Moral Responsibility and Persons

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New York: Oxford University Press. Cyr, Taylor Demetriou, Kristen see also Mickelson, Kristen Fischer, John Martin Oxford: Blackwell. Fischer, John Martin, and Ravizza, Mark Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Frankfurt, Harry King, Matt McKenna, Michael Mele, Alfred Autonomous persons: From Self-Control to Autonomy.

Free Will and Luck. Mickelson, Kristen see also Demetriou, Kristen Griffith, K. Timpe, and N. New York: Routledge.

Pereboom, Derk Living Without Free Will. Free Will, Agency, and Meaning in Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Sartorio, Carolina Causation and Free Will. Sekatskaya, Maria Forthcoming. Slote, Michael Strawson, P. Todd, Patrick Waller, Robyn Repko Watson, Gary Download this essay in PDF. Taylor W. Cyr is a lecturer of philosophy at Washington University in St. His main research interests lie at the intersection of ethics and metaphysics, including such topics as free will, moral responsibility, death, and time.

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You are commenting using your Google account. You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account. Notify me of new posts via email. Skip to content Author: Taylor W. Cyr Category: Ethics , Metaphysics Word Count: Consider a case of manipulation: [1] Beth is a talented student with a well-rounded life. Compatibilism Compatibilists maintain that we can be responsible for our behavior—i. Manipulation Challenges 2.

An Initial Worry Perhaps the biggest challenge for compatibilism stems from cases of manipulation. The Manipulation Argument But some have appealed to manipulation cases not with the aim of undermining particular compatibilist conditions on responsibility but rather to undermine compatibilism itself —the thesis that responsibility and determinism are compatible.

This concern can be regimented into the Manipulation Argument against compatibilism: [9] Beth is not morally responsible for choosing to study. Therefore, no ordinary determined person is ever morally responsible and thus compatibilism is false. The Soft-Line Reply In response, some compatibilists reject premise two and propose some relevant difference between ordinary determined persons and manipulated persons.

Conclusion Manipulation challenges compatibilist accounts of responsibility and perhaps compatibilism itself.

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To begin, notice that in many cases speaker-meaning and sentence-meaning do not come apart. Often, in uttering a sentence like GG, a speaker might very well intend to convey on that occasion what is meant by S. But how does a speaker get to SP from GG? The speaker must assume that she and her audience share a set of very specific beliefs. These include the assumption that typically, when people die, they are buried beneath the earth; that being buried beneath the earth, and being a biological item, one's corpse will decompose; that decomposing corpses act as nutrients for plant growth, etc.

These beliefs allow a speaker to make the transition from "helping the kind of thing of which lawns are composed," to "being dead. Furthermore, for a speaker to successfully convey SP by GG as opposed to S, the context of conversation must be such that it would seem out of place, irrelevant, for the speaker to mention growing grass and leisure time when the conversation was about future crises and how one might not live to learn of them.

I want to treat an action concerning a judgment of responsibility on analogy with a sentence like GG, and treat possible motives which might explain the action as ranging from motive-analogs of S to motive-analogs of SP. This can be brought out by focussing upon excuses. Excuses deny the appearance that one has done morally wrong. Consider an excuse in a variation on the Yogi-Booboo exchange.

In possible world Excuse , at the stage Moral Address, Booboo assigns a particular interpretation to the motives which explain Yogi's behavior: Booboo assumes that Yogi knowingly stole his picnic basket and ate his lunch. At the stage Moral Account, Yogi replies to Booboo's demand, speaking truthfully, "Was this your picnic basket Booboo? I'm so sorry, I thought it was my own.

I didn't know. In order to make clear the point of the analogy, treat Booboo's original interpretation at the stage Moral Address on analogy with an audience member, Booboo, overhearing a speaker, Yogi, uttering GG. Unaware of the context in which Yogi was speaking, Booboo initially interprets Yogi to have meant S. Just as we asked how it was possible for a speaker to get from S to SP, so too can we ask how it is possible in the world Excuse for Yogi to get from Booboo's interpretation at the stage Moral Address, to the interpretation Yogi offers at the stage Moral Account.

Remarks parallel to those made in the case of speaker-meaning can be made here as well. First, in the case of the possible world Excuse, Yogi must make the transition to his preferred interpretation by exploiting a shared set of very specific beliefs between himself and Booboo. For instance, Yogi must assume that Booboo shares Yogi's belief that, if the picnic basket had been Yogi's, it would have been perfectly acceptable for Yogi to consume the contents.

Yogi must also assume that they share the belief that the baskets are sufficiently similar in appearance that such a mistake could have been made. Second, in order for Yogi to realize that an account of his behavior is called for, he must be able to acknowledge that his particular action does appear to conform with an action-type which normally is indicative of a morally criticizable motive - namely the motive of stealing and eating someone else's lunch.

Third, Yogi must show that the context of beliefs in which he operated at the putative stage Moral Infraction would have made the idea that he was stealing Booboo's picnic basket seem misplaced: he was simply eating from his own basket. The similarities between excuses and justifications on the one hand, and the divergence of speaker's from sentence meaning on the other, suggest that the task of assessing the moral quality of an agent's motive is a matter of interpreting what specific motives explain an agent's particular actions.

This interpretive process assumes that an agent's actions take place within a social medium. An agent must understand that within this social medium, an action-type is conventionally assigned a significance normally indicative of a certain kind of motive. This is not to suggest that any one of her particular actions must conform with an interpretation assigned to some action-type. It is only to suggest that if her actions are to diverge from these interpretations, their variations must in some way be a function of the interpretive framework in which she operates.

Consequently, in order for an agent to have a particular motive which is subject to moral evaluation at all, the agent must posses a mastery of the conventional interpretations of the action-types expressive of a moral community's understanding of the prohibitions or expectations of morality.

Only in this context can a moral agent act from motives which are subject to moral evaluation. An exploration of the analogy between speaker-meaning and the moral evaluation of motive suggests the following principle as a first approximation towards a Speaker-Meaning Theory of Moral Responsibility:. A's interpretive mastery of the conventions C assigning motive- types to action-types; and,.

C embodies a moral community's understanding of the prohibitions or expectations of morality.

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Notice that condition 2 does not claim that M violates a moral community's understanding of the prohibitions or expectations of morality. It says that M does violate those prohibitions or expectations. Conditions 1 and 2 combined indicate an important subtlety to SMT.

Condition 2 requires that the moral criticizability of motive is fixed by the conditions of morality and not by what members of a community take to be the conditions of morality. Condition 1 preserves the conventional and social dimension of an agent's morally assessable behavior. It may be that the moral criticizability of motive should be based upon what morality itself requires, but a person can only make her motives manifest within some interpretive social framework.

One advantage of the Speaker-Meaning Theory is that it exploits the insights of semantic theory without relying upon the stance of holding morally responsible as its explanatory foundation. I believe that an account of holding responsible must be tempered by the conceptually prior question of whether or not an agent is responsible for her actions.

The Speaker-Meaning Theory of Moral Responsibility focuses the moral assessment of action squarely upon the agent who acts, and not upon the members of the moral community who are interpreting the agent and her action. Whether or not an agent is morally responsible for her actions will depend upon what her actions signify about her motives, and therefore will not depend upon how others in the moral community interpret her actions.

The Speaker-Meaning Theory maintains that the capacity to act as a responsible moral agent can be understood on analogy with a competent speaker's mastery of a natural language. This suggests, though it certainly is no argument, that if determinism would threaten the capacity to act as a morally responsible agent, it would likewise threaten a speaker's capacity to master and make use of a natural language.

Since it seems that determinism would pose no such threat to competent language use, in like manner it might be argued that determinism would pose no threat to moral responsibility. Can the actions for which we hold persons morally responsible be systematically understood as carriers of meaning among communicating agents as Lucas suggests?

If what Lucas had in mind was nonnatural meaning, the answer, strictly speaking, is no. There is no reason to think that all such actions involve the complex kind of communication-intentions requisite for nonnatural meaning. Nor is there reason to think that all such actions can be analyzed in terms of their conventional and conversational implicatures.

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All such implicatures presuppose a conversational context, and many actions for which persons are morally responsible involve no such context. Still, the relevant class of actions can be illuminated by analogy with the distinction between speaker and sentence meaning. Such an analogy suggests that the moral quality of an agent's motive requires that an agent formulate that motive within an interpretive context. This context is fixed by a set of social conventions that structure and maintain an association between types of actions and types of motives.


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As with a competent speaker's capacity to use a language to express her own thoughts, a competent moral agent is able to frame her own morally assessable motives only if she possess sufficient mastery of conventions assigning interpretations of motive-types to action-types. I cannot properly address these topics within the confines of this paper and will restrict my discussion to responsibility for actions. The account offered here is intended to apply to omissions and consequences as well. I am hopeful that my remarks will make clear how this might be done.

A similar view can also be found in [Note Incomplete]. See "Introduction," Perspectives on Moral Responsibility , ed. Fischer and Ravizza, p.

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Grice, "Logic and Conversation," pp. Other implicatures do not arise as an upshot of established convention, but rather as a function of context.

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For example, if Shaggy says to Scooby, "Where does Thelma live? Grice, "Meaning," especially, pp. Those familiar with the nuances of Grice's account of nonnatural meaning will recognize that the conditions I mention here are only necessary but not sufficient for an account of nonnatural meaning in Grice's fully developed view. I, however, shall work with this account as it is sufficient to serve my purposes. My only intention is to show that the first stage of the interchange cannot be strictly construed as an instance of nonnatural meaning since it fails to satisfy the Gricean conditions I have presented.

Given that it fails for these merely necessary conditions of Gricean meaning, it would fail for the fully fleshed out conditions as well. For a clear presentation of Grice's theory of nonnatural meaning in particular, speaker's meaning see Stephen Schiffer's Remnants of Meaning , pp. First, the speaker utilizes a shared set of beliefs that rationalize the move from translation S to translation SP. Second, the speaker relies upon the conventions established for S. Third, the context in which the speaker successfully conveys SP as opposed to S is one in which S would have been out of place.

Fischer, J. Studies in the Way of Words. Cambridge, Mass. Oshana, M. Watson, Gary. Paideia logo design by Janet L. All Rights Reserved.