Restricting the requirements of alternative possibilities
When things go wrong: responsibility for failure and negligence
Topic is: Responsibility for Failure and Negligence. I will be arguing that we are not just responsible for what we do intentionally. That gives rise to questions about the scope and the boundaries of responsibility. What determines what we are responsible for?
Alternative Possibilities in Context
Control, avoidability and the ability to do otherwise
A choice theory of control is a theory which says that the locus of control (and so responsibility) is an agent's having a choice about some matter, where to have a choice entails having access to at least one alternative course of action. Choice theorists defend some version of the Principle of Alternative Possibilities, and are usually motivated by the idea that part of what it is to be in control is to be able to avoid doing what you did, being able to get oneself "off the hook".
In this essay I take a look at how the choice-theorist should best understand the notion of avoidability. I sketch a view according to which control is in part a function of the agent's psychological state. This view fits well with a rejection of the separation between a control condition and an epistemic condition on moral responsibility (commonly endorsed; e.g. by Ginet, Fischer, Timpe, Sartorio); it also suggests that people are only rarely in control of (and so responsible for) event particulars (something that is usually taken for granted; e.g. by Fischer, van Inwagen). The normal case, on this view, is control over a state of affairs conceived of as a universal.
Though these points are controversial, with such a view in hand, the choice-theorist can unify a number of distinct responses that have been offered to the Frankfurt-style cases and provide a plausible account of an agent's responsibility for the consequences of his or her actions. Such a view would, in contrast to the choice-based views of van Inwagen and Ginet, allow that an agent be responsible for an inevitable state of affairs, as long as the agent controlled an aspect of some event which led to the inevitable state of affairs in question. Moreover, this kind of choice-based view can provide a principled way of introducing time-indices into discussions over which states of affairs which an agent controls. It thus vindicates the approach of introducing such time indices (Ginet, Palmer, Franklin), though without endorsing any particular implementation. It also promises to justify a distinction sometimes made between deciding and deciding on one's own.
Agential capacities and the Strawsonian approach to moral responsibility
Abstract: Among the many changes the debate about free will and responsibility has seen in the last 25 years, two have been of special importance: On the one hand, the rise of theories which try to explain free will and responsibility in terms of the possession (and/or exercise) of certain capacities by the agent. And, on the other, the enormous revival of interest in Strawson’s "Freedom and Resentment" and its attempt to explain free will and responsibility via the natural emotional reactions we display towards other people’s good or bad behaviour. It remains far from clear, however, how these two approaches relate one to another, and what the one can learn from the other. At times, it may appear as if they were simply competing approaches, since capacity theories are often meant to provide a (compatibilist) interpretation of the "could have done otherwise" condition for freedom and responsibility, while many adherents of the Strawsonian approach take this condition to be redundant; at the same time, the latter are typically wary of looking for a "metaphysical fact" about the agent in which her freedom could consist, while capacity theories can easily be read as trying to offer just such a "metaphysical" theory of free will. In my paper, I’ll investigate the relation between both approaches, and argue that adherents of a capacity theory of free will are well advised to use the Strawsonian approach in order to determine which kind of capacities will be relevant for freedom and responsibility.
Situations and Responsiveness to Reasons
Abstract: A number of classical studies in social psychology famously suggest that we are more sensitive to situational factors, and less responsive to reasons, than we normally recognize we are. In recent years, moral responsibility theorists have examined the question whether those studies represent a genuine threat to our control and moral responsibility. A common response to the “situationist” threat has been to defend the reasons-responsiveness of ordinary human agents, even in the context of those studies, in terms of a theory of reasons-responsiveness that appeals to patterns of counterfactual scenarios or possible worlds. In this paper I identify a serious problem with that response, and provide a better solution.
Dual-system theory and the role of consciousness in intentional action
Abstract: According to the standard view in philosophy, intentionality is the mark of genuine action. In psychology, human cognition and agency are now widely explained in terms of the workings of two distinct systems (or types of processes), and intentionality is not a central notion in this dual-system theory. Further, it is often claimed, in psychology, that most human actions are automatic, rather than consciously controlled. This raises pressing questions. Does the dual-system theory preserve the philosophical account of intentional action? How much of our behavior is intentional according to this view? And what is the role of consciousness? I will propose here a revised account of intentional action within the dual-system framework, and we will see that most of our behavior can qualify as intentional, even if most of it is automatic. An important lesson will be that philosophical accounts of intentional action need to pay more attention to the role of consciousness in action.
Sharing Responsibility and the case of Implicit Bias
This paper is about the communicative and coordinative role and importance of tokens of appraisal such as frowns and compliments, blame and praise, and resentment and gratitude (that is, the moral sentiments) to our moral practices. A clear understanding of this role and importance enables us to explain why and in what sense (1) we share responsibility for our moral practices and (2) why and in what sense changing these practices is a collective enterprise. My main aim in this chapter is to do this explanatory work and to establish that we can affirm the importance of tokens of appraisal regardless of our answer to the question whether, in one sense or another, we deserve them. I specifically elaborate on two aspects of our practices of moral responsibility, namely that it is by being held responsible that: (1) we are enabled to develop certain agential capacities and (2) we are able to co-determine, consolidate, and fine-tune our normative expectations of one another. Although the first aspect has been observed by several compatibilist philosophers, the second aspect has not received enough attention. This second aspect explains why and in what respect changing and improving our everyday practices is bound to be a difficult, painstaking and above all collective enterprise. I illustrate this last observation with a comment on discussions concerning our responsibility for biased behaviour in the domain of social cognition. I argue that once we have a firm grip on the social dimensions of moral responsibility we can explain what is problematic about this behavior in a natural and less contrived way than this has hitherto been explained.