1 manipulation, moral responsibility, and bullet biting

Download 127.21 Kb.
Size127.21 Kb.
1   2   3

pertinent deeds, but I do believe that the combination of compatibilism and a popular view of laws of nature yields the verdict Ernie is morally responsible for some of his actions.13 Although I have never endorsed compatibilism, I have expressed my agnosticism about it. So things are falling into place for me from my third-person, diagnostic perspective. Perhaps I lack the nonresponsibility intuition about Ernie because I am biased by my avowal of agnosticism about compatibilism.

When philosophers tell me that they lack an intuition that p that seemingly conflicts with a philosophical position in which they are heavily invested, I am not terribly surprised. If I succeed in showing them that the deepest parts of their position are compatible with the truth of p, then if lots of people claim to have strong intuitions that p, these philosophers might be inclined to tweak their position in such a way as to accommodate p or leave p open. Both here and elsewhere, I have tried to do this favor for compatibilists who have endorsed theses that commit them to holding that Beth is morally responsible for killing George or that Chuck is morally responsible for his good deeds on One Good Day.

Regarding Ernie’s story, I have less to offer compatibilists. As I said in Mele 2006 and repeated here, I certainly do not expect the story to move seasoned compatibilists to reject compatibilism, and I myself lack the intuition that Ernie is not morally responsible for anything he does. Fischer argues that the zygote argument is “not decisive” (2011, p. 272), and I certainly agree. But to return to Fischer’s “price” metaphor, I believe that many compatibilists who take it to be important to persuade non-compatibilists that compatibilism is true do have a price to pay. For compatibilists who accept or are open to a view of laws of nature in light of which Ernie’s story is coherent (see n. ) and who accept premise 2 of ZAM, the price is whatever it costs to produce arguments for the truth of compatibilism powerful enough to persuade many potential recruits from the non-compatibilist ranks that Ernie is morally responsible for some of what he does. And how is this price to be measured? In terms of time and energy, of course.14

Audi, R. 1993. Action, Intention, and Reason. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Ayer, A. 1954. “Freedom and Necessity.” In A. Ayer, Philosophical Essays. London: Macmillan.

Double, R. 1991. The Non-Reality of Free Will. New York: Oxford University Press.

Fischer, J.M. 2011. “The Zygote Argument Remixed.” Analysis 71: 267-72.

Frankfurt, H. 1988. The Importance of What We Care About. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

_____. 2002. “Reply to John Martin Fischer.” In S. Buss and L. Overton, eds. Contours of Agency. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Grünbaum, A. 1971. “Free Will and the Laws of Human Behavior.” American Philosophical Quarterly 8: 299-317.

Hume, D. 1739. A Treatise of Human Nature. Reprinted in Lewis Selby-Bigge, ed. A Treatise of Human Nature. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.

Kearns, S. n.d. “Aborting the Zygote Argument.” Philosophical Studies (forthcoming).

Lewis, D. 1973. Counterfactuals. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.McKenna, M. “Compatibilism; State of the Art.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/supplement.html

Mele, A. 1995. Autonomous Agents: From Self-Control to Autonomy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

_____. 2006. Free Will and Luck. New York: Oxford University Press.

_____. 2008. “Manipulation, Compatibilism, and Moral Responsibility.” Journal of Ethics.12: 263-86.

_____. 2009a. “Moral Responsibility and Agents’ Histories.” Philosophical Studies 142: 161-81.

_____. 2009b. “Moral Responsibility and History Revisited.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 12: 463-75.

_____. n.d. “Moral Responsibility and the Continuation Problem.” Philosophical Studies (forthcoming).

Mill, J. 1979. An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy. John Robson, ed. Toronto: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Rosen, G. 2002. “The Case for Incompatibilism.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 64: 700-708.

Schlick, M. 1962. Problems of Ethics. David Rynin, trans. New York: Dover.

Todd, P. n.d. “Defending (A Modified Version of) The Zygote Argument.” Philosophical Studies (forthcoming).

van Inwagen, P. 1983. An Essay on Free Will. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Vargas, M. 2006. “On the Importance of History for Responsible Agency.” Philosophical Studies 127: 351-82.


11. Determinism is “the thesis that there is at any instant exactly one physically possible future” (van Inwagen 1983, p. 3). There are more detailed definitions of determinism in the literature, but this one will do for my purposes.

22. For a critique of an instance of this use, see Mele 2006, pp. 150-53.

33. Readers will notice that these stories assume the existence of morally responsible agents. This assumption begs no questions against compatibilist believers in moral responsibility.

44. As I understand valuing, “S at least thinly values X at a time if and only if at that time S both has a positive motivational attitude toward X and believes X to be good” (Mele 1995, p. 116). When values are understood as psychological states, I take them to have both of these dimensions by definition. This account of thinly valuing and the corresponding thin account of values are not intended as contributions to the theories of valuing and values; their purpose is to make my meaning clear.

55. Some readers may worry that Beth has been replaced by “another person.” I lack the space to discuss worries about personal identity here, but see Mele 1995, p. 175, n. 22.

66. For related indeterministic cases of manipulation, see Mele 2006, pp. 139-44.

77. See Audi 1993, chs. 7 and 10; Ayer 1954; Grünbaum 1971; Mill 1979, ch. 26, esp. pp. 464-67; and Schlick 1962, ch. 7. Also see Hume’s remarks on the liberty of spontaneity versus the liberty of indifference (1739, bk. II, pt. III, sec. 2).

88. For E* see Mele 2009a, p. 173.

99. To say that a value is unsheddable by an agent over a stretch of time is, very roughly, to say that the agent is incapable both of eradicating it and of significantly attenuating it over that stretch of time. For a fuller account of unsheddable values, see Mele 1995, pp. 153-54.

1010. In Mele 2006, I suggest that it would be useful to run premise 1 by “reflective agnostics” (p. 190). For discussion, see pp. 191-95.

1111. As I observed in Mele 2006 (p. 190), although the argument for premise 2 sketched here sounds a bit like the consequence argument, it is significantly different. The consequence argument is an argument for incompatibilism. The argument for premise 2 is, by itself, consistent with compatibilism. The thesis that the cross-world difference in what caused Z does not support any cross-world difference in moral responsibility is consistent with Ernie’s acting freely and morally responsibly in both worlds, as is premise 2.

1212. The closest Fischer comes to a vignette like this in the article at issue is the following passage:
And even if we changed the story to build into it that John and Mary had quite specific and even detailed desires with respect to the baby they hoped to create, this should not in any way affect our views about Ernie’s moral responsibility 30 years later. It does not affect my evaluation of Ernie's moral responsibility, even if we add that John and Mary had sexual intercourse at the precise moment they did in the belief that, by so doing, they would ensure that Ernie would behave as he does in the future – perhaps even in the specific context in question some 30 years later. We could also add the supposition that, not only did they have intercourse with the relevant belief, but that John and Mary intended that their intercourse lead to Ernie’s performing A and bringing about E 30 years hence. The intentions of John and Mary, and their acting in the belief that they are providing (relative to the background) a sufficient condition for something they want in the future, do not in any way bear on the intuitive basis for Ernie’s moral responsibility in that context 30 years later. (2011, p. 268)
Consider just Ernie’s doing A thirty years later. In my story, Diana exercises the power to intentionally bring it about that this happens and, indeed, the power to intentionally ensure that it happens. Her exhaustive knowledge of the state of her universe at a time and the laws of nature puts her in a position to do this. That is why the first step I took in augmenting Fischer’s story was to bestow knowledge of this kind on John and Mary. Readers are invited to compare their intuitions about Ernie’s A-ing in the story by Fischer quoted here with their intuitions about this in my augmented John and Mary story.

1313. As I pointed out in Mele 2006 (pp. 194-95), the truth of a Humean view of natural laws would undermine my thought experiment about Ernie. According to a Humean view, some of the ontological ingredients of the laws of nature of Ernie’s universe – namely, future regularities – are not in place at the time of his creation. The natural laws might turn out to characterize a deterministic or an indeterministic universe, and even on the hypothesis that the universe turns out to be deterministic, it is open at the time of Ernie’s creation precisely what its laws will be. So Diana, who is supposed to benefit from her knowledge of the laws of nature in designing Ernie, is in no position to know the laws of nature: her complete knowledge of the past does not include knowledge of the laws; nor does it constitute a basis for deducing them. Even if Diana makes a true, educated guess about what the collection of natural laws will turn out to be on the basis of her complete knowledge of the past, it is open when she creates Ernie and right up to t both that she will be wrong about what the laws will be and that Ernie will not A at t. If Ernie were to B at t, something that is consistent with the entire past of his universe (given a Humean view of laws), that fact would be one of the facts to be accounted for by a web of contingent generalizations that appear as theorems (or axioms) “in each of the true deductive systems that achieves a best combination of simplicity and strength” (Lewis 1973, p. 73): that is, it would be among the facts to be accounted for by the laws of nature. On a Humean view of laws, in Gideon Rosen’s words, “it may turn out in the end [that] the laws are as they are in part because” Ernie acted as he did (2002, p. 705). Some agnostics about compatibilism may find themselves in that position partly because they are agnostic about Humeanism about laws of nature.

1414. I am grateful to John Fischer and Stephen Kearns for discussion of some of the ideas in this article. This article was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.

Download 127.21 Kb.

Share with your friends:
1   2   3

The database is protected by copyright ©sckool.org 2022
send message

    Main page