Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
free will, moral responsibility, revisionism
Revisionism is the view that we would do well to distinguish between what we think about moral responsibility and what we ought to think about it, that the former is in some important sense implausible and conflicts with the latter, and so we should revise our concept of moral responsibility accordingly. There are three main challenges for a successful revisionist account of moral responsibility: (i) it must meet the diagnostic challenge of identifying our folk concept and provide good reason to think that significant features of this concept are implausible, (ii) it must meet the motivational challenge and explain why, in light of this implausibility, our folk concept ought to be revised rather than eliminated, and (iii) it must meet the prescriptive challenge and provide an account of how, all things considered, we ought to revise our thinking about moral responsibility. In order to meet (iii) revisionism must provide a prescriptive account of responsibility that is free of the problematic features of our folk concept identified in meeting the diagnostic challenge, is naturalistically plausible, normatively adequate, and justifies our continued participation in the practice of moral praising and blaming. So, while the first of these three challenges is primarily concerned with the nature of our concepts, the latter two move to questions about whether or not, to use Dennett's terms, we can defend and accept an account of moral responsibility "worth wanting." In my dissertation I raise a new problem for revisionism, the normativity-anchoring problem. The heart of this problem is that the methodological commitments used to motivate revisionism and distinguish the view from conventional theorizing about moral responsibility make it uniquely difficult for revisionists to justify our continued participation in the practice of moral praising and blaming. Following Manuel Vargas, who has thus far developed and defended the view most rigorously, revisionists endorse the following skeptical claim: it is possible that our intuitions fail to inform us about what responsibility is, and furthermore we lack good epistemic reasons for thinking that they ever do. For conventional theorists, the fact that a particular account of responsibility best aligns with our refined intuitions, beliefs, and theoretical commitments is reason enough, ceteris paribus, to endorse that view. But revisionists who endorse the skeptical claim must find some alternative method for arguing that their prescriptive account is one that we should in fact endorse. One alternative, suggested by Vargas himself, is to show that the prescriptive account in question justifies our continued participation in the practice of moral praising and blaming, and preserves the "work of the concept." However, I argue that Vargas' own claim that the prescriptive account he offers promotes an independently valuable form of agency fails to bridge the gap between axiological claims about value and normative claims about how we should treat responsible agents. Moreover, bridging this gap looks to be a serious problem for any form of revisionism which shares the methodological commitments used to motivate the view thus far, and so further development of revisionism requires having a solution to the normativity-anchoring problem in hand. I go on to develop a new revisionist strategy that avoids the normativity-anchoring problem. I propose and defend a new methodological assumption (hereafter referred to as MAP) that I argue revisionists can and should accept, capable of preserving the skeptical spirit of revisionism while identifying a particular class of intuitions about moral responsibility as having a privileged epistemic status. In particular, I argue that revisionists can and should accept that widespread judgments about responsibility generated by concrete cases which elicit a strong affective response in the person making the judgment have a privileged epistemic status in our responsibility theorizing. My arguments in support of this assumption depend on an analogy between the responsibility judgments in question and the kinds of paradigmatic judgments which constrain our ethical theorizing more generally. Having established this analogy I then offer a series of companions in guilt style arguments for the claim that the epistemic status of these two kinds of judgments should stand and fall together. I conclude that the responsibility judgments in question should ultimately share the privileged status of the paradigmatic ethical judgments in question, and thus play an evidentiary role in our theorizing about moral responsibility. If these arguments are successful then acceptance of the methodological assumption I defend allows revisionists to avoid the normativity-anchoring problem while preserving the unique methodological spirit which motivates revisionism and sets it apart from conventional theorizing about moral responsibility.
McCormick, Kelly Anne, "Towards a Revisionist Account of Moral Responsibility" (2013). Philosophy - Dissertations. 75.