, Volume 97, Issue 2, pp 195-227

Moral Responsibility and Unavoidable Action

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access

Abstract

The ''principle of alternate possibilities'' (PAP), making the ability to do otherwise a necessary condition for moral responsibility, is supposed by Harry Frankfurt, John Fischer, and others to succumb to a peculiar kind of counterexample. The paper reviews the main problems with the counterexample that have surfaced over the years, and shows how most can be addressed within the terms of the current debate. But one problem seems ineliminable: because Frankfurt's example relies on a ''counterfactual intervener'' to preclude alternatives to the person's action, it is not possible for it to preclude all alternatives (intervention that is contingent upon a trigger cannot bring it about that the trigger never occurred). This makes it possible for the determined PAPist to maintain that some pre-intervention deviation is always available to ground moral responsibility.

In reply, the critic of PAP can examine all the candidate deviations and argue their irrelevance to moral responsibility (a daunting prospect); or the critic can dispense with counterfactual intervention altogether. The paper pursues the second of these strategies, developing three examples of noncounterfactual intervention in which (i) the agent has no alternatives (and a fortiori no morally relevant alternatives), yet (ii) there is just as much reason to think that the agent is morally responsible as there was in Frankfurt's original example. The new counterexamples do suffer from one liability, but this is insufficient in the end to repair PAP's conceptual connection between moral responsibility and alternate possibilities.