Advertisement

The Journal of Ethics

, Volume 20, Issue 1–3, pp 83–105 | Cite as

A Modest Historical Theory of Moral Responsibility

  • Michael McKenna
Article

Abstract

Is moral responsibility essentially historical? Consider two agents qualitatively identical with respect to all of their nonhistorical properties just prior to the act of A-ing. Is it possible that, due only to differences in their respective histories, when each A-s only one A-s freely and is morally responsible for doing so? Nonhistorical theorists say “no.” Historical theorists say “yes.” Elsewhere, I have argued on behalf of philosophers like Harry G. Frankfurt that nonhistorical theorists can resist the historical theorists’ case against them, and that, therefore, a nonhistorical thesis remains a live option. Nevertheless, I have remained officially agnostic in this debate, as I acknowledge the pull of the competing considerations speaking on behalf of each view. In what follows, I turn from defending the nonhistorical position to fashioning a new historical theory, a relatively modest one that captures what is especially gripping about the kinds of examples that seem to commend an historical conclusion.

Keywords

Directly free Directly morally responsible Derivatively free Derivatively morally responsible Harry G. Frankfurt Free will Alfred Mele Moral responsibility Negative historical theory Positive historical theory 

Notes

Acknowledgments

For helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper, I would like to thank Gunnar Bjornsson, E.J. Coffman, Ish Haji, Terry Horgan, Al Mele, Shaun Nichols, David Palmer, Derk Pereboom, Carolina Sartorio, David Schmidtz, David Shoemaker, Angela Smith, and Brandon Warmke. I also profited from the editor and two anonymous referees at Mind. Finally, I would like to thank Angelo Corlett for inviting me to contribute to this special 20th anniversary volume of The Journal of Ethics. We who work on free will and moral responsibility owe Angelo a great deal. He has done so much to highlight the importance of these philosophical issues. On a more personal note, I would like to thank Angelo for his friendship and for supporting me and offering me a special opportunity early in my career.

References

  1. Arpaly, Nomy. 2003. Unprincipled virtue. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Arpaly, Nomy. 2006. Merit, meaning, and human bondage. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Berofsky, Bernard. 2006. Global control and freedom. Philosophical Studies 131: 419–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Davidson, Donald. 1987. Knowing one’s own mind. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 60: 441–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Double, Richard. 1991. The non-reality of free will. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Dworkin, Gerald. 1988. The theory and practice of autonomy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Eshleman, Andrew S. 2001. Being is not believing: Fischer and Ravizza on taking responsibility. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 79: 479–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Feinberg, Joel. 1986. Harm to self. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Fischer, John Martin. 2006. The free will revolution (continued). The Journal of Ethics 10: 315–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Fischer, John Martin, and Mark Ravizza. 1998. Responsibility and control: An essay on moral responsibility. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Frankfurt, Harry. 1971. Freedom of the will and the concept of a person. Journal of Philosophy 68: 5–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Frankfurt, Harry G. 1988. The importance of what we care about. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Frankfurt, Harry G. 2002. Reply to John Martin Fischer. In Contours of agency: Essays on themes from Harry Frankfurt, ed. S. Buss, and Overton, 27–31. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  14. Frankfurt, Harry G. 1975. Three concepts of free action II. In Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume IL, 113–125.Google Scholar
  15. Ginet, Carl. 1990. On action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Haji, Ishtiyaque. 1998. Moral appraisability. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Haji, Ishtiyaque, and Stefaan Cuypers. 2007. Magical agents, global induction, and the internalism/externalism debate. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 85: 343–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Haji, Ishtiyaque, and Stefaan Cuypers. 2004. Responsibility and the problem of manipulation reconsidered. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 12: 439–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kane, Robert. 1996. The significance of free will. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. McKenna, Michael. 2012a. Defending nonhistorical compatibilism: A reply to Haji and Cuypers. Philosophical Issues 22: 264–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. McKenna, Michael. 2012b. Moral responsibility, manipulation arguments, and history: Assessing the resilience of nonhistorical compatibilism. The Journal of Ethics 16: 145–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. McKenna, Michael. 2008. Putting the lie on the control condition for moral responsibility. Philosophical Studies 139: 29–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. McKenna, Michael. 2004. Responsibility and globally manipulated agents. Philosophical Topics 32: 169–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. McKenna, Michael. 2000. Assessing reasons-responsive compatibilism. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 8: 89–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. McKenna, Michael. 1998. The limits of evil and the role of moral address: A defense of Strawsonian compatibilism. The Journal of Ethics 2: 123–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Mele, Alfred. 2009a. Moral responsibility and agents’ histories. Philosophical Studies 142: 161–181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mele, Alfred. 2009b. Moral responsibility and history revisited. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 12: 463–475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mele, Alfred. 2008. Manipulation, compatibilism, and moral responsibility. The Journal of Ethics 12: 263–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mele, Alfred. 2006. Free will and luck. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mele, Alfred. 2000. Reactive attitudes, reactivity, and omissions. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 61: 447–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mele, Alfred. 1995. Autonomous agents. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Scanlon, T.M. 1998. What we owe to each other. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Smith, Angela. 2008. Control, responsibility, and moral assessment. Philosophical Studies 138: 367–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Smith, Angela. 2005. Responsibility for attitudes: Activity and passivity in mental life. Ethics 115: 236–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Smith, Angela. 2004. Conflicting attitudes, moral agency, and conceptions of the self. Philosophical Topics 32: 331–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Strawson, P.F. 1962. Freedom and resentment. Proceedings of the British Academy 48: 187–211.Google Scholar
  37. Vargas, Manuel. 2005. The trouble with tracing. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 29: 269–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Watson, Gary. 1999. Soft libertarianism and hard compatibilism. Journal of Ethics 3: 351–365.Google Scholar
  39. Watson, Gary. 2002. Volitional necessities. In Contours of agency: Essays on themes from Harry Frankfurt, ed. Buss, and Overton. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  40. Watson, Gary. 1987. Responsibility and the limits of evil: Variations on a Strawsonian theme. In Responsibility, character, and the emotions: New essays in moral psychology, ed. Ferdinand Schoeman, 46–62. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Wolf, Susan. 1987. Sanity and the Metaphysics of Responsibility. In Responsibility, character, and the emotions: New essays in moral psychology, ed. Ferdinand Schoeman, 256–286. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Zimmerman, David. 1999. Born yesterday: Personal autonomy for agents without a past. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 23: 236–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Center for the Philosophy of FreedomUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

Personalised recommendations