MRFW SEP Lecture Notes

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MRFW SEP Lecture Notes

SEP article, Skepticism about Moral Responsibility


  • MR skepticism: "refers to a family of views that all take seriously the possibility that human beings are never morally responsible for their actions in a particular but pervasive sense." range of skepticism.
  • Critics argue that morality may hang in the balance if we abandon tradition conceptions of blame and retribution. But "Optimistic skeptics" think we would be better off morally and maybe practically.
  • Desert based judgements: "resentment, indignation, moral anger, backward-looking blame, and retributive punishment"
  • Consequentialist vs. Desert-based -- forward looking vs. backward looking.
  • Types of responsibility not affected by MR skepticism: (p. 5)
  • Attributability -- we can still attribute actions to individuals based on consistency with their identity.
  • Answerability - "According to this conception of responsibility,

someone is responsible for an action or attitude just in case it is connected to her capacity for evaluative judgment in a way that opens her up, in principle, to demands for justification from others"

  • take charge responsibility or "Taking responsibility"

Arguments for MR Skepticism

1. Arguments connected to traditional FW positions

  • Connection to Free Will discussion - For some, MR & FW are definitionally tied. So: No FW, no MR. (For others, there is no relationship!).
  • Traditional hard det. approach: Determinism implies "you could not have done otherwise" (Dennett will challenge this.)
  • Hard Incompatibalism -- whether reality is det. or indet. we lack basic desert MR. Also denies Libertarian indet. provides basis for desert MR. (more at p. 10)
  • Hard Incompats work the analogy bt. determinism and "manipulation". Pereboom's famous "four case" argument p. 11.

2. Less directly FW focused arguments for MR Skepticism - "Ultimate Impossibility" arguments

  • Strawson's "causa sui" argument (fr. Nietzsche). Also the "Basic Arguement" (p. 15)

3. Luck

  • p. 18-25

4. Scientific Challenges

  • Threats from neuroscience: Libet
  • Threats from psychology: automaticity, situationism, adaptive unconscious,
  • Threats from naturalist (and evolutionary) accounts of social behavior

Implications of MR Skepticism

  • What would happen if we become MR skeptics?
  • Trad. arg undermining morality
  • MR skeptic view "illusionism" 33 - we ought to promote the illusion of FW.
  • MR skeptic view "disillusionism" 34 - better off disillusioned from error.
  • MR skeptic view "optimistic skepticism"
  • Empirical studies on effects of FW / anti-FW priming (31)

Reactive Attitudes Arguments

  • Arguments about the social value or importance of various sets of attitudes we might cultivate or discultivate.
  • Strawson again arguing for that we need a package of reactive attitudes to navigate social life.

Arguments about effects of MR Skepticism on Morality

  • PVI: "I have listened to philosophers who deny the existence of moral responsibility. I cannot take them seriously. I know a philosopher who has written a paper in which he denies the reality of moral responsibility. And yet this same philosopher, when certain of his books were stolen, said, “That was a shoddy thing to do!” But no one can consistently say that a certain act was a shoddy thing to do and say that its agent was not morally responsible when he

performed it. (1983: 207)

  • Other authors: C.A. Campbell, W.T. Stace Susan Wolf,
  • "Ought implies can" arguments
  • Maybe not, but "Blame implies can" evidence from emp. philosophy.

Criminal Punishment

  • Retributivism in Am CJ system.
  • Deterrence theories (util) -- "use objection" - worries about unjust use of util. punishment
  • Moral Education theories -- punishment must benefit person punished.

SEP article, Moral Luck

SEP article, Moral Responsibility