he would have to give up the transfer idea as it applies both to powerlessness ("Transfer") and to nonresponsibility ("Transfer NR"). But why should the tenability of such a principle depend on the empirical thesis of causal determinism? It is implausible that the validity of the modal principle should depend on the status of the doctrine of determinism. In contrast to van Inwagen, we need not reconsider our views about the relevant modal principles, if we were to discover that causal determinism is true. We are not vulnerable to this sort of unappealing metaphysical flipflopping.
Our approach to moral responsibility,
then, allows us to be relatively confident about our status as morally
responsible agents. We do not need to worry that scientists in the
will discover that causal determinism obtains. Nor do we need to worry
that they will decisively establish that the world is indeterministic
ways that fall short of randomness at the relevant macroscopic levels).
Our status as persons--and responsible agents--need not depend on these
II.C. A comprehensive, systematic account.
We have set ourselves the task of providing
a "comprehensive" account of moral responsibility. This involves
a theory of moral responsibility for omissions and consequences, as
as actions. Our approach to moral responsibility is comprehensive in
sense. (Some contend that individuals are also held morally
for their emotions; we attend to moral responsibility for
in light of our theory, in the Appendix.) Further, the fact that the
is systematic is a major advantage of it. That is, the same
basic ingredients employed in the account of guidance control of
are used in the accounts of guidance control of consequences and
Not only do the same basic ingredients define guidance control in the
of actions, consequences, and omissions, but it is guidance control
underlies moral responsibility in all of these cases. The unified,
nature of the theory adds considerably to its force. That the complex
apparently disparate phenomena of moral responsibility can be explained
in terms of a relatively simple set of ingredients adds considerably to
the cogency of the theory. That the accounts of moral responsibility
actions, omissions, and consequences can be seen to be interrelated in
a close, natural way enhances the power of the leading idea of the
moral responsibilty is associated with guidance control.
III. APPENDIX: MORAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR EMOTIONS.
We intend here simply to sketch an approach to the emotions naturally suggested by our general account of moral responsibility. It is natural--given our general account of moral responsiblity--to think that the emotional reactions for which individuals can legitimately be held morally responsible are precisely those which are the product of guidance control. As with actions, omissions, and consequences, this does not imply that, at the relevant time of the emotional reaction or ever in the past, the agent is such that he could have avoided having that reaction: guidance control of emotions does not require the availability of alternative possibilities. What is natural to require, on our sort of approach, is that we can trace back to some appropriate point in the agent's past and find an exercise of guidance control which then results in the subsequent emotional reaction. The subsequent emotional reaction must be the result of guidance control at some suitable prior time, in order for the agent to be morally responsible for the emotional reaction. That is, it is natural for us to adopt an indirect (or tracing) approach based on guidance control.
Whereas we find this a promising strategy, Robert Adams has contested this (or, perhaps, a closely related) point in a fascinating and provocative essay. Adams says:
Adams goes on:
Second, Adams points to a prior condition of yourself--in which you care more about having a good opinion of yourself than about knowing the truth about yourself. This condition allegedly explains why you don't know about your ingratitude. But then Adams contends that this condition is "not a voluntary one." But why not? Why is it clear that this state is not voluntary? Perhaps Adams is here again assuming, not unreasonably, that a state's being voluntary requires the agent's knowing consent to it. This we can grant, and perhaps this was the only sort of view Adams meant to dispute. But our view does not require that the condition in question be voluntary in this sense. All we require is that the condition result (in an appropriate way) from an agent's exercise of guidance control. And we contend that it is an open question whether your condition of caring more about your good opinion of yourself than about the truth about yourself results, in an appropriate way, from your prior exercise of guidance control. It seems to us that nothing in the example, and nothing Adams says, suggests that it is evident that the condition does not result from a prior exercise of guidance control. So, even if Adams has effectively criticized a particular version of the indirect approach, he has not thereby impugned our approach.
We have suggested that, for all Adams has said, the prior states he identifies in both parts of his discussion--the prior state of ingratitude and the prior state of caring more about having a good opinion of yourself than knowing the truth about yourself--may well be the results of even prior exercises of guidance control. But suppose the example is filled in so that it is quite clear that the states are not so produced. For example, imagine that the prior state of ingratitude is simply electronically induced via direct manipulation of the brain (of which you are completely unaware). Here it is evident that the ingratitude does not issue from your exercise of guidance control; but it is equally evident that you cannot fairly be held responsible for it. In general, it seems that, when the examples are filled in to make it clear that the relevant states are not the result of the prior exercise of guidance control, the intuition that the agent is morally responsible for the emotional reaction can be called into question. It is at least a highly promising working hypothesis that the difference between cases in which we are inclined to hold an individual morally responsible for an emotional reaction and those in which we are not so inclined can be explained in terms of guidance control.
We certainly have not laid out a detailed
theory of moral responsibility for the emotions. Rather, we have sought
to establish a working hypothesis, and to show that it is promising. In
doing this, we have considered Robert Adams's powerful critique of the
association of responsibility for emotions with control. We have
out that this critique, whatever its merits in challenging other
to connecting responsibility with control, does not cast doubt on our
Further, a careful consideration of Adams's critique points precisely
a great virtue of our account: it gives a principled way of
cases of moral responsibility for emotional reactions from cases where
there is no such responsibility.
This selection is almost all of the final chapter of Responsibility and Control: A Theory of Moral Responsibility (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). You are of course directed to this good book's previous chapters for the close argument that supports its conclusions.
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