Manipulated Agents: Replies to Fischer, Haji, and McKenna


This article is part of a symposium on Alfred Mele’s Manipulated Agents: A Window to Moral Responsibility. It is Mele’s response to John Fischer, Ishtiyaque Haji, and Michael McKenna. Topics discussed include the bearing of manipulation on moral responsibility, the zygote argument, the importance of scenarios in which manipulators radically reverse an agent’s values, positive versus negative historical requirements for moral responsibility, the scope of moral responsibility, the value of intuitions, bullet-biting, and how we develop from neonates who are not morally responsible for anything into morally responsible agents. A variety of scenarios featuring various kinds of manipulation are discussed.

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  1. 1.

    According to a slang dictionary at, “kumbaya refers, often disparagingly, to moments of or efforts at harmony and unity.” What Fischer and I have in mind are simply “moments of… harmony or unity.” At least, that is so if we are unified in our non-disparaging use of the term.

  2. 2.

    The bit about having “thought long and hard about freedom and moral responsibility” is not part of the assertion by Fischer with which I am agreeing here. But it is consistent with that assertion.

  3. 3.

    See Frankfurt (1969). For my take on Frankfurt-style cases, see Mele (2006, chap. 4).

  4. 4.

    Someone might claim that Sally had opportunities that the mind reader is prepared to prevent her from taking advantage of. I do not know whether McKenna would take this route.

  5. 5.

    Here I am drawing on a response I made to Taylor Cyr in a Pea Soup discussion of Manipulated Agents (at


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I am grateful to John Fischer, Ishtiyaque Haji, and Michael McKenna for their thoughtful papers on Manipulated Agents (Mele 2019). I reply to each author in a separate section, starting with the author whose paper arrived in my inbox first. All quotations here are from the symposium papers unless noted otherwise.

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Correspondence to Alfred R. Mele.

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Mele, A.R. Manipulated Agents: Replies to Fischer, Haji, and McKenna. Criminal Law, Philosophy (2021).

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  • Agents’ histories
  • Bullet-biting
  • Intuitions
  • Manipulation
  • Moral development
  • Moral responsibility
  • Zygote argument