Concurrent Session 3a: Manipulation & Excuses

Chair: xxx(University)

“I Couldn’t Have Done Otherwise”

Florian Cova
Institut Jean Nicod
Paris, France

The principle of alternate possibilities (later: PAP) has long been at the centre of the philosophical debate about whether moral responsibility is compatible with determinism. The question I would like to ask here is: why have so many philosophers endorsed the PAP? Why does the PAP seem “self-evident” to most of us? The answer lies in our current practice of excuses and our use of expressions such as “I couldn’t have done otherwise”. Thus, a good interpretation of the PAP cannot be at odds with our use of such excuses.

In this paper, I argue on the basis of thought experiments and new empirical data that traditional interpretations of the PAP cannot account for our use of such excuses and, consequently, that these interpretations fail. Then I propose an account of what we usually mean by expressions such as “I couldn’t have done otherwise” and how and why we use them as excuses. Finally, I argue that this account show that (i) our use of these excuses do not presuppose the PAP and (ii) that it can be accommodated by compatibilist theories.

The Value of Reason: Accountability, Blameworthiness, and the Excuses

Filippo Santoni de Sio
Dipartimento di Filosofia
Università degli Studi di Torino
Turin, Italy

Responsibility does not depend on free will, as Strawson correctly suggested. It depends on reason-responsiveness, as Wolf and Wallace opportunely explained. The irrelevance of free will for responsibility and the dependence of responsibility on practical reason are clearly highlighted, among other things, by the functioning of excuses. This point was rightly stressed by Austin and Strawson half a century ago and it has wisely got back by Wallace in his 1994's book. Unfortunately, Austin's and Strawson's accounts of excuses are sketchy, and Wallace's discussion of them is in many respect unsatisfactory. The aim of this paper is to give a more satisfactory general account of the nature of excuses. This should give at least two results: it will contribute to clarify the relation between responsibility and reason-responsiveness; and it will bring some new grist to the mill of the critique of consequential justifications of responsibility.

(edited abstract)

Manipulation Arguments and the Explanatory Nature of Moral Responsibility

Gunnar Björnsson
Department of Culture and Communication
Linköping University, Sweden

Manipulation arguments against moral responsibility (or against compatibilism about moral responsibility) rely on the following assumption:

(M) Manipulation reduces responsibility because of features shared with causation (or with deterministic causation).

Consequently, they would be undermined if the reduction were due specifically to the agent’s being manipulated—intentionally caused to act in ways not relying on the agent’s rational cooperation. To strengthen (M), Pereboom has argued that responsibility is equally reduced by versions of his manipulation cases where analogous natural events are substituted for manipulators. Significantly, however, these versions seem less intuitively compelling, suggesting that (M) is mistaken.

In this talk, I suggest that manipulation arguments seem uniquely compelling because manipulation provides particularly straightforward cases of actions caused by conditions outside the agent’s control. Moreover, equally straightforward non-manipulative cases are possible: manipulation arguments are merely a species of arguments from straightforward causation by external factors. Such arguments rely on the following assumption:

(S) Straightforward causation by external factors reduces responsibility because of features shared with causation (or with deterministic causation).

(S) might seem more plausible than (M): although the intentional and social nature of manipulation might be especially responsibility undermining, whether causation is straightforward in the relevant sense depends on explanatory interests and perspectives, and it might seem that moral responsibility must rest on a more secure basis than that. Before closing, however, I provide evidence that our everyday notion of moral responsibility is essentially guided by certain explanatory interests, suggesting a way for defenders of moral responsibility to reject (S).