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11: MAR 1


  • Waller, Bruce. Chapter 2. "The Basic Argument against Moral Responsibility," Against Moral Responsibility (23)

Waller, Bruce. Chapter 2. "The Basic Argument against Moral Responsibility," Against Moral Responsibility

  • This chapter gives a more detailed account of Waller's "fairness argument".
  • Framing the argument: p.20: MR requires supernaturalism. MR incompatible with naturalism/determinism.
  • Note the reconstruction of Dennett's view: naturalists who believe in limited MR. "MR skepticism arises from misplaced search for an absolute ideal: total before-the-eyes-of-God guilt.
  • Waller: naturalists should be incompatibalists and reject MR. But Dennett will disagree.
  • Comparative Unfairness 23
  • Karen and Louise: Karen calls out the racist remark, Louise doesn't. four possibilites:
  • 1. chance
  • 2. first causes
  • 3. situational
  • 4. they were shaped by forces beyond their control.
  • (p. 26: It seems like he is saying that to account for "effort" you need miracles....?)
  • (Karen and Louise really present a version of Strawson's argument a comparative form to see "unfairness". This is a pretty good innovation, regardless of our views of the issue.)
  • (p. 27: note inference: Because we are the products of evolution, we cannot be ultimately responsible for how we are. Try this version: Evolution gave us agential capacities for avoiding certain outcomes that make us moderately responsible (mr, not MR) for some of our behaviors.) p. 27 "intermediate self-making"
  • Mele's criticism of Strawson's Basic Argument: MR doesn't require us to have "chosen" the way we are. Strawson commits us to an impossible psychological regress. Rather, practical freedom is an emergent property (30). Example of Betty and her fear of the basement. "intentional self-modification" (ISM) is possible.
  • Waller: (uses his "unfairness" framing device). Imagine Betty and Benji. Benji fails at ISM. Is it unfair to blame him? (Let's pause on this and consider other cases beside fear of basements or becoming racists.)

  • (Is fairness working the same way in the following cases? How does your model of the "normally competent person" and "effort" come into play?)
  • Overcoming a phobia.
  • Becoming aware of one's racism or bias.
  • Overcoming an angry impulse to hit someone. to murder someone.
  • Overcoming a brutally abusive childhood and
  • Overcoming a significant disability. (In fairness, we pay people to compensate them for some disabilities.)

  • research on "cognitive misers" vs. "chronic cognizers".
  • Kane's Libertarianism. dual control responsibility.
  • Waller's "unfairness" framing device again. Betty and Barbara

  • Some critical thoughts.
  • Criticism of the "fairness" argument.
  • 1.
  • Waller makes a pretty straightforward claim in his fairness arguments. If we're not ultimately responsible for our differences, then it is never fair to judge us differently. But is that how we really think of fairness in actually situations. Consider cases:
  • Would a workplace wellness program be unfair because it takes different employees more or less effort to meet the goals and get the rewards? (not a blame scenario)
  • Within a cohort of similarly talented competitors (swimmers), would it be unfair to praise a winner if we found some small difference that the winner had over others? (Note that in some cases we do say it is unfair -- a new swimsuit design maybe?) But always?
  • You go to grad school and you notice that some of the people in your cohort have been studying philosopy in 4 languages for about 3 times the time you have been reading in one. Do you go to the Dean and complain that it is unfair to compare you to them?
  • Joe and Bill have slightly different degrees of alcoholism, but both get DUIs. Do we need to calibrate the penalties to track this possible difference in culpability?
  • I'm not sure our fairness judgements really involved the kind of ideal standards that we actually use in making things "fair enough". Practical judgements of fairness might be just even if they operate with "ranges" and "normal performance expectations"
  • In general, you could say Waller's critique requires the "ultimate/absolute" language. Moderate intentional self-modification is pretty plausible, even if it cannot be traced to absolute .
  • 2.
  • A second line of critical thought, still pretty inchoate, is that much of the MR scepticism literature focuses on a "deep dive" into the "self". If we don't find the kind of "self-making" they are looking for, could it be because the model of self is wrong? (A clue: Waller has trouble imagining a naturalistic account of effort.)