Holding responsible without ultimate responsibility: Towards a communitarian defense of compatibilism

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Michael Stocker


Responsibility, Communitarian, Compatibilism, Determinism, Moral responsibility

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Philosophy


My dissertation defends a non-standard compatibilist position that begins with the rarely asked question, "What does it take to have a claim to exemption against other members of the moral community?". Emphasizing this question allows me to acknowledge that "true" moral responsibility is incompatible with determinism, while denying that determinism therefore undermines the legitimacy of holding people morally responsible.

What motivates this position, in part, is the failure of leading compatibilist accounts to come to grips with the so-called problem of induced desires. The problem is that such desires seem to undermine responsibility, while the most straightforward explanation for this would undermine compatibilism. Pereboom develops this problem into a powerful case for the dependence of moral responsibility on ultimate responsibility . Since the latter notion is clearly incompatible with determinism, I conclude, so is genuine moral responsibility.

I argue that Pereboom's challenge, with slight modifications, is effective against the compatibilist accounts of Fischer and Ravizza, and R. Jay Wallace, respectively. These accounts are innovative in that they strategically withdraw the traditional compatibilist claim to free will, the better to defend a compatibilist conception of moral responsibility. I conclude that compatibilists must draw the line farther back still: not between free will and moral responsibility, but between (true) moral responsibility and legitimately holding responsible.

Wallace has already taken a step in this direction by making the question, "When is it appropriate to hold someone morally responsible?" prior to that of, "When is someone morally responsible?" But, I argue, successfully meeting Pereboom's challenge requires understanding this question in terms of when someone has a legitimate claim to exemption against others, and then arguing that this requires more than just not being (truly) responsible. In some cases, I suggest, the demand for exemption can compound the presumption of insufficient moral concern created by the initial breach, and that when this happens, the moral community is within its rights to reject the demand.


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