Philosophical Studies

, Volume 173, Issue 9, pp 2311–2331 | Cite as

Character control and historical moral responsibility

  • Eric Christian BarnesEmail author


Some proponents of compatibilist moral responsibility have proposed an historical theory which requires that agents deploy character control in order to be morally responsible. An important type of argument for the character control condition is the manipulation argument, such as Mele’s example of Beth and Chuck. In this paper I show that Beth can be exonerated on various conditions other than her failure to execute character control—I propose a new character, Patty, who meets these conditions and is, I argue, morally responsible for her actions despite lacking character control. Thus the character control condition is unmotivated. I suggest there may be an alternative basis for an historical theory of moral responsibility nonetheless.


Compatibilism Moral responsibility Manipulation argument Ability to do otherwise condition Historical theory of moral responsibility Domination 



For comments and criticism I am grateful to Robert Howell, Steve Sverdlik, Philippe Chuard, Luke Robinson, Brad Thompson, Matthew Lockard, Justin Fisher, Steve Hiltz, Ken Daley, Kirsten Egerstrom, Charles Hermes, Kelly McCormick, Jean Kazez, and an anonymous Philosophical Studies referee.


  1. Arpaly, N. (2003). Unprincipled virtue. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Barnes, E. (2015). Freedom, creativity and manipulation. Nous, 49, 560–588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barnes, E. (forthcoming). Historical moral responsibility: Is the infinite regress problem fatal? Pacific Philosophical Quarterly.Google Scholar
  4. Beebee, H. (2003). Local miracle compatibilism. Nous, 37, 258–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Campbell, J. K. (1996). A compatibilist theory of alternative possibilities. Philosophical Studies, 88, 319–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Campbell, J. K. (2005). Compatibilist alternatives. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 35, 387–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Christman, J. (1991a). Autonomy and personal history. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 21(1), 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Christman, J. (1991b). Liberalism and individual positive freedom. Ethics, 101, 343–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Clarke, R. (1994). Doing what one wants less: A reappraisal of the law of desire. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 75(1), 1–11.Google Scholar
  10. Fara, M. (2008). Masked abilities and compatibilism. Mind, 117, 843–865.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fisher, J. M., & Ravizza, M. (1999). Responsibility and control: A theory of moral responsibility. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Frankfurt, H. G. (1971). Freedom of the will and the concept of a person. The Journal of Philosophy, 68(1), 5–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Helm, B. (2001). Emotional reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Holton, R. (2009). Willing, wanting, and waiting. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lovett, F. (2014). Republicanism.
  16. McKenna, M. (2012). Moral responsibility, manipulation arguments, and history: Assessing the resilience of nonhistorical compatibilism. Journal of Ethics, 16, 145–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Mele, A. R. (1987). Irrationality: An essay on Akrasia, self-deception, and self-control. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Mele, A. (1995). Autonomous agents. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Mele, A. R. (2006). Free will and luck. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Mele, A. R. (2008). Manipulation, compatibilism, and moral responsibility. Journal of Ethics, 12, 263–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mele, A. R. (2009). Moral responsibility and history revisited. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 12, 463–475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mele, A. R., & Beebee, H. (2002). Humean compatibilism. Mind, 111(442), 201–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Nelkin, D. (2013). Moral luck. Stanford Encyclopdia of Philosophy.
  24. Pettit, P. (1999). Republican freedom and contestatory democratization. In I. Shapiro & C. Hacker-Cordon (Eds.), Democracy’s value. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Rosati, C. (2006). Moral motivation. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  26. Smith, M. (2003). Rational capacities. In S. Stroud & C. Tappolet (Eds.), Weakness of will and varieties of practical irrationality (pp. 17–38). Oxford: Clarendon/Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Sripada, C. (2012). How is willpower possible? The puzzle of synchronic control and the divided mind. Nous, 48(1), 41–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Strawon, G. (1994). The Impossibility of moral responsibility. Philosophical Studies, 75, 5–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Talbert, M. (2009). Implanted desires, self-formation and blame. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, 3(2), 1–18.Google Scholar
  30. Vihvelin, K. (2007). Arguments for incompatibilism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  31. Yaffe, G. (2003). Indoctrination, coercion, and freedom of will. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 67(2), 335–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Zimmerman, D. (2003). That was then, this is now: Personal history vs. psychological structure in compatibilist theories of autonomy. Nous, 3, 646–648.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentSouthern Methodist UniversityDallasUSA

Personalised recommendations