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Shen-yi Liao

I think it's really wonderful that you've made all the data and material, including the R code for analyses, available online! May I suggest OSF in addition to GitHub?

Dylan Murray


Agreed! It’s been exciting to see a lot of us converge on similar findings, and it’ll be interesting to see the details and differences ironed out.

I wanted to pick up one of the threads from the comments in Josh’s post at Flickers: a lot of people (including John Martin Fischer and Derk Pereboom) seem to think it’s fairly obvious (at least on reflection) that whether an actor is caused to perform some action intentionally vs. unintentionally is completely irrelevant to her moral responsibility for it (even if intuitive judgments are sensitive to that difference). I think we need to distinguish two claims, though:

(1) Being caused to perform an action (un)intentionally, as such, is relevant to one’s moral responsibility for it.
(2) Being caused to perform an action (un)intentionally is relevant to one’s moral responsibility, not in itself, but because it (typically) amounts to a difference in something else, X, which is, itself, relevant to moral responsibility.

I’m guessing that most people have only meant to deny (1), but (2) may be what the results you mention show (you and Alex, Eddy and Oisín, and Tania and I all seem to point to fairly similar Xs, though I’m interested in others’ thoughts on this), and (2) is enough to make problems for the manipulation argument.

Tania’s and my X is counterfactual dependence. We take our results to suggest that people’s judgments about an actor’s responsibility for an outcome are sensitive to the strength of the counterfactual relation between that actor’s relevant mental states and the outcome, as such. Typically, manipulation decreases the counterfactual dependence of the outcome on some of the manipulee’s mental states, and therefore, we suggest, attributions of responsibility to her. Intentional manipulators will typically cause the manipulee to perform the action regardless of the manipulee’s (other) mental states, or otherwise, bring about the outcome through other means; that’s not something most natural processes or unintentional behavers will do. Of course, the counterfactual relation might be changed in the same ways unintentionally; it’s just that intentional manipulation is a particularly salient form of decreasing counterfactual dependence. I think this version of (2) explains the results, so far as I can tell, doesn’t attribute any (obvious) mistake to the participants who intuitively subscribe to it (what could be more relevant to moral responsibility than how much an outcome depends on one?), and is perfectly compatible with (1). I only mean to have committed myself to (2), at least.

I also genuinely wonder, though: is (1) really that obvious? Why are others’ intentions, qua intentions (or mental states more generally) obviously irrelevant to one’s own moral responsibility? Why couldn’t “social determinism” matter in a way that physical determinism didn’t? Or consider the concept of ‘original authorship’. Suppose you come across several stanzas written in little lines of pebbles on the sand of a beach and, impressed, go off and publish them. If those inscriptions were intentionally made by someone else, you aren’t the poem’s original author (in some intuitively recognizable and important sense, whatever's recognized in copyright law). If the inscriptions were instead somehow fortuitously produced by the winds and tides, you are the original author. A third case: whoever made the inscription did so completely unintentionally – maybe she was only skipping stones out into the ocean without any inkling of their landing in just that pattern. In that case, again, it seems that you – the person who later comes across the stanzas – get to be the original author. So someone else’s mental states that play a causal role in bringing about your own (and thereby your publication) are relevant to whether you have original authorship. So what’s different about our concept of moral responsibility? What’s so different about ‘ultimate sourcehood’? I want to be convinced.

Jonathan Phillips


Thanks for the suggestion! Those materials are also now available here:

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