The Journal of Ethics

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 151–183 | Cite as

This is a Tricky Situation: Situationism and Reasons-Responsiveness

  • Marcela Herdova
  • Stephen Kearns


Situations are powerful: the evidence from experimental social psychology suggests that agents are hugely influenced by the situations they find themselves in, often without their knowing it (this, roughly-speaking, is the thesis of situationism). In our paper, we evaluate how situational factors affect our reasons-responsiveness, as conceived of by John Fischer and Mark Ravizza, and, through this, how they also affect moral responsibility. We argue that the situationist experiments suggest that situational factors impair, among other things, our moderate reasons-responsiveness, which is plausibly required for moral responsibility. However, even though we argue that situational factors lower the degree of our reasons-responsiveness, we propose that agents remain moderately reasons-responsive to the degree required for moral responsibility. Nonetheless, those (adversely) affected by situational factors are arguably less morally responsible than those who are not subject to similar situational factors. We further evaluate an understanding of reasons-responsiveness (developed by Manuel Vargas in the light of situationist data) which relativizes reasons-responsiveness to agents’ circumstances. We argue that the situationist data do not warrant this kind of divergence from Fischer’s and Ravizza’s account. We conclude by discussing what situationist experiments tell us about our relationship to non-reasons.


Reasons Reasons-responsiveness Responsibility Situationism 



We would like to thank Al Mele, Randy Clarke, Natalie Gold, Daniel Star, Josh May and the audiences at Florida State University, King’s College London, University of Alabama at Birmingham and Boston University. Herdova received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013)/ERC Grant Agreement n. 283849.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA

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