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Sarah2 is a bit less guilty than Sarah1, and ought to be able to sleep slightly better at night, thanks to Sarah2's key-grabbing friend. The difference isn't great enough to put her in a place where she can angrily denounce the DUI guy, though.

However, thousands and thousands of such morally lucky differences, piled on top of each other and compounded, might possibly add up to a large difference, wherein one could criticize another for doing what one "would've" if thousands of morally lucky events had gone worse. I don't know that this is the answer to the puzzle, but I don't know that it isn't.

Great post, this is a really interesting way to motivate worries about moral luck.

My initial thought is that the really objectionable form of hypocrisy is when you hold others to different standards than you hold yourself to. That's what's so frustrating about Sarah in "You're No Better" - she's angry at her friend, but there's no indication that she feels any guilt or remorse at her own identical past actions. If she *did* feel substantial guilt and remorse about her own past actions and accept blame for them, thereby showing that she holds herself to the same standards that she is now holding her friend to, then I don't think she has a particularly weighty reason to refrain from blaming her friend. And I think I would say something similar about the case where she had formed the intention to act as her friend did on many occasions (and then been stopped as a matter of luck).

With the Confederate case, there is nothing for you to feel guilty or remorseful about - you didn't fight for the South, nor did you ever form any intention to. So there's no indication that you're holding yourself to different standards; if you had fought for a cause like that, I presume you would accept that you'd be deserving of blame. Yes, that's a matter of circumstantial luck, but I don't see any hypocrisy or any other sort of weighty reason for you not to publicly condemn those who did fight for such a cause.

Anyway, that's my first stab at responding to this - looking forward to seeing what others think!

Justin, what you're really coming down to is the issue of constitutive luck. This is the cutting edge of research of free will and moral responsibility. The recent articles by Neil Levy (in his book Hard Luck) and by Nichols and Knobe on the Bounds of the Self explore this issue. Knobe also has some great followup work. In my view, the free will problem just is the problem of constitutive luck.

I think you're absolutely right to focus on constitutive luck. I think the strongest argument for compatibilism (even though most compatibilists don't realize it) is the "Then You Wouldn't Be You" argument. In other words, if you were born in the Deep South in 1840, then you simply would not be the same person you are today, so it's logically consistent to blame that person but not you.

The problem with this argument is that it relies on an exceptionally brittle view of personal identity. We know, for example, that personal identity is amazingly flexible. For example, I don't resemble the tadpole-like structure I had when my mother was pregnant with me. Similarly, 10 years from now, I'll likely have different looks, beliefs, attitudes, and memories. Yet, by convention, we all say that I am the same person throughout this entire process of aging.

In fact, in your Deep South argument, you might imagine that you are identical, atom-for-atom, during your Mother's pregnancy (your "Mother" being your 1840 Deep South mother) as you were during your real mother's actual pregnancy. And yet, despite this atom-for-atom sameness, compatibilists will still want to say that you are a different person - in fact, I think they have to say you are different if they want to justify compatibilism.

So, the only conclusion I really have is: people researching fw and mr may want to start studying the philosophy of personal identity and essentialism/essences. That's where the research is heading. I don't have knock-down arguments against the compatibilists on this issue. But I'm also not familiar with those related bodies of philosophical research. For now, all I can point out is how flexible our notion of personal identity is in many ways (across time), and thereby suggest that it shouldn't be so inflexible in the context of counter-factual moral luck scenarios.

Yet another really reflective post Justin. Given what's going on with your new daughter, I don't know how you're doing it!

I'm coming from where you are too. My great-grandfather (that's how old I am (61) and how my family's generations tended toward lengthiness) also fought in the Civil War for the South, and ancestors, even though not very wealthy, owned slaves. I come from very poor Southern stock, my parents never reaching high school. But luck of unemployment for them sent us to California and a better public education for me, and so here I am. Escaped my family's racist Southern culture, acculturated with the social norms of Haight-Ashbury more than Montgomery fire-hoses (which my Father approved of till his death), and so I count myself very, very lucky. I know what you're talking about.

But back to Sarah. Akrasia might play a role here too in the sense there is also evidence that she might (for example) be genetically predisposed to alcoholism--a form of Neil Levy's constitutive bad luck for sure. Further (bad?) luck that she avoided being caught for DUI, and (good!) luck that she avoided harming anyone while DUI should not count against her making a clear-minded evaluation of someone else's DUI. Even if that evaluation is not genuinely reflective of her chronic character as often making bad "choices" about alcohol and subsequent conduct, her seeming hypocrisy does not undercut the overall right-guided rationality of her condemnation of a type of behavior (that is typically hers) on that particular occasion. Even a morally stopped clock can be right if the occasion demands it. The friend's DUI demands it.

I can't say enough about how Levy's Hard Luck has had me rethinking a lot of things about "proper" contexts of responsibility. But the longer that I think about such things moves me less toward Waller's repudiation of responsibility and more toward Vargas' recasting of it in more delicate terms of context, and including a huge consideration of the role of luck in more individual cases. Backgrounds matter, both genetically and environmentally, and these looming mindless Pygmalions/Frankensteins of luck have a lot to do with our resulting moral genteelness or monstrousness or the combination we might call normal. And that does matter for assessing reasons to condemn or refrain from condemning Sarah's character, irrespective of the judgments she might make on occasion as independently right or wrong.

I'm torn between two explanations of what's going on, but I think that might be because I think your explanation of the Sarah stories is wrong.

However, if I accept your interpretation of the Sarah stories, then I go with option 3 -- your case is not relevantly similar to Sarah's.

My argument here is the "you wouldn't be you" argument that Kip mentions. Sarah would do what she's criticising her friend for doing, but has (to date) been forcibly prevented from doing so. She *has* decide to do what she's criticising her friend for doing, so she's like an attempted murderer criticising a murderer for his act. It is, as Ryan pointed out, hypocritical of her. You, on the other hand, have not tried to fight for slavery, nor would you do so if given the chance. Perhaps that's just the luck of you having been born into a more tolerant society, but that's made you who you are. Sarah is criticised for who she is, while you would be criticised only for who you would have been. It's not parallel.

My alternate explanation is that you've mis-identified the problem with Sarah's action. You said that Sarah "has a weighty reason to refrain from blaming." While Sarah may have a *pragmatic* reason not to complain (i.e., it will open her up to criticism for her hypocrisy), it's not a morally significant ("weighty") reason. Criticising her friend is not morally wrong. The moral wrong is holding her friend to a higher standard than she holds herself. It is her hypocrisy that she's being twitted for, not her blaming of her friend. If Sarah had added something along the lines of "I thought he was better than me." then Margie's reaction (as given) would have been morally inappropriate.

Hi Justin,

Very thought provoking post.

One thought I have is that you’ve got a giant undefended premise in your picture of the psychology of soldiers in the Antebellum South. You say they “soaked up and endorsed the awful, noxious values” of the time. Not necessarily. Another view is that they endorsed the timeless values we all do. But they had lots of *false beliefs*, indeed incredibly off the mark beliefs from our vantage point--beliefs about the intellectual inferiority of blacks, blacks’ need to be controlled for their own good, the need for a hierarchically structured society for everyone’s good, etc…

So there is a Repugnant Values account and a False Beliefs account of why Antebellum Southerners did what they did. I think a careful look at the empirical record of what Southerners thought at the time provides more support for the latter than the former. And if that’s right, and if most Antebellum Southerners are not culpable for their false beliefs (e.g., many just accepted as tentatively true the claims of leading members of their society), then we arrive at he conclusion that most Antebellum Southerners are not blameworthy for fighting for the South, or at least there is substantial mitigation. (Now, many will be blameworthy for awful things they did that go beyond what can be explained and justified by these false beliefs—for example, certain acts of brutality against blacks or Union soldiers. But this is a separate matter.)

Another related point: In You Would’ve Done the Same, there is no False Beliefs account for why Sarah would have driven drunk. If Sarah would have driven drunk, it can only be that her doing so is expressive of a repugnant value she holds. So You Would’ve Done the Same is not after all properly matched to the case of your being a Confederate soldier were you born in the Antebellum South. The relevant springs of Sarah’s and your actions—repugnant values versus false beliefs, respectively—are quite different.


Cool post. Again. I've been thinking about these issues too, at least on the hypocrisy side. Here's a thought.

Might it be that Sarah's hypocrisy stems (in both cases), at least in part, from the fact that she's blaming another to the exclusion of correcting her own moral errors. After all, her critique of the friend's DUI takes the form of: "'I can’t believe that he would drive drunk. He knows how dangerous it is, but he’s just so selfish.'" But this applies to both versions of Sarah. So part of the explanation for hypocrisy here could be that in focusing on her blame of the friend she's neglecting putting her own moral house in order. (This wouldn't require that in order to legitimately blame one must be free of moral taint, just that one's own moral history can fund a particular kind of critique of one's blaming actions.)

In the constitutive luck case, by contrast, your moral house is not in disarray (let us suppose). At least, it certainly isn't subject to the serious moral defect that you rightly blame Confederates for. So no hypocrisy.

So I guess I favor your option 3. Constitutive luck doesn't threaten to generalize hypocrisy.

My choice would be a little bit of option 3 and also a little bit of option 4. The relevant difference between Sarah and you is that whereas Sarah is lucky that her mistaken values haven't resulted in bad consequences, you are lucky one step further back, lucky that you don't have mistaken values in the first place. So, whatever standing turns out to be, I think we'll have to say at the very least that you can have more of it than Sarah.

But I also think there's something right about option 4, too. The way Gary Watson puts it is to say that when we recognize how fragile the moral self is, that can "taint one's own view of one's moral self as an achievement" and make one feel that "indignation on one's part would be self-righteous and indulgent". This may not be a matter of losing standing per se, but I am inclined to think that a failure to appreciate the role of constitutive luck in our lives does tend to be correlated with the vice of self-righteousness.

(As a side note, let me add that I don't find that "You wouldn't be you" argument even the least bit compelling. The relevant thought isn't *that you would have done the same thing* -- rather, it's *that you haven't played as big of a role in forming your actual moral character as you might initially have thought*. Luckily, I also don't think the compatibilist needs that argument.)

For mel, it's not a matter of hypocrisy involved in blaming. Rather, the luck (plain old ordinary luck; I doubt there's any such thing as distinctively moral luck) excuses. If the differences between agents a and b are explained by luck, then a is dueno more blame than b. Recognizing this fest isn't in any tension with recognizing that we have the reason you allude to to blame confederate soldiers. That's a good old consequentialist reason, and recognizing the inexistence of responsibility clears the way for consequentialism (since the objections to consequentialism stem from deontological intuitions).

Sorry for the typos!

Great stuff to ponder Justin, especially as I teach Wolf and Watson this week. I want to second (and expand on) Neal's closing comment. I know it's a stretch of my bypassing explanation, but I find the "I would've done it too" idea risks introducing a bypassing-of-the-self mistake, because it plays on a confused dualist idea that, on the one hand, we have selves that can move around such that *I* could somehow be Robert Harris, yet on the other hand, we're led to believe that if I were Robert Harris, well, then I would be what he is and do what he does, so that self of mine that moved into him would have no freedom to avoid being him and doing bad. If that sounded confusing, well, it should, because the idea of identity swapping is confused. If we instead recognize that, yes, who we are is largely a matter of luck, and yet part of who we are includes an ability to reflect on who we are and imagine different ways we might try to shape who we become, then we can at least avoid the bypassing thought. Anyway, I'm not answering your 'survey' (glad to see you've mostly escaped the x-phi net I once led you into!), but will think more on it.

Neal, you wrote:

"(As a side note, let me add that I don't find that 'You wouldn't be you' argument even the least bit compelling. The relevant thought isn't *that you would have done the same thing* -- rather, it's *that you haven't played as big of a role in forming your actual moral character as you might initially have thought*. Luckily, I also don't think the compatibilist needs that argument.)"

I'm not sure whether I find it compelling or not. I've always been attracted to rejecting the argument, like you do. But a lot depends on the details - how different is Deep-South-Justin from normal-Justin?

Also, I don't quite follow your last paragraph here. You cite two different arguments:

A1: You would have done the same thing.
A2: You haven't played as big of a role in forming your moral character as you otherwise thought.

Both of these strike me as skeptical arguments, in the same line as Galen Strawson's The Basic Argument (if you regress backwards far enough, you see the circumstances that led you to do X, and any other developing person in those circumstances would have done similarly).

What I don't understand is: you reject (in some way) A1, while endorsing A2. What is the relevant distinction between them that makes A1 fail but A2 work?

And, more importantly, why would a compatibilist need either of these arguments? You say that you "don't think the compatibilist needs that argument." Why would a compatibilist ever need a skeptical argument like A1 or A2? Blog comments are terse and informal, by their nature, but maybe you could unpack your reasoning here a little more...

Hey Kip,

Sorry, let me unpack.

Justin raised a worry about "subjunctive hypocrisy" (as we called it in our SEP entry on blame), and its threat to our standing to blame. You suggested that a compatibilist might respond by invoking certain conditions on personal identity that allow the compatibilist to deny the relevant counterfactual ("you would have done the same") since "you wouldn't be you".

In my closing paragraph I was saying that I think this reply by the compatibilist would miss the point of the skeptical worry, which isn't about identity but rather about the fragility of one's own moral self. So, I think skeptics would be right to reject this reply if a compatibilist offered it. But I also think compatibilists can (and do) accept the fragility point without giving up their compatibilism.

Hey Justin, nice post.

First let me say that my great-great grandfathers grew up in Romania living lives of perfect virtue. Clearly we need to do more thorough background checks on people here at flickers before allowing them to be authors of the month.

My first thought is along the lines of Alan's, Mark's, and Ryan's: I want to reject your conclusions in 'you would have done the same thing' AND 'you're no better.' The problem with Sarah in those cases is not that she's blaming her friend. It's that she's being so self-righteous about it and blind to her own flaws. If she said

"I can't believe Jared drove drunk, that's so selfish and dangerous. I get angry thinking about it even though I know how tempting it can be to think that you'll be the "good drunk driver" who's even more careful than sober ones. And I know I've probably done it too but I just haven't gotten caught."

That still seems like blame to me, and not morally objectionable in any way. In fact, though it gives me the hebejebies to talk about "weighty reasons to ___", if anything I think she has weighty to reasons TO blame Jared--because it may make her rethink her own behavior. And it will give her friends the opportunity to expose her inconsistency the next time she reaches for the keys after shotgunning those seven beers.

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