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Against Moral Responsibility

Bruce N. Waller

Publication Year: 2011

A vigorous attack on moral responsibility in all its forms argues that the abolition of moral responsibility will be liberating and beneficial.

Published by: The MIT Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

Against Moral Responsibility is an assault on the moral responsibility system: a system that is profoundly entrenched in our society and its institutions, deeply rooted in our emotions, and vigorously defended by philosophers from Aristotle to the present day. Such an assault might seem foolhardy, or at best quixotic. But in fact, the results from extensive psychological, ...

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Chapter 1. Moral Responsibility

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pp. 1-18

T. S. Eliot ( 1943, 37 ) speaks of “ what was believed in as the most reliable —and therefore the fi ttest for renunciation. ” Eliot could have been describing moral responsibility. It is believed in fervently. As Cicero (44 BCE/1923, 119) noted, philosophers are willing to entertain almost any hypothesis: “ There is nothing so absurd but some philosopher has said it. ” But even ...

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Chapter 2. The Basic Argument against Moral Responsibility

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pp. 19-42

The best account of moral responsibility was given more than five centuries ago by a young Italian nobleman, Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. In his “ Oration on the Dignity of Man, ” Pico della Mirandola explained the origins of the uniquely human miraculous capacity for moral responsibility. In the process of creation, God gave special characteristics to every ...

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Chapter 3. Rescuing Free Will from Moral Responsibility

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pp. 43-58

As noted in the first chapter, many philosophers regard the denial of moral responsibility as nonsense, but if denying moral responsibility is nonsense, denying moral responsibility while endorsing free will is "nonsense on stilts.” In an earlier work ( Waller 1990 ), I sketched a case against moral responsibility, and was not surprised that the rejection of moral...

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Chapter 4. Hierarchical Free Will and Natural Authenticity

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pp. 59-74

It is not difficult to give an account of how open alternatives contribute to natural free will, but it has proved very difficult indeed to develop a naturalistic account of open alternatives that supports moral responsibility (though Robert Kane, Carl Ginet, and Randolph Clarke — among others —have made heroic efforts). Those difficulties have pushed many...

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Chapter 5. Moral Responsibility in the Gaps

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pp. 75-102

Pico della Mirandola was perfectly comfortable with miracles: the bigger the better. After all, if you accept the idea of almighty God miraculously creating the cosmos in all its splendor, then you aren’t likely to fl inch at allowing humans to miraculously create themselves. But the centuries rolled by, and scientists from William Harvey and Isaac Newton to Charles ...

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Chapter 6. Taking Responsibility

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pp. 103-114

While some try to discover moral responsibility in small corners not yet explored by science, there is another defense of moral responsibility that is more aggressive. Rather than trying to find responsibility in some scientifically inaccessible niche, these bold spirits take responsibility. Consider this claim by Harry Frankfurt : “ To the extent that a person identifies ...

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Chapter 7. Responsibility for the Self You Make

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pp. 115-132

Chapter 6 rejected taking responsibility as grounds for moral responsibility: taking responsibility is generally good and psychologically healthy, but the responsibility taken is not moral responsibility, and even strong identification with one ’ s own authentic character cannot support claims of blame and just deserts. But some moral responsibility advocates have gone further, ...

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Chapter 8. The Illusory Benefits of Moral Responsibility

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pp. 133-152

When all else fails, the advocates of moral responsibility fall back on practical usefulness. As Daniel Dennett recommends: “ Instead of investigating, endlessly, in an attempt to discover whether or not a particular trait is of someone ’ s making — instead of trying to assay exactly to what degree a particular self is self-made — we simply hold people responsible for their ...

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Chapter 9. Character-Fault and Blame-Fault

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pp. 153-178

Recall the case of the willing drug addict, Robert. Examining the process that leaves Robert deeply devoted to his drug addiction leaves no doubt that Robert is profoundly addicted and that the addiction is his own, but simultaneously, as we understand the powerful addiction that deprives Robert step by step of all other hopes and affections, such an understand-...

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Chapter 10. What Does Not Follow from the Denial of Moral Responsibility: Living Morally without Moral Responsibility

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pp. 179-202

It is widely believed that moral responsibility is a necessary condition for moral judgments and moral evaluations and moral acts. Peter van Inwagen takes that position: ...

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Chapter 11. The Moral Responsibility System

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pp. 203-220

Moral responsibility has a powerful hold on our intuitions, our common sense, our legal system, and our philosophical reflections. The moral responsibility system is locked in place by our retributive emotions, our central institutions, and our philosophical axioms. It is celebrated in song and story, from Shakespeare ’ s dramas to Western movies. Small wonder, ...

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Chapter 12. Begging the Question for Moral Responsibility

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pp. 221-238

The previous chapter examined systemic arguments against the rejection of moral responsibility: the universal rejection of moral responsibility (as seen from within the moral responsibility system) must be based on universal incompetence or “ excuse-extensionism, ” which generates absurdities. But there are also systemic moral responsibility arguments that start ...

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Chapter 13. Does Moral Responsibility Promote Respect?

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pp. 239-256

In addition to the arguments discussed in the previous two chapters, there are other arguments that stem from the systemic assumption of moral responsibility. The elitism argument is also based on the assumption — made within the moral responsibility system — that anyone not held morally responsible must be categorized as profoundly fl awed and thus excused . The ...

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Chapter 14. Creative Authorship without Ultimate Responsibility

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pp. 257-276

When we give up belief in moral responsibility, we must give up the belief that blame and punishment can be justly deserved, which is a great benefit — or so I claim in the following chapters. But even if one is convinced that rejection of justly deserved blame and punishment is a gain, a strong sense may remain that loss of ultimate responsibility is a grievous loss. Two ...

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Chapter 15. A World without Moral Responsibility

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pp. 277-304

Many are reluctant to contemplate the abolition of moral responsibility, and one source of that reluctance may be fear of the unknown. For better or worse, we have been wedded to the moral responsibility system for a very long time. It is frightening to consider a world without the practices and institutions of moral responsibility. This chapter is an effort to allay ...

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Chapter 16. Is It Possible to Eliminate Moral Responsibility?

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pp. 305-324

Champions of moral responsibility can hardly survey the current scene with satisfaction. If Lakatos’s ( 1970 ) notion of a “ degenerative research program ” has any application in philosophy, then the defense of moral responsibility must be its poster child. The sense of desperation in the efforts to shore up moral responsibility is almost palpable, and the...


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pp. 325-328


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pp. 329-346


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pp. 347-352

E-ISBN-13: 9780262298940
E-ISBN-10: 0262298945
Print-ISBN-13: 9780262016599
Print-ISBN-10: 0262016591

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2011