As this will be my last post I want to thank Thomas for inviting me, and everyone who has participated during a month that is extremely busy for most academics. For someone who has virtually no prior experience with blogging, this has been an interesting and rewarding experience, and I’ve learnt a lot from thinking about your comments.
In this last post, I want to raise awareness about a puzzle that might seem unconnected to issues of skepticism or incompatibilism about moral responsibility. However, it is a puzzle which I think can be solved with appeal to the very same idea that I appealed to in explaining incompatibilist intuitions: the idea that to be responsible for some event is for that event to be straightforwardly explained in the relevant way by one’s motivational structures. Consider the following case:
The Lake: Alice, Bill and Cecil each have a small boat in East Lake outside their town. One day last spring, each painted the boat and, unknown to the others, poured excess solvent into the lake. In the back of their heads, they all knew that this could affect the wildlife, but each of them decided that it would be a hassle to dispose of the solvent in a safe way and hoped that nothing bad would happen. However, as the solvent from all three diffused throughout the lake over the next few days, its concentration became high enough everywhere to prevent micro-organisms in the lake from reproducing during the next few weeks, thus leaving higher organisms without food and effectively wiping out all fish in the lake. The concentration of solvent exceeded the threshold for the microorganisms by quite some margin: although the solvent from only one of the three would not have been enough to kill off the fish, the solvent from two would have (and even a little bit quicker, as the solvent is slightly more poisonous at that concentration).
Let us assume that all three agents satisfied conditions of moral accountability. They were not being forced or manipulated to do what they did and they had both the capacity to reason and reflect on the values involved and the relevant sort of control over their own decisions and actions. Then they are responsible for recklessly pouring solvent into the lake. But before you read on, ask yourself if they are also responsible for the death of the fish?