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01/12/2013

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Hi Dana,

This is another great post. I see the appeal of thinking that difficulty in avoiding wrongdoing can affect degree of blameworthiness; the more difficult it is for a person, the less she is blameworthy as in comparison with others who act similarly. I operate with an assumption like this all the time. It seems to me something like this has to be correct.

But I wonder if we need some sort of normative constraint on what gets to count as difficulty that could diminish blameworthiness.

Suppose both Jack and Jane become agitated and are each blameworthy for throttling perfect strangers (who did nothing to provoke either of them). While Jack could easily have resisted, Jane has very strong aggressive tendencies. She almost always finds it very hard not to throttle people whenever she happens to be feeling agitated. Is she less blameworthy than Jack because this objectionable character trait makes it hard for her to refrain freely from not throttling people?

Instead, suppose that on some occasion both Jack and Jane feel the impulse to throttle but resist temptation and freely refrain from doing so. In this way, both simply comply with their duty not to harm innocent others. Typically, we do not think people are praiseworthy simply for not assaulting people. And this seems to explain why we would not think either Jack or Jane are praiseworthy. But suppose this was really hard (like really, really, really hard) for Jane. Is she praiseworthy for not throttling a stranger because it was (like, really, really, really) hard for her not to do so?

Hi Dana,

It seems that we can have degrees of blameworthiness and praiseworthiness in (at least) two different ways.

First, two agents may be just as responsible, but for two very different things. So, Jill may intentionally and with full awareness tell a small lie, while Jack may intentionally and with full awareness kill someone. Jack is more blameworthy than Jill, but this seems a function of what each has done.

In contrast, Jack and Jill may both kill someone (1 killing each). But Jack may do it purposely, while Jill only does it out of self-defense(or by accident, or negligently, etc). Again, Jack is more blameworthy than Jill, but this seems a function of how they did what they did, since each did the same thing (kill someone).

In the first instance, both are equally responsible, though one is more blameworthy than the other. In the second, again, one is more blameworthy than the other, but one also looks more responsible than the other, however one want to capture that fact (one is in more control, acts more freely, etc.).

At least, that's how it seems to me.

Thanks for the post Dana. Connected with Matt’s comment, I would argue that degree of blameworthiness is a function of the degree of responsibility and degree of badness/wrongness of the attitude, choice, action, character-trait (or whatever) that the agent is being assessed for. In this way, two agents can perform the same token-action or have the same token-attitude and yet one be more blameworthy since he bears more responsibility for the action or attitude. Likewise, two agents can bear the same responsibility for their respective actions and yet one be more blameworthy since his action is worse. Difficulty, or ease for that matter, then, would have a bearing on blameworthiness insofar as it has a bearing on responsibility or badness.

This distinction may be at play in people’s responses to the various shootings we have witnessed in the past year. Many seem to brush aside suggestions of incapacity on the part of the shooters. While this response may well have a not so rational explanation, one justification could be appealing to the badness of the actions. Even if the agents bore very little responsibility (but assume they did still bear some responsibility), the actions are sufficiently atrocious to warrant severely hostile responses. Or so one might think.

Michael: FWIW, I think the answer to both of your questions is "yes." Jill is less blameworthy than Jack (assuming she's not to blame for her bad character), and she merits some praise for overcoming the powerful temptation. I think Swinburne, in his book Responsibility and Atonement, takes a similar position.

We do sometimes praise children who resist the temptation to do wrong. (I think Al has an example of this sort in FW&L.) Now, this could be for purely practical reasons that have little to do with merit (to reinforce good behavior, e.g.), but I'm inclined to think otherwise. The kid who does his chores, even though it's really, really, really hard for him not to just sneak out and play instead, merits some praise for cleaning his room. Right?

Maybe the extent to which an agent overcomes resistance or difficulty in performing a moral action generates praiseworthiness in one dimension, while there are other dimensions of praiseworthiness. Both Abby and Bella are always encouraging and positive around the department, but Abby’s behavior results from a natural disposition that she did not produce and was never under threat, while Bella’s involves successfully resisting contrary motivations. Bella seems morally praiseworthy along a dimension in which Abby is not morally praiseworthy at all. But Abby still seems morally praiseworthy, and my guess is that morally we’d prefer to be like Abby than like Bella. One might deny that Abby is morally praiseworthy, but millions of people all over the world believe that God is morally praiseworthy, despite not having to overcome any resistance or difficulty in acting morally. One could say that God is not really morally praiseworthy, but just morally awesome, but it doesn’t do violence to ordinary meanings of words to retain the claim that God is praiseworthy. So the thought is that it’s morally a good thing to be praiseworthy because one acts well despite resistance or difficulty, but it’s morally preferable to be praiseworthy because one acts well without having to overcome resistance or difficulty.

Michael, I wonder whether the severity of the actions in your examples does some work. It may be that we think that, once the severity reaches a certain degree, fine-grained assessments of difficulty do less work for us ("I don't care how difficult it was for Hannibal not to chop that guy up and eat him, he's still damned blameworthy!") Or perhaps this is what you had in mind by "normative constraint"?

Suppose you've taken in an ex-con, someone who was an inveterate car thief. As an exercise of trust, you let him borrow your car, and he returns it to you at the designated time, even though you know how hard this was for him. Seems praiseworthy, and more praiseworthy than when your daughter does the same thing.

I'm also interested in a question implied in Dana's questions: what are factors that make some things more difficult for some than others? Michael has given one possibility: strong temptations/desires/drives to do other than what one ought or is expected. I would also like to suggest a couple of others: difficulty in seeing the relevant moral reasons at all, and difficulty in weighing moral and non-moral reasons appropriately (i.e., in figuring out the right all-things-considered ought). Consider the former: we often think someone from poor moral formative circumstances may be cut some slack in virtue of the difficulty of her seeing the relevant moral reasons. I'm curious what other factors people think might be relevant to assessments of "difficulty."

Fascinating question, with very interesting comments. As a moral responsibility skeptic, I don't think I can legitimately back a horse in this race; but if I could, I would bet on the view favored by Michael and Justin, and which they state so well. I do have a question, which was suggested by their comments (unfortunately, my thoughts naturally turn to nastier cases than children cleaning up their rooms): Suppose Jack has a visceral hatred of small children, and a deep desire to torture them; he believes the desire to be morally wrong, and he heroically struggles against it every day, and manages to never act on this vile desire. Jill, in contrast, never has such desires, and finds such desires repulsive. Aristotle, of course, would find Jill morally superior; but if we think there is something meritorious in the struggle to live well, would we have to give the moral virtue award to Jack? Is this a case where Watson's distinction between MR of attribution and MR of accountability would apply (with Jill superior for the former, and Jack for the latter)?
P.S. Dana, recently finished reading Making Sense of Freedom and Responsibility, which is a wonderful book, packed with interesting and meticulously crafted arguments (and I'm particularly happy to see someone develop the asymmetry view in such a rigorous manner). I certainly do not wish to hijack this thread (I gather that is the unpardonable sin of blogging) which is fascinating; but you offer such a powerfully rationalist approach to these questions; and I would love to know your response to the research of folks like Haidt and Wegner and Bargh and Kahneman, who raise -- it seems to me -- serious challenges for rationalist views; you have a nice answer to Damasio's views, but are the others more challenging? But if that's a topic for your next book, please ignore this postscript.)

Michael,

Whence Jane's lack of impulse control? is it something that she cultivated, giving vent to her feelings as it she saw fit? Was there a time at which she was able to resist violent urges? Or was she born impulsive? We would consider her more blameworthy in the former case. How one got to be a certain way is a critical consideration in determining the degree to which they are BW/PW for conduct issuing from their character. If doing the right thing comes really, really easily to someone I'm not sure praise is in order. But I am inclined to agree with Campbell that there is a mental act- trying to do the right thing- that anyone can perform at will. Failure to perform that basic act when required is simply BW, not more or less BW.

Dana,

Another critical factor is epistemic. I'm thing here of Aquinas' discussion of culpable ignorance. My knowledge should influence those assigning praise or blame to my conduct. But, again, it matters how I came to know or be ignorant of the considerations bearing upon how I should have acted.

Hi Bruce,

Perhaps two distinctions would help in assessing your version of the Jack and Jill example. The first is indeed in the neighborhood of Watson's distinction. I'd certainly agree that Jill is morally superior to Jack, i.e., she's a more virtuous person. But that's an aretaic evaluation. When we switch to judgments of responsibility, I'd say that Jack merits more praise for his refraining from torturing children than does Jill. But that's not an aretaic evaluation of Jack. Second, the basis for the evaluation of Jack and Jill are different. We evaluate Jack positively for resisting temptation. We evaluate Jill positively for not having to.

Does everyone share the thought that folks are more praiseworthy for doing good that's difficult to do? I don't find myself drawn to that thought. At least not generally. If I donate to charity, or offer some friendly assistance, though it's difficult for me to do so, than so much the worse for me. It suggests that I'll fail in many blameworthy ways given my inclinations. When I succeed in doing the right thing, I think I'm only as praiseworthy as everyone is for such acts, even if they come easier to most.

Are we just appealing to intuition here? (Apologies to Dana, who I believe has some arguments for this position in her new book, which, sadly, I have not read yet.)

Dana and other flickerer friends--

David Hodgson's final book on FW--Rationality + Consciousness = Free Will--has an interesting take on degrees of blameworthy responsibility specifically from a legal perspective (he was a Supreme Court justice in NSW). He believes in a form of libertarian FW closely allied with the presence of "plausible reasoning", which (he claims) has non-algorithmic features consistent with indeterminism. He allows that as long as one chooses to act from some minimal basis of plausible reasoning, one is responsible and this is sufficient for being retributively punished. In practical terms this means we can/ought to punish people who are ruled sane and competent. But then Hodgson also allows that other factors must be considered for fair imposition of *punishment*: "genetic and congenital disadvantages, early environmental difficulties such as child abuse, and more immediate matters such as pressing social, psychological, or financial problems, may be taken into account so as to justify a reduced sentence" (215). In other words, Hodgson presents a practical distinction that many judges use: while sane, competent people qualify for being assigned baseline responsibility for a crime, mitigations as above may adjust our reaction to that responsibility specifically in proportion to what punishment is deemed appropriate for a given case. Now Hodgson's libertarian take on this put aside, it seems to me that any pro-FW view could agree with this general assessment of allocating proportional punishment in terms of degrees even if there is some clearly established baseline of competence/sanity that is taken to be reflective of the presence of morally significant FW.

One other thought about praiseworthiness as well, and apart from Hodgson. What about a heroic Forrest Gump case? In the movie Forrest rescues numerous comrades while under fire in Vietnam, but the impression one gets is that Forrest could not have done otherwise due to some inflexible built-in moral programming--the suggestion is he did what he did because he couldn't do anything else. Yet he appears clearly deserving of highest praise. (And though a fictional example I'd bet that there have been any number of such heroic acts under similar circumstances in real life.) The asymmetry question here is of course well known, but it's still interesting that we treat Gump-style superogation uncontroversially one univocal way, and (e.g.) James Holmes' mass murder much less so, despite prima facie evidence that Holmes might well be just an evil Gump.

Just catching up to this great conversation in progress! A few thoughts in response and more later.

First, Michael’s cases are good ones to think about in part because they are cases in which the source of the difficulty is internal, and in part because one is a candidate for blameworthiness and another for praiseworthiness. I am tempted to respond by saying that Jane is both less blameworthy for acting badly (because more difficult to avoid) and more praiseworthy for acting well (because more difficult to do). This is to treat the cases in a similar way to those whose source of difficulty is external to the agent rather than internal. Difficulty is difficulty. At least assuming that the agents aren’t responsible for nurturing their dispositions (and setting aside tracing considerations of that kind).

I agree with Justin that the case can be assimilated to cases in which we praise children more for resisting temptation, say, than we do our adult friends, and that this is not fully explained by the fact that we can achieve better consequences in the future by doing so. Even when we do nothing to express our praise for children who share their toys at what appears to be significant personal cost, I think we have the intuition that they deserve it and are genuinely praiseworthy. But we wouldn’t typically have the same reaction about an adult. David Shoemaker also makes a nice point that explains away some evidence that difficulty of this sort is not a (consistent) factor in our judgments. In some cases, he points out, we might simply not care about making these fine-grained distinctions--e.g., a mass killer is blameworthy to a great degree, despite it’s being harder to resist than for others. To go a bit further, it may also be that we simply typically get by with rough generalizations about how hard and easy things are, and often aren’t attuned to levels of difficulty in particular cases unless they become glaring.

I think I agree, too, with Derk, that there are different kinds of appraisal at play in these cases. We may find Bella more praiseworthy, but along a different dimension, find Abby’s disposition preferable. The focus on the praiseworthy here raises another question here. Even if Abby’s disposition makes it easy in a sense to perform actions that others might find more difficult, I wonder if there are other ways that she could still be praiseworthy in the first sense. That is, suppose what she does requires a serious sacrifice of things she highly desired. Even if it is in a sense easy for her, could this factor by itself make her more praiseworthy on the first dimension?

Bruce Waller mentions the possibility of two dimensions of appraisal here, too, and in particular Gary Watson’s notions of attributability and accountability. (I’d be curious to know how Derk sees these as interacting with his two dimensions.) Things may get a bit tricky here about how accountability, in particular, is to be cashed out when it comes to praiseworthiness and degrees thereof, and it’s interesting that Bruce’s case is one of someone acting badly rather than well. When it comes to attributability, understood as “aretaic” judgments, it’s true that we might describe one person as less virtuous because of his evil desires, but he also has great strength of will and other desires that we can praise, too, even when we just stick to the evaluation of traits.

Matt also mentions a (different) distinction between two different dimensions that each admit of degrees: blameworthiness on the one hand and responsibility on the other. If I understand correctly, this is a way of accounting for the fact that the severity or seriousness of the wrong (sorry to beg the question against half of the responders to the previous post!), is an independent factor in degree of blameworthiness. This is echoed in Chris’ comment, too, and he uses the recent shootings and people’s reactions as a possible illustration. While it seems right that seriousness of the wrong is a factor in blameworthiness, the particular case introduces yet another variable--consequences, including harm caused. For those of us who are resistant to moral luck in consequences, insofar as amount of harm caused is a factor in our actual reactions, it will have to be explained away.

Just catching up to this great conversation in progress! A few thoughts in response and more later.

First, Michael’s cases are good ones to think about in part because they are cases in which the source of the difficulty is internal, and in part because one is a candidate for blameworthiness and another for praiseworthiness. I am tempted to respond by saying that Jane is both less blameworthy for acting badly (because more difficult to avoid) and more praiseworthy for acting well (because more difficult to do). This is to treat the cases in a similar way to those whose source of difficulty is external to the agent rather than internal. Difficulty is difficulty. At least assuming that the agents aren’t responsible for nurturing their dispositions (and setting aside tracing considerations of that kind).

I agree with Justin that the case can be assimilated to cases in which we praise children more for resisting temptation, say, than we do our adult friends, and that this is not fully explained by the fact that we can achieve better consequences in the future by doing so. David Shoemaker also makes a nice point that explains away some evidence that difficulty of this sort is not a (consistent) factor in our judgments. In some cases, he points out, we might simply not care about making these fine-grained distinctions--e.g., a mass killer is blameworthy to a great degree, despite it’s being harder to resist than for others. To go a bit further, it may also be that we simply typically get by with rough generalizations about how hard and easy things are, and often aren’t attuned to levels of difficulty in particular cases unless they become glaring.

I think I agree, too, with Derk, that there are different kinds of appraisal at play in these cases. We may find Bella more praiseworthy, but along a different dimension, find Abby’s disposition preferable. The focus on the praiseworthy here raises another question here. Even if Abby’s disposition makes it easy in a sense to perform actions that others might find more difficult, I wonder if there are other ways that she could still be praiseworthy in the first sense. That is, suppose what she does requires a serious sacrifice of things she highly desired. Even if it is in a sense easy for her, could this factor by itself make her more praiseworthy on the first dimension?

Bruce mentions the possibility of two dimensions of appraisal here, too, and in particular Gary Watson’s notions of attributability and accountability. (I’d be curious to know how Derk sees these as interacting with his two dimensions.) Things may get a bit tricky here about how accountability, in particular, is to be cashed out when it comes to praiseworthiness and degrees thereof, and it’s interesting that Bruce’s case is one of someone acting badly rather than well. When it comes to attributability, understood as “aretaic” judgments, it’s true that we might describe one person as less virtuous because of his evil desires, but he also has great strength of will and other desires that we can praise, too, even when we just stick to the evaluation of traits.

Matt also mentions a (different) distinction between two different dimensions that each admit of degrees: blameworthiness on the one hand and responsibility on the other. If I understand correctly, this is a way of accounting for the fact that the severity or seriousness of the wrong (sorry to beg the question against half of the responders to the previous post!), is an independent factor in degree of blameworthiness. This is echoed in Chris’ comment, too, and he uses the recent shootings and people’s reactions as a possible illustration. While it seems right that seriousness of the wrong is a factor in blameworthiness, the particular case introduces yet another variable--consequences, including harm caused. For those of us who are resistant to moral luck in consequences, insofar as amount of harm caused is a factor in our actual reactions, it will have to be explained away.

Just to clarify my comments above (which Dana more than adequately summarized) - the blameworthy and praiseworthy are always blameworthy and praiseworthy for something. So one dimension along which agents can differ in degrees of BW/PW concerns the thing they are responsible for. Being responsible for a worse thing makes one more blameworthy. (We can remain neutral here on whether objects of responsibility are made worse by being more wrong, or via some other evaluative property.)

But I also think that the things one does with maximal control, (or maximal freedom, or with maximal awareness, or whatever) are things one is most "evalation-worthy" for. So, whatever the object of responsibility is, whatever one is responsible for, one will be as blameworthy or praiseworthy for it as one can be. But there are ways of being responsible for that thing in less maximal ways - when I control its coming about but imperfectly, when I'm negligent, when I lack full awareness. And, even here, there are further gradations to be made, (e.g., between the more and less aware).

(I just wanted to clarify. To stay more on the topic of the relevance of difficulty, I suppose I take the above to be the only dimensions for differences in BW/PW. Difficulty doesn't strike me as relevant.)

Alan’s Forrest Gump case brings out an interesting distinction. Alan describes the case as one in which Forrest can’t do otherwise. I do think that there is an asymmetry--praiseworthy action not requiring the ability to do otherwise while blameworthy action does. I raise the possibility in the book that one explanation of the appeal of the idea that praiseworthy action also requires the ability to do otherwise is that it is naturally but mistakenly tied to degree of difficulty or to amount of sacrifice involved in the action. One might think that if one couldn’t do otherwise, it was easy, or it didn’t require a sacrifice, but on reflection, I think we can see that this is not true. It might take a great effort, or require a great sacrifice for Forrest to do what he does, and these may be partial grounds of his praiseworthiness, independently of any ability to do otherwise.

Great thread! Sorry to join it so late. Here are a couple of thoughts:

I favor a quality of will approach to praiseworthiness and blameworthiness: An action is praiseworthy if it expresses positive moral concern (my caring about what morality requires or encourages); it is blameworthy if it expresses negative moral concern (my caring about what morality forbids or discourages). The degree of praiseworthiness/blameworthiness depends on the degree of my moral concern (how strong is the care that is expressed in the action). This is basically Nomy Arpaly’s view, though it’s tweaked a bit.

A view like this can make sense of the fact that difficulty can enhance the praiseworthiness of an action, but the link is largely *epistemic*. Doing something good in the face of tremendous difficulty provides strong, albeit defeasible, evidence that the person cares very deeply about the good outcome. Since a will of higher quality is expressed in her action, she is more praiseworthy.

Here is a problem for this this view: Bonnie and Ronnie both care equally about some morally good outcome, helping the poor. And both on this basis save 20% of their weekly paycheck for a year to give to Oxfam on Christmas Day. This is a piece of cake for Bonnie. But it is hard as hell for Ronnie because he is a shopaholic and has powerful desires to spend his paycheck on clothes. He has to fight these desires each and every week. It seems that Ronnie is more praiseworthy than Bonnie when he sends that check to Oxfam on Christmas Day. Yet the degree to which they care about bringing about the morally good outcome is stipulated to be equal. The quality of will view seems to suggest that they should be equally praiseworthy, as their underlying cares are equally strong.

I suspect the reason we praise Ronnie more is because *he has done more*. They are actually both equally praiseworthy for *sending the check to Oxfam on Christmas Day*. But in addition, Ronnie has done a large number of other praiseworthy actions that Bonnie hasn’t done—each and every week he has fought off temptation-directed desires to spend the money on clothes (I view resisting temptation as thoroughly actional; I guess others might disagree). The cumulative tally of praise on Ronnie’s ledger is thus higher than on Bonnie’s largely because the cumulative number of actions he has performed is higher.

Chandra (if I may)--

I think Bonnie's connection to the final act of charity is qualitatively stronger because it is embraced more fully in some sense like transtemporal identification as against a repetitive event-token resistance of temptation by Ronnie. Ronnie ultimately does the same thing, but always conflictedly, even if the conflict is repeated over more events that Bonnie's (perhaps singular as an extended event) embrace of charitable contribution. Some evaluation of the persistence of good moral quality must count more heavily against even successful repeated attempts to resist temptation, especially since in Ronnie's case the temptation arises from some divisive part of his own personality. Maybe quality of moral character has more to do with enduring qualities than any particular ones, and even if those particular ones ultimately win out on the side of the good (and luck worries intrude there). This same point would side with Forrest Gump's heroism too, even if his moral qualities were inherently part and parcel of who he was, and he could not do otherwise.

Maybe qualitatively presistent moral stances could allay luck worries too as far as moral consequences are concerned. Could that favor determinism of agents over indeterminism? Looks good to me.

Imagine that John and Jim are both basketball stars. However, their similarities end there. John is a physical specimen who was graced from birth with both speed and athleticism. Given his innate physical skills, basketball was always easy for him. Indeed, with a 40 inch vertical leap and amazing hand-eye coordination, he easily became one of the best basketball players in his state without ever having to practice particularly hard.

Jim, on the other hand, was not so blessed, physically speaking. Despite the fact that (a) he was not particularly athletic, and that (b) basketball did not come naturally to him, he had a true passion for the game as a child. As a result, he practiced night and day until his skills were so well honed that he, too, became one of the best basketball players in the state.

At the end of the day, I think many of us would correctly give Jim more credit or praise for his success at basketball than John. On my view, we both would and should admire Jim’s success more than John’s under these circumstances because acquiring the requisite skills required a lot more effort on Jim’s part. So, while we might be impressed with John’s freakish athleticism, we have more admiration for Jim’s hard earned success.

For present purposes, I want to call this the “Effort Effect" (EE). By my lights, EE often plays an important role in how we evaluate the praiseworthy actions of others. However, it’s unclear it plays a symmetrical role when it comes to blameworthy actions (even though I think it should).

For instance, imagine that Peter and Paul are both juvenile delinquents who have grown up with abusive parents. It turns out that Peter has the low activity form of MAOA—the so-called warrior gene—which recent research confers an increased risk of interpersonal aggression, violence, and crime in males who were abused as children. Paul, on the other hand, has the high activity form of MAOA, which makes it much easier for him to control his violent and aggressive impulses even though he, too, was abused.

Based on the admittedly breezy account of EE I sketched above, if both Peter and Paul commit an assault and battery as the result of a high stakes provocation, why wouldn’t we judge that Peter is less responsible for the offense than Paul given that it was much harder for him to resist the impulse (through no fault of his own)?

Imagine that John and Jim are both basketball stars. However, their similarities end there. John is a physical specimen who was graced from birth with both speed and athleticism. Given his innate physical skills, basketball was always easy for him. Indeed, with a 40 inch vertical leap and amazing hand-eye coordination, he easily became one of the best basketball players in his state without ever having to practice particularly hard.

Jim, on the other hand, was not so blessed, physically speaking. Despite the fact that (a) he was not particularly athletic, and that (b) basketball did not come naturally to him, he had a true passion for the game as a child. As a result, he practiced night and day until his skills were so well honed that he, too, became one of the best basketball players in the state.

At the end of the day, I think many of us would correctly give Jim more credit or praise for his success at basketball than John. On my view, we both would and should admire Jim’s success more than John’s under these circumstances because acquiring the requisite skills required a lot more effort on Jim’s part. So, while we might be impressed with John’s freakish athleticism, we have more admiration for Jim’s hard earned success.

For present purposes, I want to call this the “Effort Effect" (EE). By my lights, EE often plays an important role in how we evaluate the praiseworthy actions of others. However, it’s unclear it plays a symmetrical role when it comes to blameworthy actions (even though I think it should).

For instance, imagine that Peter and Paul are both juvenile delinquents who have grown up with abusive parents. It turns out that Peter has the low activity form of MAOA—the so-called warrior gene—which recent research confers an increased risk of interpersonal aggression, violence, and crime in males who were abused as children. Paul, on the other hand, has the high activity form of MAOA, which makes it much easier for him to control his violent and aggressive impulses even though he, too, was abused.

Based on the admittedly breezy account of EE I sketched above, if both Peter and Paul commit an assault and battery as the result of a high stakes provocation, why wouldn’t we judge that Peter is less responsible for the offense than Paul given that it was much harder for him to resist the impulse (through no fault of his own)?

Imagine that John and Jim are both basketball stars. However, their similarities end there. John is a physical specimen who was graced from birth with both speed and athleticism. Given his innate physical skills, basketball was always easy for him. Indeed, with a 40 inch vertical leap and amazing hand-eye coordination, he easily became one of the best basketball players in his state without ever having to practice particularly hard.

Jim, on the other hand, was not so blessed, physically speaking. Despite the fact that (a) he was not particularly athletic, and that (b) basketball did not come naturally to him, he had a true passion for the game as a child. As a result, he practiced night and day until his skills were so well honed that he, too, became one of the best basketball players in the state.

At the end of the day, I think many of us would correctly give Jim more credit or praise for his success at basketball than John. On my view, we both would and should admire Jim’s success more than John’s under these circumstances because acquiring the requisite skills required a lot more effort on Jim’s part. So, while we might be impressed with John’s freakish athleticism, we have more admiration for Jim’s hard earned success.

For present purposes, I want to call this the “Effort Effect" (EE). By my lights, EE often plays an important role in how we evaluate the praiseworthy actions of others. However, it’s unclear it plays a symmetrical role when it comes to blameworthy actions (even though I think it should).

For instance, imagine that Peter and Paul are both juvenile delinquents who have grown up with abusive parents. It turns out that Peter has the low activity form of MAOA—the so-called warrior gene—which recent research confers an increased risk of interpersonal aggression, violence, and crime in males who were abused as children. Paul, on the other hand, has the high activity form of MAOA, which makes it much easier for him to control his violent and aggressive impulses even though he, too, was abused.

Based on the admittedly breezy account of EE I sketched above, if both Peter and Paul commit an assault and battery as the result of a high stakes provocation, why wouldn’t we judge that Peter is less responsible for the offense than Paul given that it was much harder for him to resist the impulse (through no fault of his own)?

Hi All, This is an interesting thread. Like Chandra, as well as Nomy Arpaly, I too like a quality of will (q of w) thesis. It seems to me that q of w certainly as *a* bearing on degree of blameworthiness. Of course, it's hard to assess this claim without getting clear on what q of w is. I think of it in ways similar to both Chandra and Nomy. On my view, q of w is the quality (i.e., worth or value) of the regard one has for others and for salient moral.

Imagine two agents who both knowingly and freely do wrong. Now suppose one doesn't much care that she is doing wrong, or worse, finds it an occasion for delight. The other, let us suppose, is pained by her choice. The former, I say, is more blameworthy. The difference is q of w.

Nevertheless, I do not think we can treat q of w as exhausting the considerations bearing on degree of blameworthiness (not to suggest Chandra was committing to this). Imagine two agents who equally care about the well being of someone in need. Both act in praiseworthy fashion to help. One, however, is clinically depressed and so must exert great effort to help. The other is not in a similar condition and helping is very easy. Perhaps a q of w theorist could say the depressed person displayed greater concern for the one in need given the psychological pain she had to overcome to do the praiseworthy thing. But grant that the non-depressed person would have exerted just as much effort had she been depressed as well. The quality of her regard for the person in need is just as worthy as is the depressed person. So here, it seems, we have a case suggesting that difficulty of effort is a distinct condition from q of w.

@Alan: I see why you think that Bonnie has better quality of will. After all, she is unconflicted in wanting to give. But I was trying to set the case up as one in which the degree to which they care for the good outcome is exactly equal (I stipulated that this is the case). I suppose the case may be slightly internally inconsistent, for the reasons you raise.

@Michael: I am indeed trying to offer a ‘single’ factor quality of will account of praise/blameworthiness. And the case you raised in which the quality of wills of two agents are stipulated to be identical is just the kind that will cause a single factor theory like mine to stumble. Thanks a lot :)

But here is my suggestion to deal with your case: We need to be very careful to count the number of praiseworthy actions an agent performs when making comparisons between agents, as such comparisons are problematic if the number is not matched. The non-depressed person does one action: she helps the person in need. The depressed person does two actions: 1) she exerts great mental effort in fighting off the fatigue, ennui, and pessimistic thinking that arise from her depression; 2) she helps the person in need.

Consider the following principle:
(N) A person who does two very praiseworthy things (both of which express excellent quality of will) merits more praise than a person who does one praiseworthy thing.

Here is a case that illustrates that (N) is very plausible:

Suppose you and I walk to the department on different paths. I encounter a young girl and help her across the street. You also encounter a young girl and help her across the street. In addition, you encounter a kitten in a tree and help it get down. I didn’t help a kitten because there was none on the path I was on. Were I to have encountered a kitten, I would have helped it. But this counterfactual doesn’t matter. You merit more praise because you have done more good deeds. So (N) seems pretty plausible.

If (N) is true, then the depressed person merits more praise because she has done two praiseworthy actions (resistance & helping) both of which express excellent quality of will, while the non-depressed person has done just one. This is one way for a quality of will theory to ‘save the appearances’ in the face of your counter-example. I wonder if folks find this ‘number of actions’ approach plausible?

Michael: One advantage of a *qualities* of will view, which I favor, is that it might address your sort of case. The basic idea is that the term "will," in QW accounts, is multiply ambiguous, sometimes referring to character, sometimes referring to judgment, and sometimes referring to regard. So the quality of your agents' regard may be the same, but given the difficulties overcome by the clinically depressed agent, her action reveals an admirable quality of character as well. So both may be praiseworthy for the identical quality of their regard, but only the first is admirable in addition with respect to the quality of her character. (Of course, as you suggest, the second might also have the same sort of character, but insofar as it hasn't been tested in this particular instance, it doesn't necessarily warrant the same kind of admiration in this particular circumstance.) Sorry, there's a lot packed in here, but I just wanted to hint at some resources a QW theorist might have.

I'm late to the great discussion, but I wanted to touch on an small issue that hasn't been raised yet. If blameworthiness and praiseworthiness are degreed, and if they are determined in part by another degreed notion such as quality of regard or quality of will, might someone be both blameworthy and praiseworthy to some degree for the same action?

Imagine that someone is mostly selfish, but, on her best days, she just barely cares about the suffering of others. Every week she is asked to donate some percentage of her paycheck to Oxfam and every week she turns it down. This week, however, she has a small change of heart and donates what amounts to 5 bucks. Her underlying thought process was something like: "a 5 spot might help a few people, and, besides, I'll still have enough money for that new iPad Mini". For the case to work, you have to imagine that she genuinely cared for the people she would help, but, as is quite typical these days, she just didn't care that much. Is this action praiseworthy to the rather small degree that she acted from moral concern *and* blameworthy to a perhaps larger degree because she, like all the previous occasions, acted rather selfishly in giving such a small amount? If you're inclined to say she's only blameworthy in this case due to the pittance that she donated, then is there some donation amount that would trigger in you the sense that she is praiseworthy to some degree while remaining blameworthy to some degree?

I realize that this question isn't relevant to the difficulty issue, but perhaps it points to another important feature of certain degreed accounts of blameworthiness and praiseworthiness.

This time I’m the one coming in late, but I was hoping for just this kind of discussion. Can particular accounts, such as quality of will or reasons-responsiveness accounts--at least as so far stated--account for degrees of blameworthiness and praiseworthiness? If I understand Chandra’s suggestion, it can accommodate degrees by having them reflect degree of care. But other reactions that seem to track other factors must be explained in other ways, and he accounts for the different degree of strength of our reactions when quality of will is kept fixed by suggesting that we are reacting to different numbers of actions or activities. David Shoemaker also suggests that maybe more qualities than care matter, so that in the circumstance, we are responding to more of the relevant qualities when we praise the one who faced more obstacles more. On the other side, Michael suggests that quality of will is not the only factor, and it seems to me that this is the more plausible explanation of the appropriateness of different degrees of praise for the actions.

I don’t think this is a challenge unique for quality of will accounts, though. Consider, for example, Fischer and Ravizza’s account of reasons-responsiveness. On that account, agents are responsible when they act on their own moderately reasons-responsive mechanisms. This account is not intended to explain degrees of blameworthiness. But in a recent paper, “Reasons-responsiveness and degrees of responsibility,” (Phil Studies) Justin Coates and Phillip Swenson propose a really neat way of extending the account so as to accommodate degrees of blameworthiness. In so doing, they suggest that if an agent acts on a mechanism that is less reasons-reactive, in that the possible worlds in which the mechanism reacts to sufficient reason to do otherwise are comparatively farther and less similar to our own, then the agent is less blameworthy for her failing to act on the reasons there actually are. And the less reactive the mechanism, so understood, the more difficult it is for the agent to react to the reasons there are. To illustrate with one of Coates and Swenson’s examples, imagine that Marcia fails to pick you up from the airport as promised. We blame her, but upon finding out that she is struggling with serious depression, we blame her much less.

It strikes me that while this measure of degrees of reactivity might very well be important, it does not capture or accurately track the idea of difficulty as it is intuitively understood. One reason is that reasons-responsiveness, understood as a property of mechanisms, shouldn't even aspire to capture everything relevant to level of difficulty. Even if difficulty can sometimes depend on such features, it can also depend on environmental factors in the actual sequence (e.g., when my life or the life of a child is at stake). (In a paper co-authored with David Brink, we try to bring cognitive and motivational capacities and situational factors under a single umbrella concept of fair opportunity to avoid wrongdoing; while this is sure to face challenges, it might have an advantage here in unifying different factors that seem to contribute to our attributions of degrees.)

These are just two kinds of accounts of what is required for responsibility, but it is an interesting question for every such account how it could be extended or modified to account for degrees of praiseworthiness and blameworthiness, and, for the fact that it at least seems to us sometimes that such degrees track degree of difficulty.

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