On the one hand, many feel a tension between attributions of moral responsibility and explanations of actions in terms of factors outside the agent’s control, in particular deterministic explanations. On the other, many feel that if a normal person with a normal history does something willingly in a normal situation, with a clear view of significant aspects of the situation and her own motives, then she is responsible for her action, whether the historical processes that shaped her character were deterministic or not. Many of us, including some who are committed compatibilists or incompatibilists, feel pulled in both directions, to one degree or other, though we might find one view much more appealing overall.
Without these conflicting tendencies, philosophical discussions of moral responsibility would have been very different. But I think that these conflicting tendencies in themselves say something about the concept of moral responsibility. While the concept invites skeptical worries, the invitation is not front and center. No overriding incompatibilist condition is part of the concept of moral responsibility in the way that a condition of unmarriedness is part of the concept of a bachelor: if it had been, many more would feel that compatibilism is a wretched subterfuge. At the same time, the invitation is not written in esoteric code, as incompatibilist intuitions are easily triggered in lay people by brief descriptions of deterministic scenarios.
My own work on moral responsibility has been largely aimed at understanding the aspects of our thinking about responsibility that give rise to these conflicting tendencies. I think that this is an interesting task in itself given how important the tendencies have been in philosophical thinking as well as in politics, where ideologies are closely related to ideas about responsibility and desert. But I also think that an understanding of what is driving skeptical worries will help us figure out whether to take them seriously. Ideally, a case for one position should come with an explanation of why the contrary position has seemed tempting to so many. Ultimately, everyone needs an error theory.
In my next post, I will say a little about what I think is going on. Here I wanted to ask what you think about the conflicting tendencies. If you are a compatibilist but have some incompatibilist intuitions (however weak), how do you explain those intuitions, or similar intuitions among the folk? We know of course that Eddy and Dylan have such a theory* (or several of them), and in one of Eddy’s threads this summer John (Fischer) suggested that some incompatibilist tendencies come from he conflation of regulative and guidance control, but I suspect that there are other views out there. Likewise, if you are an incompatibilist, how do you explain compatibilist tendencies among the folk? If you have compatibilist tendencies yourself, how do you account for that? Are they the work of system 1 reasoning, or primitive retributive tendencies? I'm very curious to hear what you have to say.
*For the record, I have empirically grounded doubts about Eddy and Dylan’s fascinating proposal.