FEB 17

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8: FEB 17


  • Strawson Galen. "The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility" (1994) (23)

Strawson Galen. "The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility" (1994)

  • Imagines a scenario of choice between buying a cake and giving to Oxfam. Seem up to you, but the Basic Argument says no.
  • Section 1 - Three versions of the argument
  • Basic Argument Conclusion: "We can never be truly or ultimately morally responsible for our actions."
  • Causa sui version: To be MR, you have to be causa sui
  • 10 step version: adds in
  • "What one does is a function of how one is, mentally speaking"
  • "To be truly MR, one must have brought it about that one is the way one is.."
  • "To be MR for the way one is, "in any respect at all", you must have "principles of choice" P1. But one must have chosen P1, by P2, but then to be MR for P2, you need to have chosen P2 by some P3....
  • 3rd version - genetics and experience limit our ability to remake ourselves.
  • Section 2 - What is "true" or "ultimate" MR?
  • Defines MR in terms of possibility of fair punishment (without an pragmatic justification)
  • Clearly affirms (top of 44) the experience of free will. we literally can't give up belief in true or ultimate MR. (really?)
  • "situations of choice" are the "experiential rock" on which belief in MR is built.
  • citation of authorities: Sartre, Kant, Kane, Koorsgaard
  • at 45, he seems to say that if we identify with a trait, we are "in control" or "answerable" (2 diff things) for how we are. (Really seems to tie the "inescapability of freedom and self-creation" to MR, even while arguing that it is impossible.)
  • Section 3 - Another restatement of the Basic Argument
  • gets at "certain mental aspects" "mentally speaking". Acknowledges that basic facts about us are not in our control. Focus on intentionality. You must be MR for your mental life, especially your intentionality. Later, "you must have intentionally brought it about that you are the way you are." 47.
  • Premise 2: "To be truly MR for what you do you must be truly responsible for the way you are - at least in certain mental respects."
  • Premise 3: "But you can't be truly resp. for the way your are so you can't be truly responsibile for what you do."
  • Compatibilists reject 2. Libertarians reject 3.
  • Section 4: Responses to the Basic Argument
  • Compatibilists: Compatibilists consider an action under your control under normal circumstances and without compulsion, etc. So they reject Premise 2 since they are not looking for ultimate responsibility. (He makes it sound like a compatibilist can't be an MR skeptic, but that's not true. -Alfino)
  • Libertarian/Incompatibilist: Kane's "undetermined self-forming actions" (SFAs). But the old objection remains: How can 'indeterminism' help the libertarian. Isn't that luck?
  • Third response: p. 50. You could appeal to a picture of the self, determined or not, which captures MR. Defines the CPM (character, personality, motivations) and then Self as "in some way independent of one's CPM" (note this is the homunculus again). S "incorporates a power of decision" (humuncular grit). But Strawson rejects this response. S is still responding to CPM. Not enough to say we are "fully self-consciously aware of oneself as an agent facing choices". Still working with material that you aren't MR for.

SEP Notes on Strawson's Argument, "Skepticism about MR" p. 16-18

  • Critics
  • Some criticize the definition of "ultimate responsibility" (connecting it to fair punishment)
  • Escape from the regress by offering a sufficient account of "self-creation"
  • Attack the claim that our mental states have to be up to us for our actions to be. (break the connection)
  • Defenders
  • The Basic Argument still works with a weaker connection bt action and source:
  • doesn't rely on the premise that an agent can be MR for an action only if she is responsible for every factor contributing to the action.
  • contra critics who want to "break the connection", it is counterintuitive to say that an agent is MR for A when no factor contributing to that action is up to that agent.