This past year, I’ve been giving a paper arguing that cross-cultural differences in intuitions and attitudes about moral responsibility are deep enough to make it unlikely that there’s a principled way of establishing the truth of theories of moral responsibility (including skeptical ones). At the last conference (ROME in Boulder), I got a couple of comments along the following lines:
“I’m not interested in anyone’s intuitions or beliefs, I’m interested in the nature of moral responsibility. Your project doesn’t tell me anything about that.”
These comments confuse me because every theory of MR that I’m familiar with appeals to intuition about key principles and cases. So how is it possible to investigate the nature of moral responsibility and at the same time claim to be “not interested” in people’s intuitions?
Incompatibilists tend to employ two principles to justify their theories: (1) the Principle of Alternate Possibilities (PAP) and (2) the ‘Transfer of Non-Responsibility’ (TNR) principle. Some argue directly for the intuitively plausibility of these principles (e.g van Inwagen’s “Direct Argument”, Galen Strawson’s “Basic Argument”), and others describe specific cases in which an agent is intuitively not morally responsible and then argue that there is no relevant difference between those cases and all instances of determined behavior (e.g. Pereboom’s Four case argument, Mele’s “zygote argument” in a way..). “Generalization strategies” can’t get off the ground unless the reader shares with the author the intuitions about the moral responsibility of the agents in the original cases. Readers who don’t share those intuitions won’t arrive at the incompatibilist conclusion. So the two main strategies for defending incompatibilism seem ultimately appeal to intuition.
Now look at compatibilist counterexamples. If I want to insist that unmanipulated Jones is not morally responsible because he can’t do otherwise, I’m not making a logical or factual mistake. I’m just going against what seems like a dominant intuition. Same with Fischer and Ravizza’s Erosion counterexamples. Susan Wolf’s counterexample to the Deep Self View—Jojo, son of evil dicator Jo the First—is an explicit appeal to a controversial intuition: the judgment that Jojo is not MR for his cruel behavior because of how he was raised. One Prof. in the Boulder conference told me that he ran a study with his students and found that most students believed that Jojo was MR, just not as much as someone who had been raised differently. And compatibilist theories rely on the reader’s all-things-considered intuition (or considered judgment) that the theory has provided sufficient conditions for fair assignments of blame and praise, punishment and reward.
How about Strawson-style theories that base their analyses of MR on actual practices? At first glance, this might seem like a promising candidate of a theory that lacks an appeal to intuition. But it seems to me that the practices themselves are based on just the kind of intuitions that philosophers in the first two categories are appealing to. When Strawson says that we don’t resent someone who accidentally breaks a vase (or something) in our living room, this absence of resentment or “excusing condition” seems to be grounded in an intuition (not universally shared incidentally) that you are not blameworthy for unintentional acts that do not show ill-will on the part of the agent. (Indeed, if you were resentful at the moment of the accident, it’s exactly this kind of intuition that would make you calm down and realize that it’s not the agent’s fault that your vase broke.)
So two questions: First, does anyone know of a theory of MR that doesn’t appeal to intuition to justify an essential premise or principle? And (2), if not, is there any way to investigate “the nature of MR” without appealing to the intuitions of your audience? What, in absence of such an appeal, would count as the truth-makers of the key principles?
(Also, any references that address this topic would be much appreciated!)