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These are great and important (and difficult!) questions you raise. A couple of thoughts. First, the framework you are working within for understanding the emotions is not obviously the right one. That is, it is not clear that emotions can be completely understood by tying them to certain goals or ends. An analysis of the emotions might also need to take into account the conditions out of which they rise. For example, emotions are often tied to caring and thus emotions simply naturally arise out of a range of cares when one perceives certain conditions. One is angry when one perceives others harming those he cares about. One is fearful when he perceives an object he cares about is in danger. Etc. Giving up emotions, then, would require us to give up their underlying causes and, under certain analyses of emotion, this would be tantamount to giving up on human flourishing. So it seems to me that your proposal hangs on an understanding of emotions that mischaracterizes them as fairly independent features of our moral psychology. It seems plausible to me to think this is a mistake: to give up a type or range of emotions requires us to give up lots of other things.

Quick caveat: I am assuming that in your response you are not assuming moral responsibility nihilism. If moral responsibility nihilism is true, then we should give up the underlying causes (e.g. perceptions of culpability) of the reactive attitudes (at least as understand by say Wallace).

Second, punishment seems like a poor substitute to the reactive attitudes. For example, the state will not always punish when it should and will not always refrain from punishing when it should. It seems that the reactive attitudes might serve an important role in marking this. Moreover, there is much that is related to social stability that is not a matter we want the state to get involved in (for example, insults, jerky friends, etc.) and thus the reactive attitudes would still (wouldn’t they?) serve as a valuable resource for these kinds of interactions.

To follow up on a dimension of this issue that Chris raises--emotions and caring--and I suppose this is more of a question to you Neil than a reflection on my own--what in your estimation is a satisfactory evolutionary explanation of empathy? At least self-reflectively emotions that must be tied to my own reactive attitudes arise in part because I can imagine what-it's-like to be a victim of arbitrary violence like the Boston bombings. What evolved role does imaginative empathy play in the systematization of our moral intuitions, and as part of a more reflective (perhaps in part culturally evolved) systematization, what role do you think empathy ought to play?

(Another great post BTW.)

Another great post! It's nice to ground the topic in naturalism every once and a while.


Even for the everyday sort of offences, why wouldn't it be better to approach them from the emotionless, full-skeptic position. You might say that it is practically impossible to do so, or at least very difficult. But that doesn't mean it would not be more productive. Is it fair to your post to say that when you say "poor substitution", I read "more difficult option?" Reactive attitudes are obviously more natural. But I'm not sure how that means we shouldn't strive for what is logically sound over what is easy.

Isn't it plausible that even the everyday examples like "jerky friends" and other annoying behavior, are actually also reactive attitudes themselves? Perhaps your friend is being a jerk today, but maybe he's reacting to you for being a jerk yesterday. Perhaps if both of you suppressed these natural reactive instincts, the overall jerkiness would be reduced.

No way Neil. Yes the threat of punishment is supposed to deter wrongdoing of various sorts. But punishment itself is also meant to balance the scales of justice, to satisfy our NATURAL desire to see it done. There are sins that 'cry out to heaven for vengeance;' there is no explaining away, only philosophically justifying, such a primal reaction to evil. (Why is it that many so-called naturalists are unwilling to acknowledge the naturalness of certain deep-seated and widespread dispositions and perennial social arrangements? I got laughed off Leiter Reports for suggesting that a child needs a mother and a father.) We would, thus, be sacrificing a part of our humanity were to deny this fundamental moral truth.

A local prosecutor recently cited 'public safety' as her reason for rejecting pleas for leniency towards a young man who committed fratricide and severely injured his mother and brother. She doesn't get it either. It wouldn't matter if he no longer posed a threat to the community. What he did was so heinous that it morally demands harsh punitive measures. To leave any doubt in any interested party not only that what he did was evil, but that the he will not be fit for our company until he has paid his debt to society- nor even whole himself (cf. Dostoevsky) would be itself a sin against nature.

Neil, I thoroughly agree with what you say. But given the variety of notions of moral responsibility, or alternatively, of components of our notion of moral responsibility, this may be compatible with John’s intuition about the Boston bombers. Suppose we set aside moral responsibility as basic desert. There’s another notion of moral responsibility that’s in the clear, and compatible with your proposal. When we encounter apparently immoral behavior, we regard it as justified to invite the agent to evaluate critically what his actions indicate about his intentions and character, to demand apology, or to request reform. Engaging in such interactions is reasonable in light of the right of those wronged or threatened by wrongdoing to protect themselves from immoral behavior and its consequences. We might have a stake in reconciliation with the wrongdoer, and calling him to account in this way can function as a step toward realizing this objective. We also have an interest in his moral formation, and the address described naturally functions as a stage in this process. The practice of holding people morally responsible in this forward-looking way comes along with certain emotional attitudes distinct from moral resentment and indignation. That this is a genuine notion of moral responsibility is evident from the fact that it’s what’s typically in play when we call children to account (and we think of this as holding them morally responsible).

Evolution may have given rise to resentment and indignation and the attendant basic desert notion of moral responsibility, but what’s missing from these reactive attitudes is a concern for the moral formation of the wrongdoer, and in certain cases a hope for eventual reconciliation. Attitudes that build in these features, and a complementary notion of moral responsibility, would seem preferable from the moral point of view, even setting aside free will skepticism. It’s not possible for most of us not to feel resentment and indignation under certain circumstances, and on such occasions these emotions might well reflect deep personal attachments and commitments to moral principles. But as I’ve argued, such personal attachments and commitments to moral principles can be expressed by attitudes not associated with basic desert, but which instead have the right sort of forward-looking components. I think it makes moral sense to cultivate these attitudes instead.

'Evolution may have given rise to resentment and indignation and the attendant basic desert notion of moral responsibility, but what’s missing from these reactive attitudes is a concern for the moral formation of the wrongdoer, and in certain cases a hope for eventual reconciliation.' Derk

I don't see it that way, Derk. Manifesting these attitudes is to underscore the seriousness of the matter, to get the wrongdoer himself to own up to and acknowledge the gravity of his misconduct. One simply cannot look 'forward' here until the full meaning of what has done has been grasped. You talk about holding children responsible. I can assure you that mine would not be spared my wrath- out of love- were they to violate the rules of our home. The way I look at, my anger would be directly proportional to the degree to which they had done wrong and, thus, something from which they could learn.

"Why is it that many so-called naturalists are unwilling to acknowledge the naturalness of certain deep-seated and widespread dispositions and perennial social arrangements?"

Robert, acknowledging something is produced by natural processes, does not commit you to any value judgment to that particular state of things. I think you are also confusing why a philosopher might be committed to a naturalist worldview. It is not that they hold up nature as an example of morality itself. Perhaps they see a deeper understanding of the natural world as, on the one hand, a tool to debunk the retarding influence of various mystical worldviews on the relevant debate, and, on the other, as a possible roadmap to achieving some better state of "human flourishing", which again, is theoretically independent of what is natural. You know. The whole is vs ought thing.

Neil, this is a thought-provoking post. My question to you is what role is evolution playing in your argument. Might the argument go through without invoking evolution at all? To clarify, let me state a bit more formally the argument I see you articulating.

(1) The reactive attitudes evolved to perform some fitness-promoting function F, namely, supporting social norms and cooperation.

(2) Due to differences between current and ancestral environments, the reactive attitudes no longer perform F. Indeed the reactive attitudes are counterproductive to F and we could achieve F more readily by abandoning the reactive attitudes.

(3) Therefore, we should abandon the reactive attitudes.

I think the transition from (2) to (3) is plausible only if you insert a premise along the following lines:
(2.5) We care (or should care) about achieving F (i.e., supporting social norms and cooperation).

But once (2.5) is made explicit, can’t you just drop premise 1? In other words, evolutionary observations about what functions out attitudes evolved to perform don't seem to be doing the work in your argument.

I don't want to respond to most of the comments until I have time to think a bit more about some difficult issues. For now, I will respond only to Alan (because I am sure that I am not going to make progress on the issue he raises any time soon). I'm not convinced that we need a - direct - evolutionary explanation of empathy. I have argued elsewhere that human beings are a uniquely flexible species. It is our nature to be cultural. Lots of things about us that look like facts about our nature just aren't (except insofar as they are facts about our ability rapidly to adapt to changing social and physical environments). If you are interested, the paper defending the view was in Phil Explorations in 2011. I don't know enough to be confident, but I suspect that "empathy" is a very deeply culturally elaborated response, perhaps built on much more basic theory of mind capacities (and ultimately, perhaps, on the mirror neuron system, which responds to intentional action by others by activating the kinds of pathways we use to perform such actions).

Why think that empathy is not - in contrast to what pretty much everyone else thinks - a deep fact about our nature? It is the novelty of empathy that makes me suspicious. Despite the cloak of respectability provided by the Greek etymology, "empathy" is a 20th century neologism, introduced by Edward Tichener to translate the German "EInfuhlung" which was itself a neologism and which comes from 19th German aesthetics (where it did not mean anything like "empathy"). Today we seem unable to get by without it; not so long ago, it was widely regarded as a barbarism. Of course there are precursors to empathy: "sympathy" in Hume and other philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment is close in meaning. That we had terms for overlapping concepts isn't surprising, given that there are facts about human beings that are environmentally canalised. But our deeply cultural natures ensures that how those facts differs historically and geographically.

All this matters for the OP: if I am right that we are deeply cultural animals, then all this talk about how our reactive attitudes are rooted in our natures is deeply misguided, at least insofar as it is understood as entailing - in Strawsonian manner - that there can be no question about altering them. There are likely psychological facts about us that can't be changed short of genetic engineering or the like, but these facts about us are less pervasive and less constraining then we tend to think. Obviously these are big claims, and I don't pretend to have done anything to convince the skeptic (at first approximation, I'm guessing, that means all of you). The Phil Exp paper makes a start: copies available on request.

'Robert, acknowledging something is produced by natural processes, does not commit you to any value judgment to that particular state of things.'

Oh yes it does, Brent, at least for a theist like myself. I see the will of God inherent in Nature, especially insofar as it concern human relations. (That realization is why Catholic theologians speak of sins against Nature.) Our reactive attitudes, on this view, are divinely intended to allows us to express God's own revulsion to sin, thus, aiding in fraternal correction, which, as I've indicated, is not possible sans remorse.

Derk seems to me to be on the right track. I’ll just elaborate on a couple of things (the following may be obvious to some, but no harm in spelling it out).

Derk is right that we need a forward looking account. The past is relevant to understanding the present. Understanding the present is important for a forward looking response to the present. For example, that P has done X in the past reveals something about P now, and this in turn reveals something about how one can and should respond to and influence P. For instance that P did a certain bad act in the past reveals something about how he now thinks and decides, which perhaps reveals that one needs to say certain things to him in order to educate him so he no longer thinks and decides in that way. Or perhaps reveals that we need to lock him up until he has changed sufficiently to no longer be a threat to us.

Second, Derk rightly says ‘The practice of holding people morally responsible in this forward-looking way comes along with certain emotional attitudes distinct from moral resentment and indignation.’ Those emotions can include reactive emotions such as anger, pity, upset etc. Expressing these emotions can be an important part of educating the person who caused them about the nature of what they have done. Furiously exclaiming, ‘How do you think I felt, being let down in that way by you who I trusted?!’ can help your interlocutor feel how you felt and realise the harm he has done.

Note that there is a distinction between being angry and expressive in the foregoing constructive, educative way, and being angry and expressive in a destructive way, eg ‘You useless unreliable idiot. Why should I have anything to do with you?’

Likewise there is a difference between indignantly exclaiming, ‘I worked for days to earn that money and now you have swindled me out of it. It’s not fair and it’s not right. How would you like it? Don’t you think you should take responsibility for yourself and stand on your own two feet?’ and exclaiming ‘You swindling little bastard, I’m going to make your life a misery!’ The former conveys some ideas, the seriousness of the situation, and your feelings – the latter just seeks to put the person down and instil fear.

Finally, many people are lazy and self indulgent and will only make the effort to learn and change when faced with threats of one sort or another. In which case it can benefit them that you threaten them… For example, ‘Unless you start being a bit more considerate I am moving out’ or ‘Unless you take this job we are offering you we will remove your benefits.’

That's helpful, Dan. I don't know if the things you're spelling out are "obvious", but they are clarifying to me. I am planning to pursue this line of thought seriously. At this stage I need help sorting out what precisely I ought to deny. A lot depends on what "blaming" amounts to. Is there a proprietary reactive attitude (I mean an emotional response, with a phenomenology, perhaps) that is partly constitutive of blaming? Or are you suggesting that any such attitude could be pressed into the service of forward-looking responses to wrongdoing? Derk explicitly includes resentment under the heading of possible forward-looking responses.

Derk, as you know Michael McKenna denies that blaming requires a basic desert thesis. My worry is that some of what you want to preserve counts as blaming, at least insofar as one accepts McKenna's account of what blaming is. Do you think that because the overarching concern is forwards-looking it should not be accounted blame? Or a kind of blame about which you are not skeptical? I leave it to John to say whether your proposal is indeed compatible with his intuitions, but it seems to me that either you fall into McKenna's trap or don't capture his intuitions.

I haven't forgotten the other responses! I'm just not prepared to ill-advisably shoot my mouth off yet. Don't worry: I will ill-advisably shoot my mouth off ere long.

I don’t think that one can state free will skeptical claims (at least my versions of them) in terms of notions as broad as ‘moral responsibility’ and ‘blame.’ On George Sher’s account of blame, it’s essentially a belief-desire pair: a belief that the agent performed a bad action or has a bad character, and a desire that the agent not have performed the bad action or have the bad character. One might object that this doesn’t capture the complete nature of blame and yet allow that it’s sometimes the case that when an agent satisfies Sher’s conditions she is engaged in blaming. And you and I, and free will skeptics generally, don't have a problem with thinking of actions as bad and desiring that agents not perform bad actions. But what’s more important is that the free will skeptic can be more precise about what’s being denied. And in my version, what’s ruled out is basic-desert moral responsibility (including basic-desert blame), and any justification for action or policy based on basic-desert moral responsibility. One might start a fight about whether our English word ‘blame’ correctly applies to mere Sher-blame, but I think this isn’t advisable. Words that have been in the language for a while have multiple senses, and ‘blame’ and responsibility are among them, and my sense is that plenty of people would think of themselves as being blamed by someone who believed they had acted badly and desired that they not have performed the action. On McKenna, the controversy between us is over whether basic-desert blame is ruled out, not over whether blame is ruled out, and this is explicit in his book. On moral resentment, I’m open to this attitude essentially having a basic-desert assumption. But it’s only given this assumption that I think it’s ruled out by free will skepticism. Addressing Robert and Dan’s comments, I want to agree with that not all anger is ruled out. For example, the furious emotion that we share with bears and wolves when we’re in a position to protect someone from serious harm does not have a basic desert presupposition (or need not have one), but it still plausibly counts as anger. And it may be that expressing anger can sometimes be justified on consequentialist grounds, as Dan suggests, but then the justification would not involve basic desert, and wouldn’t be in conflict with my version of free will skepticism

Great discussion as always, thanks for bringing up such an interesting topic Neil.

I had a question for Derk.

Is it fair to label your understanding of non-desert based blame, (the take you site by Sher), as a revisionist understanding of the concept 'blame'? There seems to be a difference between acknowledging what one did as bad on the one hand and blaming one for doing something bad on the other. The former doesn't seem to be blame, at least to my ears. Now, you mentioned that the line I am currently taking is not advisable, but why not? I am just trying to get clear on the concept, not trying to argue about words or play with words at all.

Stating that "X is a bad state of affairs" seems to be a different sort of evaluation than "blaming S for us being in X" doesn't it? The former does not seem to be blame. One could acknowledge that the rock falling from the hillside and hitting one’s car is a bad state of affairs but by simply acknowledging the role the rock played in the bad state of affairs ( as I often do because I live near a hill with lots of rocks falling from time-to-time) I don't see myself as blaming the rock, I don't see myself as blaming at all. Just acknowledging and wishing that it didn't occur.

If this acknowledgment is all that is left for the free will skeptic this seems to be a very different sort of thing than blame.

As I see it, Derk, disputes about which concept of blame is the right one are very often merely terminological. I take it you agree. But I think my worry still remains, once you limit the scope to basic desert. I define skepticism as the claim that it is not appropriate - deserved - for someone's interests to count for less because they have performed a wrongful act. The desert might be basic or non-basic. It would be giving up too much for me to accept that (say for the contractualist reasons McKenna offers) people non-basically deserve harm because they have performed wrongful acts.

Hi Neil,

I'd like to take some issue with your claims about social functioning. You say: "And we can stabilize social norms more effectively without requiring blame and punishment ... (individual norm enforcement is probably counterproductive today)." It seems to me that you might be relying too heavily on the way the reactive attitudes function in an extremely non-typical case: i.e. one involving a dangerous criminal offender. Surely, these attitudes come into play in non-criminal contexts. Individual norm enforcement amongst families, friends, co-workers, etc. often relies on the reactive attitudes you think we can do better without. The mere existence of functioning families/friend-circles/etc. is evidence that the attitudes are actually performing important jobs. But more importantly: surely we can't just specify two functions that the attitudes play with regard to criminals, note that the attitudes are no longer efficiently performing those functions, and call it a day?

In general, I worry that we don't spend enough time imaginatively inhabiting these sorts of possible worlds. The changes involved in abandoning these attitudes might be, as Strawson thought, unfathomably vast, and I think we need to to a lot more work to show that this is not the case.

Thanks Neil

I agree that the Central Conclusion of your Hard Luck challenge is as you say: ‘it is not appropriate - deserved - for someone's interests to count for less because they have performed a wrongful act.’ I find it helpful to keep that in mind amongst the terminological thickets. Indeed given that this is clearly the take home message regarding how to proceed in ethics, I am not sure the terminological thickets are worth spending too much time on…

Note that some who are not freewill sceptics would accept your Central Conclusion. One might think that one should treat every person as an end, try to do what is best for them, perhaps even feel agape towards them, regardless of what they have done, even if they are morally responsible for what they have done. Indeed, contra Robert, one might think that this is the central message of Jesus’ teaching on love and forgiveness.

Perhaps it would be helpful to stand back a moment. When one is thinking about how to treat a person, one is engaging in ethics. Your Central Conclusion narrows down our search for the correct moral account. But there is a great deal of work remaining to be done in order to establish which of the remaining moral accounts is the correct one. Whichever is the correct one will guide us regarding how to treat others, including how to emotionally relate and respond to them.


You and I have gone over this matter before. The fight reaction doesn't qualify as anger in my book, but rage. I'm talking about something with a rational component, directed at a definite example of wrongdoing. It also wouldn't be anger by my lights if it was merely 'forward' looking, staged, as it were, only as a corrective measure. To count as anger there needs to be a sense that the agent in question 'has it coming.' What's more, I don't see it even serving as a corrective unless it has the 'backing' of real indignation. Ask yourself: if a boy were to know that his father didn't hold him responsible for some misdeed, how seriously could he take his stern manner and remonstrating? It's not like the next time he does it the old man is going to think any worse of him.

Mr. Dennis,

Love and forgiveness are consistent with the desire to see justice done through punishment. My heart may go out to a criminal being given a harsh sentence, wishing he had acted differently. Yet I realize at the same time that the scales of justice would be left unbalanced were he not made to suffer. Parents have been heard to say before meting out corporal punishment 'This is going to hurt me a lot more than it's going to hurt you'. And so it does. But none of us should flinch from doing our duty, in matters private or public, when it comes to dealing with the reality of harmful actions willfully done. Our feelings should not deter us from facing up in such cases to what is staring us in the face: someone who 'has it coming', perhaps in spades. I will ask you the question St. Augustine asked the Universalists of his day. To wit, would you also like to see Satan somehow rehabilitated? (The Rolling Stones are such jerks for writing that song!) I myself am looking forward to seeing him writhing in agony for eternity, as promised by another Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas.

Your portrayal of our Lord is certainly inconsistent with his numerous references to Hell, not to mention his rather harsh treatment of the money changers.


As usual you provoke reaction in your devotional advocacy. As I've said, I admire that.

Why would it be valuable to provide agents with such ultimacy of agency as to invoke eternal punishment? Do we need some meta-justification of the value of ultimacy of agency? Take it as a faithful given? (You know what I'm going to say there.) What can you say here?


So that we can gain, through freely uniting ourselves to the mystical body of Christ- the Holy Mother Church- entry into Paradise. Nothing short of LFW could effect such a union (in conjunction with Grace). Any other power would fall short of leaving this eternally important matter, the only thing that really counts, entirely in one's hands. Where it belongs. The means here are of the essence of achieving the end. In the same way, would a man want his wife to love him for any reason than that she alone made herself his beloved? Those who spurn God's offer of friendship are consigning themselves to Hell: God can do nothing else with them short of abrogating the very freedom a warped understanding of which they have come to exalt above their own Creator.

Hi Robert

There are philosophers who think that God’s being perfectly loving and forgiving is inconsistent with His making someone suffer eternally in hell – and who prefer to ditch eternal damnation rather than the notion of God’s being perfectly loving and forgiving. Tim Mawson for instance. If memory serves me correctly (which it may not) Tim thinks that, ‘Those who spurn God's offer of friendship are consigning themselves to Hell’ in the sense that in spurning God’s offer of friendship they are separating themselves from God and separation from God is hell, but that God’s offer of friendship remains open even once they are in this hell. They are still free to take His offer, and Mawson expects that they will…

Notwithstanding this, regardless of what God may or may not do, one might think that in His words and example Jesus teaches us to be loving and forgiving. Even with the money changers all Jesus does is turn over their tables and remonstrate with them. There is no indication that they were not able to take their stuff and set up business nearby. I cannot think of any case where for Jesus ‘someone's interests count for less because they have performed a wrongful act’.

Coming back to the main discussion, my earlier paragraph only aimed to point out that it is open to someone who believes in freewill, and who may or may not also be a theist, to accept (what I refer to as) Neil’s Central Conclusion. This person would recognise that the wrongdoer has been subject to all sorts of contingent influences in the past of the sort Neil discusses, would accept the wrong she has done, and see himself as *now* sharing his experience, emotions, attitudes, ideas etc with the wrongdoer thereby giving her the opportunity to now learn and change, and demanding of her that she does.

Best wishes


I know all about the Universalists, Dan. But the choices we make in eternity are irrevocable, hence Satan's permanent banishment from Paradise. Jesus warned us of eternal punishment; the Universalists, out of a misguided sense of pity, refuse to take cognizance of that 'hard teaching.' It's another case of loving creatures more than the Creator.

I do not equate discounting someone's interests with them deserving punishment. As I have said, the former notion makes absolutely no sense independently of the latter. Without the backing of dessert, it would be unjust to discount anyone's interests. Moreover, how can I demand that anyone change unless I believe that of his own free will he has made himself into an unsavory character? For that matter, why would I expect HIM to change HIMSELF- to remonstrate with him as if he exercised self-control- unless I believed in LFW? (Augustine, of course, made this point.)

And suppose someone doesn't learn his lesson and 'change'? We all believe in leniency for certain types of first time offenders. But there comes a time when we have to put our foot down and punish. You are surely not proposing that we allow career criminals to rehab in perpetuity.

What I think you may be missing is that the whole point of having LFW, as Campbell notes, is being able to resist whatever 'contingent influences' are besetting one and try instead to do the right thing.

Hi Neil,

I hope I'm not too late to this party. Here's what I don't understand about this strategy. You write:

"The point of our moral responses in general is to promote human flourishing. They continue to play that role and their doing so vindicates them. The point of our reactive attitudes is to stabilize social norms and promote cooperation. These attitudes no longer play that role: if anything, they are counterproductive. So we should not see in the evolutionary explanation of our morality generally a debunking explanation, but we should think that the evolutionary account explains away what Bruce calls the moral responsibility system."

1. Moral responses "in general" were not selected for to promote human flourishing. That's not how evolution works, right? Moral responses in general, like say empathy, aversion to harm etc., were selected because of their contribution to reproductive fitness.

That said, the tendency to promote human flourishing does seem like a plausible criterion for deciding whether or not to junk a certain set of attitudes or responses. But if we're distinguishing the original evolutionary function of an attitude or response from the criterion that we're using to evaluate it, then the debunking strategy won't work for the reactive attitudes. The key question then is not 'are the reactive attitudes (or the moral responsibility system)still fulfilling its original function?' Rather, it is 'do the reactive attitudes promote human flourishing?' If you think the answer is no, what's the evidence?

The claims I'm making in the passage you cite aren't crystal clear (hey, I'm making this up as I go - gimme a break). The claim about human flourishing is supposed to be a response to Joyce/ Street debunking arguments that are aimed at morality as a whole. Morality is not debunked by the failure of evolutionary processes to track independent facts. That gets me the framework within which I want to work: I get to assume that appeal to moral concepts is in order. Then I want to get finer grained. The argument against retributivism has two elements: 1. For reasons to do with the costs of information and false positive/negative asymmetries, our responses to wrongdoing are likely to be oversensitive relative to their adaptive function (not "promoting flourishing" but "discouraging defection") and 2. this function is forwards looking alone; see 1 for why it generates intuitions that have a backwards looking content. Now, why not say that just as failure to track independent properties doesn't debunk morality as a whole, the failure of these intuitions to track the relevant properties doesn't debunk them? It is here that I need to appeal to morality as a whole: it is important to the story that it is hard to come to a stable set of judgments when we take the retributive responses at face value (hence the appeal to Watson on Harris). In brief: moral judgments are justified through reflective equilibrium; it is hard to reach reflective equilibrium wrt blame, so perhaps something had to give; the oversensitivity story suggests that it is the retributive intuitions that should go.

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