Against Moral Responsibility (MIT Press)
Bruce N. Waller
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In Against Moral Responsibility, Bruce Waller launches a spirited attack on a system that is profoundly entrenched in our society and its institutions, deeply rooted in our emotions, and vigorously defended by philosophers from ancient times to the present. Waller argues that, despite the creative defenses of it by contemporary thinkers, moral responsibility cannot survive in our naturalistic-scientific system. The scientific understanding of human behavior and the causes that shape human character, he contends, leaves no room for moral responsibility.
Waller argues that moral responsibility in all its forms -- including criminal justice, distributive justice, and all claims of just deserts -- is fundamentally unfair and harmful and that its abolition will be liberating and beneficial. What we really want -- natural human free will, moral judgments, meaningful human relationships, creative abilities -- would survive and flourish without moral responsibility. In the course of his argument, Waller examines the origins of the basic belief in moral responsibility, proposes a naturalistic understanding of free will, offers a detailed argument against moral responsibility and critiques arguments in favor of it, gives a general account of what a world without moral responsibility would look like, and examines the social and psychological aspects of abolishing moral responsibility. Waller not only mounts a vigorous, and philosophically rigorous, attack on the moral responsibility system, but also celebrates the benefits that would result from its total abolition.
marvelous account of “free agency/practical freedom” and its emergence. But its virtues notwithstanding, the account does nothing to establish moral responsibility; to the contrary, careful examination of Mele’s excellent account of freedom and its enriched development soon undercuts any claims of moral responsibility. Place alongside Betty her six-year-old twin brother, Benji, who also suffers from fear of his basement The Basic Argument against Moral Responsibility 31 (and who, like Betty,
states of the brain, assuming there are no outside stimulus inputs or effects from the rest of the body. But this result is intellectually very unsatisfying because it gives us a form of epiphenomenalism. It says that our experience of freedom plays no causal or explanatory role in our behavior. It is a complete illusion, because our behavior is entirely fixed by the neurobiology that determines the muscle contractions. On this view evolution played a massive trick on us. Evolution gives us the
makes them obvious, but the point is that if there is a difference in choices—and we are turning to neither miracles nor 126 Chapter 7 chance—then there must be (from the naturalistic perspective) a difference in history or characteristics or circumstances, and none of those are my choice. That difference in history doesn’t mean that Robert Harris made no choices, but it does mean that he did not make choices of the sort that would justify moral responsibility. Or if he did, or if anyone
until every duffer has an equal opportunity to win the British Open.) Of course there are causes for why Tiger Woods is a superb golfer, but none of those causes lessen the fact that he really is superb, and that he wins golf tournaments as a result of his own efforts and ability and practice. So denial of moral responsibility is not “making yourself small”; rather, it is observing small—studying the details and scrutinizing the critically important factors that result in differences of behavior.
try,” the abused spouse who “won’t help herself,” the dogs that won’t make the effort to jump over the shuttle box barrier: they are all deeply flawed, they have very unfortunate faults, but they do not deserve blame for those faults. Or in any case, establishing that some individuals are faulty and that there is one type of responsibility that we can take (take-charge responsibility) does nothing whatsoever to establish that people are ever morally responsible for their characters or behaviors.