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04/16/2013

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Hi Michael,

Great post (on top of great posts)! Thanks.

I think you have articulated a very nice challenge for reasons-responsiveness theorists. And I would be very interested to hear how some defenders of reasons-responsiveness views would like to respond. I, myself, prefer a mesh-type view. But I think that there are important differences between what a mesh theorist is trying to account for and what a reasons-responsiveness theorist is trying to account for. And I think we might be able to see a ready response to you worry on behalf of the reasons-responsiveness theorist once we notice this difference.

The view I prefer is basically Watson's account. But I take the Platonic Model to be an account of self-governance, not an account of moral responsibility. It provides an account of when an action issues form the agent herself, not (straightforwardly or primarily) an account of when the action is one for which she is morally responsible.

Now I think self-governance is related to moral responsibility in important ways: the capacity for self-governance is a necessary and sufficient condition on morally responsible agency and it is sufficient for moral responsibility for a given action that it be self-governed. Weak-willed actions are not self-governed, but one may be morally responsible for a weak-willed action. And this suggests that self-governance is not a necessary condition on morally responsible action. So I think that taking the Platonic Model to be an account of self-governance allows me to avoid the objection that it does not account for weak-willed actions. It is not meant to.

The claim that we have to add more to an account of self-governance to yield an account of moral responsibility (one that gives necessary and sufficient conditions on morally responsible action) is what suggests, it seems to me, a possible reply to your worry on behalf of the reasons-responsiveness theorist. Just as the libertarian can adopt the best compatibilist approach and tack on something more, the reasons-responsiveness theorist can adopt the best account of self-governance (the best mesh theory) and then tack on something more. The trick is to articulate how one's preferred reasons-responsiveness account of moral responsibility may be wed to one's preferred account of self-governance in order to yield a more comprehensive theory of human agency. The difficulty would seem to be doing so in a manner that preserves the relationship between self-governance and moral responsibility (laid out above). I don't see that this would be impossible to do, perhaps given some claims about how the reasons one has are related to the relevant internal states.

I don't have a hybrid view like this up my sleeve. Nor do I have a real sense of how I think one should go (this is not the route I am inclined to take). But I offer it up as a proposal on behalf of the reasons-responsiveness theorist and wonder what others think.

Hi Michael-

As usual, I think we mostly agree. Here's what I say in Building Better Beings:

"we have a natural way to account for the thought that freedom (of the responsibility-relevant sort) is indeed partly a function of the agent. What difference-making our agency provides, even embedded in the ebb and flow of psychological phenomena, is to be found in the operations of those privileged features of the agent that constitute the agent’s own standpoint . . . . Where free will and origination come together, then, are in those cases where policies interact with, and indeed structure, our capacities for recognizing moral considerations and acting upon then. When those capacity-structuring policies stand in the right relationship to the agent's identity and other aspects of the agent's psychic economy, the actions that flow from intentions thus formed are both free (in the responsibility-relevant sense) and originating in the agent in the non-arbitrary sense" (319).

Excellent, thought-provoking post, Michael. I think you are exactly right to point to ways each account seems to fail to account for (or fail to account non-awkwardly for) some important feature of the other. My own thought is that each account is best construed as a distinct account of responsibility (not free agency, necessarily): mesh accounts are best for attributability, for determining what actions and attitudes have the right structural relation to our agential character; and reasons-responsive accounts are best for determining something like answerability, for determining what actions or attitudes have the right structural relation to our practical judgments. The former implicates various of our aretaic responses (e.g., admiration, disdain, contempt); the latter implicates various of our responses to good or bad decisions (e.g., regret, disappointment, pride, embarrassment). We are then just interested in, or care about, multiple features of agency, and two of these are brought out by your discussion, i.e., we care about *both* the internal structure of persons' agency *and* people's relation to reasons. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that these two very different sorts of features might implicate very different sorts of capacities.

Following up on Ben's post, it seems that in the dialectic you have established, Michael, turn about is fair play. Isn't something crucial missing from mesh philosophies, viz., the norms by which an agent can be said to have RATIONALLY structured his will? I'm not supposed to be simply identifying with certain 1st order desires rather than others, I should be forming such preferences in light of reasons: self-governance should be reason responsive. Thus, if your concern is valid, and I think it is, hybridization is unavoidable.

But I'm not sure just why you think your own solution is inadequate. Ok, so my relation to the external world is obviously different than the one I stand in to my own psyche. For one important thing, I have a much better sense of what's going on in the latter, approaching certainty, Freud aside, than the former. The latter would also mean more to me than the former. ('To thine own self be true.') But how are these differences supposed to yield an asymmetry in terms of reason responsiveness? In each case isn't it a matter of there being a mechanism charged with weighing the considerations for and against preferring one state to another? What is the freedom relevant difference between reasoning about the mind-independent matters and one's inner world? And isn't there interplay between these activities as well? My formation of my self must somehow be guided by the decisions I have made about how things are in my environment and vice-versa. Having chosen to belief cigarette smoking is harmful, I now have a good reason to prefer to being a non-smoker to a smoker. But that decision should lead me to prefer smoke-free APA smokers. (That's the term we used in graduate school and I'm sticking to it.) I await you putting your cards on the table.

Good question, Michael. I wonder if one couldn't argue that the feature that mesh theories attempt to capture can, on a reasons-responsiveness view, at least partly come out of restrictions on the range of reasons to which the agent must be responsive.

Reasons-responsive theorists tend to say that the relevant range of reasons must have a certain structure, for example, if I would react to a $100 incentive to refrain from doing a certain thing, then I'd also react to a $1000 incentive of the same kind (otherwise I'd be highly irrational, in which case I couldn't be responsible). Similarly, perhaps, the range of moral reasons to which agents must be responsive must also have a certain kind of structure. For example, one could argue that, in order to be responsible for taking a drug, if it is the case that I would tend not to take the drug if I knew that it would result in my violating certain family obligations, then it also would have to be the case that I I also would tend not to take the drug if I knew that it would result in my violating certain obligations to my closest friends. One could argue that, if I showed this pattern of responsiveness to reasons, then this would mean that I am identifying with reasons of a certain kind (such as not wanting to hurt the people I love).

It seems that one could even say that, if I would have typically responded to reasons of that kind, then this reflects the fact that I have the higher-order desire to be moved by desires of that kind. Importantly, this would still leave room for weakness of the will. One could say that the weak-willed non-addict is responsible because he exhibits the relevant pattern of responsiveness (he identifies with the relevant kinds of reasons not to take drug), even if in the actual world he doesn't act on the reasons of that kind that were actually present.

In this way one could argue that at least part of the required structure of the will *falls out of* the pattern of responsiveness to reasons, instead of being a separate, basic feature of agency.

What do you think? Does this make any sense?

It strikes me that the way you describe the two views suggests that they work at different levels of abstractions. The reasons-responsiveness view gives us a necessary condition, which any being must satisfy in order to be free (angels, martians, humans, and so on). The mesh theorist provides a psychological account that deals with the messiness of one actual, putatively free, being. So far as I can tell, your defence of the mesh account doesn't endorse the details of that psychological account; rather, it says that it is a virtue of the mesh theorist that they have a psychological account, and RR needs to have one too, in order to be fully satisfying. If that's right, then the RR theorist can say that that would indeed be a virtue, but it is unreasonable to ask every theorist to provide every level: rather, it is enough if the RR theorist is compatible with whatever true theory of the messy psychological details turn out to be.

On the objection you mention to the mesh theorist I had the following thought. In my own work on addiction, I have defended the view that the less of control it involves can only be understood by thinking of agency as a diachronic property, so that even though the addict acts as she wants, at the time, the endorsing attitude is not in fact her own (we can cash that out in a really banal way: she is not satisfied with that attitude most of the time). I actually developed that in an essentially RR framework, but as the way I just described it indicates, I think this story can be borrowed by the mesh theorist. They just have to get a little bit historical. But they should so that anyway, as for instance Bratman does in understanding autonomy as the capacity to follow plans and policies.

What a terrific question! Kudos Michael once again.

I am partial to both Carolina's (hello again!) and Neil's (the same!) responses. Mish-mash the mesh and RR.

Frankfurt was the first (as I know) to transfer the compatibilist conditionality of action on choice completely into the realm of mind. Instead of action dependent on choice, it's choice dependent on further conditions of choice. Allied with even minimal features of the deeper matters of evaluative identification, the mesh structure pushes questions of D/I metaphysics right out of the picture (as even classic compatibilism attempted). RR accounts then focus on the evaluative questions at deeper levels of agency, usually expressed as counterfactuals of evaluation of course, but now not just as how actual conditionals of decisions are reached, but further flesh out how evaluative questions might trump metaphysical ones given close worlds no matter if D/I is true. (It's there that incompatibilists are not thrilled or impressed.) Add in Neil's concerns about an account that would (de-)stabilize judgments about how a particular agent is identified as such across time, and the mesh and RR might live happily ever after.

(If there is anything of clarifying merit here, I thank Carolina and Neil; if I am confused beyond hope, they may take comfort that my mesh and RR are very, very defective, and maybe even forgive me!)

Gary Watson has argued thst an adequate theory of free will must offer analyses of the relevance of alternative possibilities to freedom and the nature of self-determination (Shoemaker also has a helpful discussion of this in one of his many *Ethics* papers).

Here's a thought: reason-responsiveness theories, at least Fischer and Ravizza's, focus on the alternative possibilities condition. They argue that APs enter the picture not at the agential level, but at the level of mechanism. It does not matter if you could not have done otherwise so long as the mechanism leading to action could of. However, their account offers less by way of an analysis of self-determination (at least if memory serves me). Other folks, like Frankfurt and company, have been offering analyses of freedom by offering analyses of self-determination. Some of the talking past each other is a function the varying and complicated ways APs and possession and exercise of the power of self-determination relate to one another.

Also, I should say that I'm unconvinced by the argument against the mesh theory and the claim that the reasons-responsive theory gets a big advantage from it. It all depends on how the details of the mesh theory are laid out. One might draw from a view like Sripada's to say that the deep self consists in one's cares (affective dispositions), so that the distinction between the unwilling addict and the weak willed non-addict is just found in the different sources of their wills: for the former it is his addiction, whereas for the latter it is his cares. Only the latter is free, then.

But even Frankfurt has the resources, I think, to resist the worry: weak-willed action doesn't necessarily imply that one doesn't identify with one's will. One might well *partially* identify with it, and partially identify with the losing will. The weakness, then, could be specified by the fact that the winning will was stronger, despite the fact that one had some kind of independent desire/commitment to stick to one's diet, say.

Hi All, Thanks for your replies! Sorry it took me a while to respond.

First, Ben, thank you for your very thoughtful, thorough suggestion. You addressed my worry exactly as I was thinking of it. And let me say right at the outset that, indeed, you zeroed in on something close to the proposal I have in mind. You write in terms of the capacity for self-governance. So, for the moment, I'll just adopt your nomenclature without meaning to commit to the full Platonic thesis as Gary Watson would advance it. I think one should include in the conditions for being an agent of a certain sort--a morally responsible agent--a capacity for self-governance. And what I myself will develop (already have in a book manuscript draft that is now collecting dust) in a theory of free will is one that folds in a condition like this. But let me press back on you here just a bit, in what I mean to be a completely friendly way, about a few of the details to which you yourself seem to be committed:

You want to treat such a capacity as necessary and sufficient for morally responsible agency (not moral responsibility for action). Here are two worries: Imagine a being who has the capacity for self-governance, and by reference to evaluations that she makes about what is good for or of worth to her. But imagine that she has no capacity to grasp *moral* considerations. Suppose she is, in this way, able to evaluate in, say, aesthetic terms but not moral ones. Then it seems (contra Matt Talbert and others (that's right Matt! I'm calling you out!)) she would not be a morally responsible agent, although she might be in some other manner an autonomous agent.

But here is another worry: Would it be enough for an agent to be a morally responsible agent that she merely possesses the *capacity* for self-governance, even by way of moral evaluations? What about such an agent who is able to but never does exercise that capacity so that there is nothing, so to speak, that she stands for or that gives content to what she as a matter of fact cares about? Here I mean this as a sincere, not a rhetorical, question. I wonder if the conditions for morally responsible agency on the sort of view you are imagining would require more than a mere capacity for self-governance in light of one's evaluations. I wonder if a further condition is that such an agent must actually commit to or embrace certain evaluations as elements of her psychic constitution.

Given that there are the above caveats to iron out, it seems right that we could, so to speak, tack on a reasons-responsive theory to account for acting freely, thereby accounting for cases of weakness the will and other cases that otherwise seem hard for mesh theorists to explain.

Ben, this was an excellent and very insightful comment about this topic. Thank you! I really appreciate it.

Manuel, that's very nicely put: you express the (or a similar) idea in terms of the potential relationship between free will and origination. Not much more to say except that I hope you do not scoop *every* idea in my yet-to-be completed book on free will. If so, it'll be very short. There'll just be a title and then a footnote saying, "See Manuel Vargas's *Better Beast*"...

Dave, thanks also for your post. Excellent! I agree with you that these two approaches tend to fit best for different sorts of claims of responsibility. And I welcome all that you say. But I would add two small qualifications--not sure whether they are even quibbles, as you might agree. First, many who advance a mesh theory are in it for a defense of the full notion of moral responsibility in the accountability sense, and it does not solve their problem to be told that the short-coming of their thesis is due to the fact that the theory they advance is tailored for a different sort of responsibility. Second, even given what you wrote, and in light of Ben's remark, it is possible to contend that an adequate theory of moral responsibility in the accountability sense *must* incorporate some mesh features of agency in some manner (as, for instance, Ben proposed).

Robert, I really liked your post, too! I think you are correct to argue that we need some sort of reason responsive constraint on the preferences (Frankfurt), evaluations (Watson), or high-ordering plans (Bratman) giving rise to the complex psychic structure of morally responsible (or even just autonomous) agents. It's a little tricky executing this properly, I guess, since we do not want to require that in the acquisition of preferences (values, plans) that the agent do so in a reasons-responsive way. Her original acquisitions as she became a new agent on the scene would have to be informed by something she cares about, values... Then we'd face regress worries. But I do not mean this as an objection to you but as an acknowledgment of a puzzle about how to execute the point you are right to make.

As for your second remark, asking why this is, after all, a problem for the reasons-responsive theorist and why, as I note, the mere reasons-responsive resources seem inadequate to the task at hand, my reply will likely strike you as unsatisfactory. I confess, for a long time I have struggled with this, and sometimes I am inclined to go the route you propose. Asking why I find the asymmetry I do, you wrote: "In each case isn't it a matter of there being a mechanism charged with weighing the considerations for and against preferring one state to another? What is the freedom relevant difference between reasoning about the mind-independent matters and one's inner world? "That's the right question to ask, and here is one way to see that there need not be a relevant difference. If there is, so to speak, a *you* as a distinct agent or something, so that you could stand to your preferences or motivations in your inner world as you could stand to external facts of the world, then it seems we could do this just as you are suggesting. But if it is thought that what you are assessing or weighing partially constitutes you, then your relation to what you are evaluating is not like reasons afforded by (the rest of) the world. Anyway, this is why I find it attractive to think, as Ben is suggesting, of (at least a capacity for) self-governance or higher-order assessment as a precondition of morally responsible agency, and then think of reasons-responsiveness as a further freedom condition.

I know. It's not well worked out yet. Maybe Manuel will figure this out too, and I can just retire.

Michael, here's some advice:

When all else fails, read the Manuel.

Hi Carolina, Thanks for your post! And yes, your proposal makes *great* sense. When I lean in the direction of trying to do all of the theorizing that can be done in terms of responsiveness to reason, what I have in mind is something like what you suggest. And in what I am about to type, I do not mean to deny that you might well be correct that we could do all of the work we need to do just as you propose. But here is a way to see the source of my reluctance:

If we take a free agent whose will is structured as someone like Frankfurt would imagine, of course we will discover that *somehow* her responsiveness to reasons will display some pattern or other. And from it we will be able to see that the pattern shows what the agent does or does not identify with in terms of high-order preferences (if we are talking the mesh-language of Frankfurt). Some of the reasons to which the agent will be responsive will be provided by features of her own agency and the like. And in this way, the structure of her will can be shown to *fall out of* a pattern of reasons-recognition. But the question is, is the structure we see here like forensic evidence of this other condition involving the structure of agency, or does it, as it were, exhaust the condition?

You ask if the features of agency the mesh theorists want to capture can be explained in terms of restrictions on the range of reasons to which an agent must be responsive. What I worry about on the strategy you are suggesting is how we get, to use your words, the *restriction* and the *must* without antecedently acknowledging a further condition on morally responsible agency.

Of course, it is open to someone to argue that the complex structure of agency that I am saying needs to be accounted for in a theory of freedom (free will) and moral responsibility does not need to be accounted for, since it is neither necessary nor sufficient for being morally responsible (either for being a morally responsible agent or being morally responsible for anything). (More on this in a moment in my response to Neil.) I can see how someone could argue in this way. And if they did, they could then say that when, as a matter of contingent fact, we come across such beings, they'll have a structure of reasons-responsiveness that can be captured as you propose. But I myself think it quite plausible that some features or other that mesh theorists are on about is *required* for morally responsible agency (as Ben was suggesting). If so, the *required* part will be the tough nut to crack on the proposal you are floating.

On the other hand, what is the theoretical cost to a little mish-mashing of the sort Ben and also Manuel are suggesting? I mean there is a strong preference we share as analytic philosophers for theoretical elegance. More conditions and further restrictions on agency makes the theory more cumbersome. But this might be a cost worth paying. Sorry, but let me ask, back to you, does this make sense?

Neil, really glad that you have joined in too! I like both of your points, and, indeed, the gentlest way to resolve the tension is just as you suggest. Treat a RR theory as providing one sort of condition for beings to be free (not sure I would cast it as a necessary condition, but let's set the particular status it has aside for the moment), and then treat the other as a peculiar feature of us weird earthlings.

But of course, this will not work if we imagine, as, say, Frankfurt does, that the very concept of a person (and so a free person, or one who acts of her own free will) is to be accounted for in terms of a special sort of complexity of an agent's will (or her action-generating psychic structure). My efforts at exploring a reconciling or mish-mash theory is aimed at those who take this approach to agency as capturing something essential.

Incidentally, just returning quickly to your comment about treating RR as necessary but not sufficient to be free (I would say 'free in the sense relevant for free will'), I think it is better to think in terms of offering sufficient conditions, if not necessary and sufficient. This is because compatibilists want to offer conditions in which, if satisfied at a determined world, an agent would be free. So mere necessary conditions will not do. But that need not directly bear on your core point.

As regards your ideas for salvaging a mesh theory in the way that it handles weakness of will and other cases, yes, a diachronic approach might very well help. I still think exclusively mesh theories just cannot do as well as those that attempt to explain freedom with further resources--especially RR resources. (Again, on this point, I think Ben was spot on.) But I don't want to be dogmatic about this. Dave commented on this was well, crediting Chandra with a viable strategy. I'd like to be open-minded here, and so I'll not just reject these proposals outright. Not only that, there's only so many battles I can fight with all of you supa-smart folks!

Hi Alan, Thank you for your kind words. And also, thanks for your humor! That parenthetical remark in closing was pretty funny! (Your reasons-responsive resources seem pretty well honed from where I sit.)

I hope you can see that I too am partial to Carolina's and Neils' responses. I think both track strategies that could be viable. And both in different ways propose a mishing of sorts, but the mishing that Ben,and Robert too, are suggesting is a little closer to what I am considering advancing these days. Also, you'll notice that there's some tension between Carolina's and Neil's proposals; while Neil wants to treat the structure of agency considerations as a contingent matter, Carolina embraces a problematic according to which there is a necessary condition on free agency that needs to be accounted for.

These qualifications aside, I liked your commentary on Frankfurt and your suggestion that these two approaches could be married. You probably noticed that Robert's suggestion supports yours. The higher-order identifyings, or whatever mesh proposal we work with, could be constrained in a way that requires responsiveness to reasons.

Chris, thank you, too, for your suggestion! I like the general point Gary makes, but I would disagree with the details in the following way: As I would express it, one burden in a theory of free will has to do with explaining how free agents interact with the world in a way that is free, and another has to do with self-determination. While the first is naturally explained in terms of freedom to do otherwise (alternative possibilities) Fischer, and Fischer and Ravizza, have offered a different 'actual-sequence' approach in terms of reasons-sensitivity. I am with them on this point, and so I'd want to resist the way Gary (and you by way of your comment) would express the first of these burdens.

But with that quibble aside, there is wisdom, I think, in the idea that mesh theories are better targeted toward the self-determination burden while reasons-responsive theories are better targeted toward the interact freely in the world burden. The hard thing, though, is to fit them together in a compelling way. I think Ben's still in the running for the best proposal here.

Dave, sorry to be brief with you , but I basically said what I wanted to say to you in your most recent comment when I was replying to Neil. I'd like to be open-minded here. So I am willing to be convinced that the problem I identify for mesh theories is not so tough for them after all. I will, however, need convincing, and I still think it looks pretty tough for the mesh theorist. But I just don't want to fight that battle here.

I would add, on the last proposal you floated, now we need to start trying to make sense of partial identifications. Maybe this will work. (I have a graduate student, Chad van Shoelandt, who has a really interesting paper arguing for this.) But again, as I noted earlier, why not consider some sort of hybrid view?

Michael, another really awesome post!!

I am really intrigued by the problem you highlight regarding RR views--that they do not pay enough attention to our internal psychic structures. I love the way you put it here: “My relation to my own internal states and the problems of agency posed by my complex nature as a person is not like my relation to the reasons afforded to me by the world as I find it.”

I think an RR theorist can bridge some of this gap by offering a more detailed theory of reasons. I favor so-called Humean “attitude-dependent” accounts of reasons that say you have a reason to phi if phi-ing advances some element of your motivational set, e.g. your desires. Externalists about reasons respond with cases in which a person desires something crazy (e.g., the case from Allan Gibbard of Polly who desires to have a trimmer figure even if it risks death), and point out we don’t think the person as a reason to perform these crazy actions. A standard Humean response is to refine their theory to say it is not just any old element of one’s motivational set that grounds a reason, but rather some privileged subset. Sharon Street for example calls this subset one’s “values”, and I have an account that I am writing up says this subset consists of one’s cares.

Obviously, this dialectic has interesting parallels with debates about deep self theories of moral responsibility. Susan Wolf famously makes a similar a demarcation move saying you are morally responsible not when your action flows from any old desire (think of OCD and kleptomania) but only when your action flows from a privileged subset of attitudes, which she calls one’s Self.

Suppose an RR theorist adopts a Street-style Humean theory of reasons. Wouldn’t this collapse some of the differences between RR theories and mesh theories? In virtue of responding to Streetian reasons, a person would in effect be responding to the attitudes of her Self (since these reasons are grounded in expressions of her self). This is one way for the RR theorist to bring in some of the complex relations between one’s internal psychological states into the RR framework. To be clear, I am a partisan of the deep self view of MR. But I do think the RR theorist is getting a bum rap here so I wanted to offer this as a way to help.

Great discussion here, folks. Here's an admittedly obscure and inchoate thought about all of this, stemming from some work in progress articulating a conception of freedom in terms of ontological dependence.

One way to think about the goal of an adequate theory of freedom and moral responsibility is as the attempt to explain how an agent's actions can be grounded in (or depend upon) him, rather than in past states of the world (the threat from determinism) or in nothing at all (the threat from indeterminism). This, I think, is what's so appealing about the notion of agent-causation.

But if we eschew irreducible substance causation, we are left with the task of constructing an agent from other materials, and explaining how those other materials can be tied to action in an appropriate way. What other materials can do the job? Well, what sort of thing am I?

Three answers stand out: I persist through time, I've got distinctive cognitive capacities (i.e., I can reason and reflect), and I've got distinctive conative capacities (i.e., I can value, care, and commit). As I see it, the attempt to ground action in an agent is doomed if it can't incorporate at least these elements of our agency. And thus we are led to historical conditions, reasons-responsive conditions, and hierarchical conditions.

Neal--I think you articulated diverse and important concerns here, and (as I've done in more than one instance in these threads) those seem to connect with important issues in the bioethics course I'm teaching. Neil earlier raised diachronic issues of agency, and now you as well. One issue here that is connected to bioethics is whether advanced directives by competent people are morally warranted for their later selves, especially in cases where those later selves are somewhat temporally stable in terms of overall beneficent utility (happily peering out the window much of the day without much capacity for self-reflection--but they do not know who their children are or what day it is), but thus might be legally incompetent, and deemed susceptible to directives from the previous self (e.g.) to prevent the use of antibiotics in case of pneumonia. Why would the "free-will" choice of the earlier self have precedence over the "free-will-less" state of the later incompetent (though happy-enough) self?

This suggests that transtemporally there might be rational criteria that connect earlier with later versions of selves that establish (i) sufficient evaluative norms of agent-identity and thus (ii) sufficient criteria for psychological identification of the agent with moral norms (good or ill) that are stably embraced over a given period (a sociopath might satisfy (i) and (ii), but a mutliple personality or dementia patient might not) and (iii) further evaluation of (i) and (ii) that establish them as collective transtemporal norms susceptible to some sort of rational evaluation as praise-or-blame-worthy overall (thus the potential moral differences between the actions of a long-term sociopath and a long-term multiple personality and an impulsive demented geriatric). If these break down as forms of aging dementia evince, then perhaps not only do our earlier selves have no rightful claim how our later "descendants" live or die, it may well be that we need to empirically study mental degradation in the elderly to understand agency in its ordinary un-degraded and stable sense (if that sense exists at all). FWIW.

Thanks for the reply Michael.

I am not sure that I would exclude the power of self-determination from accounts of our interacting freely with the world. If we take Ben's proposal seriously (which I do), then these powers may be importantly interdependent. While acting freely does not require the exercise of the power of self-determination, it does require the possibility of its exercise. Note also Helen Steward argues for something like this relation between agency (rather than free agency) and the power of self-determination.

As Gary argues, one of the crucial tasks of theories of free will is to *integrate* these conditions. This strikes me as right.

There is some reason to think that John (and perhaps you) also take this seriously: namely via his ownership condition. We might wonder why a mechanisms bringing about an action counts as my bringing about the action. Answer: because you own or have taken responsibility for the mechanism. Thus determination by a reasons-responsive mechanism owned by the agent is *self* determination partly because the agent *owns* the mechanism. What do you think of this?

While accounts think of the nature and relevance of alternative possibilities and self-determination in importantly (and sometimes radically) different ways, I suspect that Gary's taxonomy gets something deeply right: all accounts offer analyses of alternative possibilities and self-determination.

Thanks for the reply, Michael! What you say does make sense and I was actually expecting you to have that kind of worry. I guess I don't see the harm in seeing the proposal (according to which the structure of the will is reflected in the pattern of reasons-recognition itself) as a sort of "hybrid" view. At least the two pieces come together nicely in that kind of proposal, and thus the view appears less artificial or ad hoc than most hybrid views.

What I was thinking is that, if one is tempted by this kind of view, one could argue that it solves the weakness of the will problem in a way that's not available to a pure mesh theorist. One could say, again, that the weak-willed non-addict is free because he exhibits the relevant pattern of reasons-responsiveness: even if he doesn't respond to the relevant reasons in the actual world, he does in most relevant counterfactual worlds, and this pattern is importantly revealing of the structure of his will. It would be hard for a pure mesh theorist to say something along these lines. In particular, since Frankfurt is particularly drawn to the idea that what matters to the agent's responsibility is the desires that are actually operative, not the ones that operate in other possible worlds, I don't think he'd be happy with this particular addition to his theory.

This, of course, raises the question of how compatible a RR theory is with the thought that only "actual sequences" are relevant. As you know, I think this is a very important question, but I also think that, fortunately, there are resources available to the RR theorist to address it successfully.

Hi Michael,

Thank you for your thorough response to my comment. You are very kind. And I am glad that you find the proposal promising.

Your questions are excellent. I'm not sure if I have convincing responses to either of your worries. They raise, it seems to me, very deep and difficult issues about what it is to have a capacity and what it is to value. I'll admit at the outset that I do not have fully worked out views in either case. But here are a couple of comments in response.

I'll begin with your second worry about "an agent who is able to but never does exercise that capacity [for Platonic self-governance] so that there is nothing, so to speak, that she stands for or that gives content to what she as a matter of fact cares about." Does she satisfy the necessary and sufficient condition on morally responsible agency?

It seems to me that there are two senses in which one might be said to have the capacity for Platonic self-governance relevant to your case: (1) she can have evaluative commitments with the relevant connections to her motivations; (2) she can be motivated in the right way by her evaluative commitments. The difference is this: in the case of (1), the agent need have no evaluative commitments, but in the case of (2), she must have evaluative commitments, though they need never ground her behavior in the relevant way. This suggests two ways of understanding your worry. In the case of (1), would an agent without any particular evaluative commitments count as having the capacity for Platonic self-governance? In the case of (2), would an agent who never performs any self-governed actions count as having the capacity for Platonic self-governance?

I am inclined to think that (2) captures the relevant sense of the capacity for self-governance. It is a necessary and sufficient condition on morally responsible agency that one have some or other evaluative commitments, but they need not ever ground motives that issue in action. The capacity may, in this sense, be unexercised.

Now to your second worry. I am no expert on what it is to value. But I am not convinced that there is a good distinction to be made between the capacity to grasp aesthetic (or non-moral) values and the capacity to grasp moral values. In other words, I am not sure that the case you present, of an agent who can perform self-governed actions grounded in her evaluative commitments but who only grasps aesthetic (more broadly, non-moral) values, makes good sense.

Are moral and non-moral values really of different kinds in the way necessary for it to make sense that one might have the capacity to grasp the one but not the other? Is the capacity to value (or to grasp values) different in the moral case than in the non-moral case? I'm not sure what the answers to these questions are. But I am initially inclined to think that they are both 'no'. I could be convinced otherwise. In which case, I would want to make sure to understand the relevant capacity for self-governance in a way that exempts agents who cannot grasp moral values, even if they can grasp non-moral values.

Michael, I'm going to have to check of this thread because of some travel, but your reply to me has convinced me that you are bound to be right in everything you say in reply to any naysayers on this thread.

Hi All, Again I must apologize for failing to respond in a more timely fashion. Lots to juggle. I'll try to respond briefly to each of you:

Chandra, thanks for your suggestion. It's interesting, and I'd not considered that exploring the details of certain theories of what reasons are could be used to address some of these problems. But two things here: first, if the relevant motivations get demarcated in terms of cares or values, it sounds to me more like you've proposed a hybrid theory rather than that you've saved RR theories from, as you put it, a bum rap. I myself worry about distinguishing selves from persons or agents (if the talk of 'selves' is more than mere metaphorical). But that aside, it could be that when we make sense of what it is for something to count as a reason for a person, it has to be understood in a way that is dependent upon the *person's* interests, or values, or cares. I see that. And I see why you think this might help the RR theorist. It's a bit odd (to me, at least), though, to think that the addicted alcoholic who does not want to drink (does not identify with his desire to drink) has, literally, no reason to drink--such as, that she is thirsty for a tasty martini, or would really enjoy the alcohol buzz.

Second, I'm not sure I was really clear enough in communicating my worries about why a RR theory (looks to) come up short. It's that some practical reasons (or motivations) have as their objects our own internal psychic nature. We can want to be certain ways, or wish that we were not plagued by cravings, or sexual impulses, or feelings of vein pride that are "part" of us; or instead, we can want of our better selves that our own planning policies for managing, say, family crises are more resilient than they happen to be. What you offer about reasons does show how, for the RR theorist, that sort of structure is distinctive of our our agency. But maybe there is more to explore here.

Hi Neal, this is cool! So it is interesting to see that at least a few of us are beginning to explore these hybrid views: Ben has one in the works, as do you, and I am also toying with this idea. A quick remark on your last paragraph: I take it you mean when you speak of grounding action in an agent, you mean free action, right?, the sort we are interested in when thinking of the conditions for moral responsibility. Note also that you might well be correct as a descriptive matter that we need all three of these elements to generate a theory that adequately describes us. But one question is Neil's: are some elements of the description simply local features of us weird humans, or are they essential to explaining free will or moral responsibility? Finally, we might still think, as Carolina had earlier proposed(and in a way Chandra too), that we can explain the one set of features by reference to the others.

Alan, thanks also to you for this. I'll leave it to Neal to respond if he wants. It's a fascinating set of issues how diachronic conditions and moral puzzles about psychic break-down might inform our theories of agency.

Chris, yeah, that's a nice reply. I suspect that maybe we really are in considerable agreement. Note that in my comment to you, I didn't mean to commit to the idea that the power of self-determination could or ought to be excluded from the power of interacting freely with the world. I was just suggesting that one sort of theoretical approach seems more naturally to explain one target (self-determination) than the other theoretical approach.

Carolina, thanks also for your reply! I agree completely: an RR theory appended to a mesh theory could certainly be used to offer an elegant explanation of weak will cases and the like. This would be a great help, it seems to me, to mesh theorists.

But, of course, you are correct that it is hard to square your proposal with further commitments some of us might have--like those committed to an actual sequence view. I'm tempted to do a post just on this topic.

Again, thank you everyone for contributing! (Sorry if these were a little brief. I am racing off to make a Friday afternoon colloquium talk.)

A fantastic post, Michael, which goes deep. And excellent comments. Let me try to contribute a bit.

Reasons-responsiveness, I think, is here to stay as a requirement of moral responsibility, in some of its possible versions, even for libertarians. But I see limitations, as Michael does: it doesn't go deep enough, to the sources of our decisions. I'm not sure that a mix of RR and mesh theories is going to be smooth, for their perspectives are different. Carolina Sartorio says, rightly, that an agent's patterns of responsiveness reflex his deep self, or his deep commitments and values. And she is right that RR has to show coherent patterns. Her example is: an agent who reacts to 100 dollars should react to 1000 dollars, on pain of being irrational, and so not morally responsible. But we can think of cases where someone accepts 100 dollars and rejects 1000 dollars without being irrational. He may think (even for the first time) that accepting 100 dollars for some task is OK, but that accepting 1000 dollars is to start a pathway towards a life governed by ambition and material goods. He rejects a reason for doing something (namely 1000 dollars) by, so to speak, deciding in favor of a certain ideal of himself. But this decision is not one made for reasons in the sense in which deciding to do something for a certain amount of money is. Deep, ultimate commitments are not at the end of a chain of reasons, but this deep self can transform the pattern of RR. And one can change one's deep commitments and deep self and go to another set of commitments, another way of seeing things.

I think all this is reminiscent of Kane's conception of free will; and mesh theories share this sensitivity toward making up oneself, setting one's deep commitments.

I would like to develop this insight of mesh theories (Frankfurt, Watson...) in a libertarian direction, but this is another problem.

Hope these remarks are not fully useless.

Thanks again to Michael for starting and maintaining this wonderful discussion, as well to the rest of participants for so many good points.

Since Carlos is performing CPR on this prematurely dying thread, I'll throw in three very brief comments:

1. I don't think anyone has raised questions about the relationships between conscious (or self-conscious) mental activity and reasons-responsiveness or deep selves. Those relationships need to be explored and I would not be surprised if considerations about what the agent is (or can be) aware of might help connect r-r views with DS views.

2. This question is lurking in various forms in the discussion, but can Michael or someone provide a simple (yes simple!) answer: Are most r-r theorists understanding reasons in terms of "what reasons there [really] are" for the agent or "what the agent takes her reasons to be".

3. Connecting back to Manipulation Arguments, here's a stab at a simple (yes simple?) way to distinguish manipulation and determinism: a person in a deterministic world can be responsive to patterns of reasons that exist in the world she finds herself in, but a person who is manipulated by a powerful agent (who has goals of her own) will ultimately be responsive to the manipulator's pattern of reasons.

Hi Carlos and Eddy! Thanks for your efforts to save this dying thread. Funny. I was just about to do a new post, figuring this one turned out to be a dud. I appreciate your efforts. As it happens, I think I will do a few more brief posts before my month ends. But let me here respond briefly to each of you and invite others to add more as well.

Before answering either of you, I would like to fix an especially troubling typo in my previous reply to Chandra. Crucially, what I meant to type was:

"What you offer about reasons does *not* show how, for the RR theorist, that sort of structure is distinctive of our our agency. But maybe there is more to explore here." (Sorry! The 'not' was accidentally omitted.)

Now, in response to Carlos, let me just note that your comments are not at all useless. They're especially insightful! One thing that I think is hard about all of this is that there is virtually no road map here for thinking about how these two different strategies might (or might not) be interanimated. No one's ever developed the issue, have they? But I would note that other philosophers, such as Al Mele and Ish Haji, have attempted to accommodate some of these "deep self" worries by just attending directly to an agent's principles and values. These can then be brought to bear on accounting for autonomous or responsible agency, and maybe in ways that need not be understood in terms of meshing or any way related to interacting subsystems, along with the postulation of deep (and not deep) selves.

Eddy, here's a reply to your three questions:

First, about the relation between conscious mental activity and RR (or deep self) views, I think you are correct that no one has explored those connections. Is your thought that it would be an important marker of an agent's ability to tend to her own internal states and concerns that such things were revealed in what she is or can have available to consciousness? That seems right to me. But note that someone like Frankfurt, who wants to explain what we care about, or how we love, in terms of volitional necessities might argue that our most fundamental cares are just a function of how our wills are structured, and this is itself not something we need have conscious access to.

Second, it is my understanding, Eddy, that Fischer and Ravizza wish to be neutral on how we understand reasons. Myself, I want to say that one marker of reasons-responsiveness is our ability to be receptive to an adequate range of the reasons there are (and this suggests that there are reasons to which an agent might not be receptive). And another marker is how well one responds to or reacts to what she takes to be reasons. I'll let others, like Dana Nelkin or Carolina Sartorio chime in if they wish, as I am not sure about their stance on these matters.

Third, I have always found this point you make about manipulation arguments intriguing, and I feel the pull of it. But I can imagine a manipulator who manipulates by implanting agential resources (or as Fischer would put it mechanisms) that are reasons-responsive. Those resources are such that, were they not tampered with and different reasons were put to the agent, the agent would react differently. This can still be true even if a manipulator, knowing how the past and laws would influence a certain agent, would manipulate differently were different reasons presented to the agent. Does this make sense?

Best,
Michael

Hi all again! Recently I've been thinking about what's the best way to understand reasons in a RR view. I myself also want to remain neutral on this as far as possible. But here is a possible reason (!) to think that we should take at least some reasons to be mere beliefs (or, as Eddy put it, as reasons one takes oneself to have).

Imagine that an assassin makes the choice to shoot his victim and shoots him (for a selfish motive, say, in order to make 1000 dollars that someone has promised him if he does the deed). He would not have shot him if he had believed that his victim had five children who depended on him to survive, or if he had believed that his victim would have been in terrible agony before dying, etc. Imagine that, as it turns out, all those things are in fact true (the victim had five children, he agonizes for a long time before dying, etc.); however, the assassin is completely unaware of all this when he shoots him. Isn't he still responsive to reasons in the sense that matters when he decides to shoot his victim, and, in virtue of this, free and responsible for shooting him? If so, it seems that we should say that the assassin was responding to reasons that he *took* to be absent, and that this is enough to make him reasons-responsive.

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