The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility Author(s): Galen Strawson Reviewed work(s): Source: Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, Vol. 75, No. 1/2, Free Will, Determinism, and Moral Responsibility (Aug., 1994), pp. 5-24 Published by: Springer Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4320507 . Accessed: 20/08/2012 03:46
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected].
Springer is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition.
http://www.jstor.org GALEN STRAWSON
THEIMPOSSIBILITY OF MORAL RESPONSIBILITY
(Received 15 September1993)
Thereis an argument,which I will call the Basic Argument,which appearsto provethat we cannotbe trulyor ultimatelymorally respon- sible for our actions. Accordingto the Basic Argument,it makesno differencewhether determinism is trueor false. Wecannot be trulyor ultimatelymorally responsible for ouractions in eithercase. TheBasic Argument has various expressions in the literatureof free will, andits centralidea can be quicklyconveyed. (1) Nothingcan be causa sui - nothingcan be the causeof itself. (2) In orderto be truly morallyresponsible for one's actionsone wouldhave to be causa sui, at leastin certaincrucial mental respects. (3) Thereforenothing can be trulymorally responsible. Inthis paper I wantto reconsiderthe Basic Argument, in thehope that anyonewho thinks that we canbe truly or ultimately morally responsible for ouractions will be preparedto say exactlywhat is wrongwith it. I thinkthat the pointthat it has to makeis obvious,and that it has been underratedin recentdiscussion of freewill - perhapsbecause it admits of no answer.I suspectthat it is obviousin sucha waythat insisting on it too muchis likely to makeit seem less obviousthan it is, given the innatecontrasuggestibility of human beings in generaland philosophers in particular.But I am not worriedabout making it seemless obvious thanit is so long as it gets adequateattention. As far as its validityis concerned,it canlook afteritself. A more cumbersomestatement of the Basic Argumentgoes as follows.1
Philosophical Studies 75: 5-24, 1994. ? 1994 KluwerAcademicPublishers. Printed in the Netherlands. 6 GALENSTRAWSON (1) Interestedin free action,we are particularlyinterested in actionsthat are performed for a reason(as opposed to 'reflex' actionsor mindlesslyhabitual actions). (2) Whenone acts for a reason,what one does is a functionof how one is, mentallyspeaking. (It is alsoa functionof one's height,one's strength,one's place and time, and so on. But themental factors are crucial when moral responsibility is in question.) (3) So if one is to be trulyresponsible for how one acts, one must be trulyresponsible for how one is, mentallyspeaking - at leastin certainrespects. (4) Butto be trulyresponsible for how one is, mentallyspeaking, in certainrespects, one musthave brought it aboutthat one is theway one is, mentallyspeaking, in certainrespects. And it is notmerely that one musthave caused oneself to be theway one is, mentallyspeaking. One musthave consciouslyand explicitlychosen to be theway one is, mentallyspeaking, in certainrespects, and one musthave succeeded in bringingit aboutthat one is thatway. (5) But one cannotreally be said to choose, in a conscious, reasoned,fashion, to be the way one is mentallyspeaking, in any respectat all, unless one alreadyexists, mentally speaking,already equipped with someprinciples of choice, 'P1' - preferences,values, pro-attitudes, ideals - in thelight of whichone chooseshow to be. (6) Butthen to be trulyresponsible, on accountof havingchosen to be the way one is, mentallyspeaking, in certainrespects, one mustbe trulyresponsible for one's having the principles of choiceP1 in the lightof whichone chosehow to be. (7) Butfor thisto be so one musthave chosen P1, in a reasoned, conscious,intentional fashion. (8) Butfor this, i.e. (7), to be so one mustalready have had some principlesof choiceP2, in the lightof whichone choseP1. THEIMPOSSIBILITY OF MORAL RESPONSIBILITY 7 (9) And so on. Here we are settingout on a regressthat we cannotstop. Trueself-determination is impossible because it requiresthe actual completion of an infiniteseries of choices of principlesof choice.2 (10) So truemoral responsibility is impossible,because it requires trueself-determination, as noted in (3). Thismay seemcontrived, but essentially the sameargument can be given in a morenatural form. (1) It is undeniablethat one is the way one is, initially,as a resultof heredityand early experience, and it is undeniablethat these are things for whichone cannotbe held to be in any responsible(morally or otherwise). (2) One cannotat any later stageof life hopeto accedeto truemoral responsibility for the way one is by tryingto changethe way one alreadyis as a resultof heredity andprevious experience. For (3) boththe particularway in whichone is movedto try to changeoneself, and the degreeof one's successin one'sattempt at change,will be determinedby how one alreadyis as a resultof heredityand previous experience. And (4) anyfurther changes thatone canbring about only afterone hasbrought about certain initial changeswill in turnbe determined,via the initialchanges, by heredity andprevious experience. (5) This may not be the whole story,for it maybe thatsome changes in theway one is aretraceable not to heredity andexperience but to theinfluence of indeterministicor random factors. But it is absurdto supposethat indeterministic or randomfactors, for which one is ex hypothesiin no way responsible,can in themselves contributein anyway to one'sbeing truly morally responsible for how one is. Theclaim, then, is not thatpeople cannot change the way they are. Theycan, in certainrespects (which tend to be exaggeratedby North Americansand underestimated, perhaps, by Europeans).The claimis only thatpeople cannot be supposedto changethemselves in such a way as to be or becometruly or ultimatelymorally responsible for the waythey are, and hence for their actions. 8 GALENSTRAWSON
I have encounteredtwo main reactionsto the Basic Argument. On the one handit convincesalmost all the studentswith whomI have discussedthe topicof free will andmoral responsibility.3 On the other handit oftentends to be dismissed,in contemporarydiscussion of free will andmoral responsibility, as wrong,or irrelevant,or fatuous,or too rapid,or an expressionof metaphysicalmegalomania. I thinkthat the Basic Argument is certainlyvalid in showingthat we cannotbe morallyresponsible in the way thatmany suppose. And I thinkthat it is thenatural light, not fear, that has convinced the students I havetaught that this is so. Thatis why it seemsworthwhile to restate the argumentin a slightly different- simplerand looser - version, and to askagain what is wrongwith it. Some may say that thereis nothingwrong with it, but that it is not very interesting,and not very centralto the free will debate. I doubtwhether any non-philosopheror beginnerin philosophywould agreewith this view. If one wantsto thinkabout free will andmoral responsibility,consideration of someversion of theBasic Argument is an overwhelminglynatural place to start.It certainlyhas to be considered at somepoint in a full discussionof free will andmoral responsibility, evenif thepoint it hasto makeis obvious.Belief in thekind of absolute moralresponsibility that it showsto be impossiblehas for a long time beencentral to theWestern religious, moral, and cultural tradition, even if it is now slightlyon the wane(a disputableview). It is a matterof historicalfact that concern about moral responsibility has been the main motor - indeed the ratio essendi- of discussion of the issue of free will. Theonly way in whichone mighthope to show(1) thatthe Basic Argumentwas not centralto the freewill debatewould be to show(2) thatthe issue of moralresponsibility was not centralto the free will debate.There are, obviously, ways of takingthe word'free' in which (2) canbe maintained.But (2) is clearlyfalse nonethe less.4 In sayingthat the notionof moralresponsibility criticized by the BasicArgument is centralto theWestern tradition, I amnot suggesting thatit is some artificialand local Judaeo-Christian-Kantianconstruct thatis foundnowhere else in the historyof the peoplesof the world, THE IMPOSSIBILITYOF MORAL RESPONSIBLITY 9 althougheven if it were that would hardlydiminish its interestand importancefor us. It is naturalto supposethat Aristotle also subscribed to it,5and it is significantthat anthropologists have suggested that most humansocieties can be classifiedeither as 'guiltcultures' or as 'shame cultures'.It is truethat neither of thesetwo fundamentalmoral emo- tionsnecessarily presupposes a conceptionof oneselfas trulymorally responsiblefor what one has done. But the fact that both are widespread does at leastsuggest that a conceptionof moralresponsibility similar to ourown is a naturalpart of thehuman moral-conceptual repertoire. In factthe notion of moralresponsibility connects more tightly with the notionof guilt thanwith the notionof shame. In manycultures shamecan attach to one becauseof whatsome member of one'sfamily - or government- has done, and not because of anythingone has done oneself; and in such cases the feeling of shameneed not (although it may) involvesome obscure,irrational feeling that one is somehow responsiblefor thebehaviour of one'sfamily or government.The case of guilt is less clear. Thereis no doubtthat people can feel guilty(or can believe thatthey feel guilty)about things for whichthey are not responsible,let alonemorally responsible. But it is muchless obvious thatthey can do this withoutany sense or belief thatthey are in fact responsible.
Suchcomplications are typical of moralpsychology, and they show that it is importantto try to be preciseabout what sort of responsibilityis underdiscussion. What sort of 'true'moral responsibility is beingsaid to be bothimpossible and widely believed in? An old storyis veryhelpful in clarifyingthis question.This is the storyof heavenand hell. As I understandit, truemoral responsibility is responsibilityof sucha kindthat, if we haveit, thenit makessense, at least,to supposethat it couldbe justto punishsome of us with(eternal) tormentin hell andreward others with (eternal)bliss in heaven. The stresson the words'makes sense' is important,for one certainlydoes not have to believe in any versionof the storyof heavenand hell in 10 GALENSTRAWSON orderto understandthe notionof truemoral responsibility that it is beingused to illustrate.Nor does one haveto believein anyversion of the storyof heavenand hell in orderto believein the existenceof true moralresponsibility. On the contrary:many atheists have believed in theexistence of truemoral responsibility. The storyof heavenand hell is usefulsimply because it illustrates,in a peculiarlyvivid way, the kind of absoluteor ultimateaccountability or responsibilitythat many have supposedthemselves to have,and that many do stillsuppose themselves to have. It veryclearly expresses its scopeand force. But one does not haveto referto religiousfaith in orderto describe the sortsof everydaysituation that are perhaps primarily influential in givingrise to ourbelief in trueresponsibility. Suppose you set off for a shopon theevening of a nationalholiday, intending to buy a cakewith yourlast ten poundnote. On the stepsof the shopsomeone is shaking an Oxfamtin. Youstop, and it seemscompletely clear to you thatit is entirelyup to you whatyou do next. Thatis, it seemsto youthat you are truly,radically free to choose,in sucha waythat you will be ultimately morallyresponsible for whateveryou do choose. Evenif you believe thatdeterminism is true,and that you will in fiveminutes time be ableto lookback and say thatwhat you did was determined, this does not seem to undermineyour sense of the absolutenessand inescapability of your freedom,and of yourmoral responsibility for yourchoice. The same seemsto be trueeven if you acceptthe validityof the BasicArgument statedin sectionI, which concludesthat one cannotbe in any way ultimatelyresponsible for the way one is anddecides. In bothcases, it remainstrue that as one standsthere, one's freedomand true moral responsibilityseem obvious and absolute to one. Largeand small, morally significant or morallyneutral, such situa- tionsof choiceoccur regularly in humanlife. I thinkthey lie at theheart of the experienceof freedomand moralresponsibility. They are the fundamentalsource of ourinability to give up beliefin trueor ultimate moralresponsibility. There are further questions to be askedabout why humanbeings experience these situationsof choice as they do. It is an interestingquestion whether any cognitively sophisticated, rational, self-consciousagent must experience situations of choicein this way.6 THEIMPOSSIBILITY OF MORAL RESPONSIBILITY 1I1 But they are the experientialrock on whichthe belief in truemoral responsibilityis founded.
I will restatethe Basic Argument. First, though,I will give some examplesof peoplewho have accepted that some sort of trueor ultimate responsibilityfor the way one is is a necessarycondition of trueor ultimatemoral responsibility for the way one acts,and who, certain that they aretruly morally responsible for the way they act, havebelieved thecondition to be fulfilled.7 E.H. Carr held that "normaladult humanbeings are morally responsiblefor theirown personality".Jean-Paul Sartre talked of "the choicethat each man makes of his personality",and held that"man is responsiblefor what he is". Ina laterinterview he judged that his earlier assertionsabout freedom were incautious; but he still held that"in the endone is alwaysresponsible for what is madeof one"in someabsolute sense. Kantdescribed the positionvery clearlywhen he claimedthat "manhimself must make or have made himself into whatever, in a moral sense,whether good or evil, he is to become.Either condition must be an effectof his freechoice; for otherwisehe couldnot be heldrespon- siblefor it andcould therefore be morallyneither good nor evil." Since he was committedto belief in radicalmoral responsibility, Kant held thatsuch self-creationdoes indeedtake place, andwrote accordingly of "man'scharacter, which he himselfcreates". and of "knowledgeof oneself as a person who ... is his own originator". John Patten, the currentBritish Minister for Education,a Catholicapparently preoccu- pied by the idea of sin, has claimed that "it is ... self-evidentthat as we growup each individual chooses whether to be goodor bad."It seems clearenough that he, sees suchchoice as sufficientto give us truemoral responsibilityof the heaven-and-hellvariety.8 The rest of us are not usuallyso reflective,but it seems that we do tend,in some vagueand unexamined fashion, to thinkof ourselves as responsiblefor - answerablefor - how we are. The point is quite a 12 GALENSTRAWSON delicateone, for we do notordinarily suppose that we havegone through somesort of activeprocess of self-determinationat some particular past time. Neverthelessit seems accurateto say thatwe do unreflectivcly experienceourselves, in manyrespects, rather as we mightexperience ourselvesif we did believethat we hadengaged in some suchactivity of self-determination. Sometimes a part of one's character- a desire or tendency - may strikeone as foreignor alien. But it cando thisonly against a background of charactertraits that are not experiencedas foreign,but are rather 'identified'with (it is a necessarytruth that it is only relativeto such a backgroundthat a charactertrait can standout as alien). Some feel tormentedby impulsesthat they experienceas alien, but in many a sense of generalidentification with theircharacter predominates, and thisidentification seems to carrywithin itself an implicitsense that one is, generally,somehow in controlof and answerablefor how one is (even, perhaps,for aspectsof one's characterthat one does not like). Here,then, I suggestthat we find,semi-dormant in commonthought, an implicitrecognition of the idea thattrue moral responsibility for what one does somehowinvolves responsibility for how one is. Ordinary thoughtis readyto movethis wayunder pressure. Thereis, however,another powerful tendency in ordinarythought to thinkthat one can be trulymorally responsible even if one's character is ultimatelywholly non-self-determined - simply because one is fully self-consciouslyaware of oneself as an agentfacing choices. I will returnto thispoint later on.
Letme now restate the Basic Argument in veryloose - as it wereconver- sational- terms.New formsof wordsallow for new forms of objection, butthey may be helpfulnone the less.
(1) You do what you do, in any situationin which you find yourself,because of the way you are. THEIMPOSSIBILITY OF MORAL RESPONSIBILITY 13
(2) To be trulymorally responsible for whatyou do you must be trulyresponsible for the way you are- at leastin certain crucialmental respects. Or:
(1) Whatyou intentionallydo, giventhe circumstances in which you (believeyou) findyourself, flows necessarily from how you are. Hence
(2) you haveto get to havesome responsibility for howyou are in orderto getto havesome responsibility for what you inten- tionallydo, given the circumstancesin whichyou (believe you) findyourself. Comment.Once again the qualification about 'certain mental respects' is oneI will takefor granted. Obviously one is not responsiblefor one's sex,one's basic body pattern, one's height, and so on. Butif onewere not responsiblefor anything about oneself, how one could be responsiblefor whatone did, giventhe truthof (1)? Thisis the fundamentalquestion, andit seemsclear that if one is goingto be responsiblefor any aspect of oneself,it hadbetter be someaspect of one'smental nature. I take it that(1) is incontrovertible,and thatit is (2) thatmust be resisted.For if (1) and(2)) areconceded the case seemslost, because the full argumentruns as follows.
(1) Youdo whatyou do becauseof the way you are.
(2) Tobe trulymorally responsible for whatyou do you mustbe trulyresponsible for the way are- at leastin certaincrucial mentalrespects. 14 GALENSTRAWSON But
(3) Youcannot be trulyresponsible for the way you are,so you cannotbe trulyresponsible for whatyou do. Whycan't you be trulyresponsible for the way you are?Because
(4) To be trulyresponsible for the way you are,you musthave intentionallybrought it aboutthat you arethe way you are, andthis is impossible. Whyis it impossible?Well, suppose it is not. Supposethat
(5) You have somehowintentionally brought it aboutthat you are the way you now are, and thatyou have broughtthis aboutin such a way thatyou can now be said to be truly responsiblefor beingthe way you arenow. Forthis to be true
(6) Youmust already have had a certainnature N in the lightof whichyou intentionallybrought it aboutthat you areas you now are. Butthen
(7) Forit to be trueyou andyou aloneare truly responsible for how you now are,you mustbe trulyresponsible for having had the natureN in the light of which you intentionally broughtit aboutthat you arethe way you now are. So
(8) You musthave intentionallybrought it aboutthat you had thatnature N, in whichcase you musthave existed already with a priornature in the light of whichyou intentionally broughtit aboutthat you had the natureN in the light of whichyou intentionally brought it aboutthat you are the way you now are ... THEIMPOSSIBLITY OF MORAL RESPONSIBLITY 15 Here one is settingoff on the regress. Nothingcan be causa sui in the requiredway. Evenif suchcausal 'aseity' is allowedto belong unintelligiblyto God, it cannotbe plausiblybe supposedto be pos- sessedby ordinaryfinite human beings. "The causa sui is thebest self- contradictionthat has been conceived so far",as Nietzscheremarked in 1886:
it is a sort of rape and perversion of logic. But the extravagantpride of man has managed to entangle itself profoundly and frightfully with just this nonsense. The desire for "freedomof the will" in the superlativemetaphysical sense, which still holds sway, unfortunately,in the minds of the half-educated;the desire to bear the entire and ultimate responsibilityfor one's actions oneself, and to absolve God, the world, ancestors,chance, and society involves nothing less than to be precisely this causa sui and, with more than Baron Miinchhausen'saudacity, to pull oneself up into existence by the hair,out of the swamps of nothingness... (BeyondGood and Evil, ? 21). The rephrasedargument is essentiallyexactly the sameas before, althoughthe firsttwo stepsare now moresimply stated. It may seem pointlessto repeatit, butthe questions remain. Can the Basic Argument simplybe dismissed?It is reallyof no importancein thediscussion of freewill andmoral responsibility? (No andNo) Shouldn'tany serious defenseof free will andmoral responsibility thoroughly acknowledge therespect in whichthe Basic Argument is validbefore going on to try to give its own positiveaccount of the natureof free will and moral responsibility?Doesn't the argumentgo to the heartof thingsif the heartof the freewill debateis a concernabout whether we canbe truly morallyresponsible in the absoluteway thatwe ordinarilysuppose? (Yesand Yes) Weare what we are,and we cannot be thought to havemade ourselves in such a way thatwe can be held to be free in our actionsin such a way thatwe can be held to be morallyresponsible for our actionsin sucha waythat any punishmentor rewardfor ouractions is ultimately just or fair. Punishmentsand rewards may seem deeply appropriate or intrinsically'fitting' to us in spite of this argument,and many of the variousinstitutions of punishmentand reward in humansociety appear to be practicallyindispensable in boththeir legal andnon-legal forms. Butif onetakes the notion of justicethat is centralto ourintellectual and culturaltradition seriously, then the evidentconsequence of the Basic 16 GALENSTRAWSON Argumentis thatthere is a fundamentalsense in whichno punishment or rewardis everultimately just. It is exactlyas just to punishor reward peoplefor their actions as it is to punishor reward them for the (natural) colourof theirhair or the (natural)shape of theirfaces. The point seemsobvious, and yet it contradictsa fundamentalpart of ournatural self-conception,and thereare elementsin humanthought that move very deeplyagainst it. Whenit comes to questionsor responsibility, we tendto feel thatwe are somehowresponsible for the way we are. Evenmore importantly, perhaps, we tendto feel thatour explicit self- consciousawareness of ourselvesas agentswho areable to deliberate aboutwhat to do, in situationsof choice, sufficesto constituteus as morallyresponsible free agentsin the strongestsense, whateverthe conclusionof theBasic Argument.
I have suggestedthat it is step (2) of the restatedBasic Argumentthat mustbe rejected,and of courseit can be rejected,because the phrases 'trulyresponsible' and 'trulymorally responsible' can be definedin manyways. I will brieflyconsider three sorts of responseto the Basic Argument,and I will concentrateon theirmore simple expressions, in thebelief that truth in philosophy,especially in areasof philosophylike thepresent one, is almostnever very complicated. (I) Thefirst is compatibilist.Compatibilists believe that one can be a freeand morally responsible agent even if determinismis true.Roughly, theyclaim, with many variations of detail,that one may correctly be said to be trulyresponsible for whatone does, whenone acts,just so long as one is notcaused to actby anyof a certainset of constraints(klepto- maniacimpulses, obsessional neuroses, desires that are experienced as alien,post-hypnotic commands, threats, instances offorce majeure, and so on). Clearly,this sort of compatibilistresponsibility does not require thatone shouldbe trulyresponsible for how one is in any way at all, andso step(2) of theBasic Argument comes out as false. Onecan have compatibilistresponsibility even if the way one is is totallydetermined by factorsentirely outside one's control. THEIMPOSSIBILITY OF MORAL RESPONSIBILITY 17 It is for this reason, however, that compatibilistresponsibility famouslyfails to amountto any sortof truemoral responsibility, given the natural,strong understanding of the notionof truemoral responsi- bility(characterized above by referenceto thestory of heavenand hell). Onedoes whatone does entirelybecause of the way one is, andone is in no way ultimatelyresponsible for the way one is. So how can one be justly punishedfor anythingone does? Compatibilistshave given increasinglyrefined accounts of thecircumstances in whichpunishment maybe said to be appropriateor intrinsicallyfitting. But they can do nothingagainst this basic objection. Manycompatibilists have never supposed otherwise. They are happy to admitthe point. They observe that the notions of truemoral responsi- bilityand justice that are employed in theobjection cannot possibly have applicationto anythingreal, and suggest that the objectionis therefore not worthconsidering. In response,proponents of the BasicArgument agreethat the notions of truemoral responsibility and justice in question cannothave application to anythingreal; but they makeno apologies for consideringthem. They considerthem because they are central to ordinarythought about moral responsibility and justice. So far as mostpeople are concerned, they are the subject,if the subjectis moral responsibilityand justice. (II)The second response is libertarian.Incompatibilists believe that freedomand moral responsibility are incompatiblewith determinism, and some of them are libertarians,who believe thatthat we are free andmorally responsible agents, and that determinism is thereforefalse. Inan ingeniousstatement of theincompatibilist-libertarian case, Robert Kaneargues that agents in anundetermined world can have free will, for theycan "have the power to makechoices for which they have ultimate responsibility".That is, they can "havethe powerto makechoices whichcan only and finally be explainedin termsof theirown wills (i.e. character,motives, and efforts of will)".9Roughly, Kane sees this power as groundedin thepossible occurrence, in agents,of effortsof will that have two mainfeatures: first, they are partlyindeterministic in their nature,and hence indeterminate in theiroutcome; second, they occur in casesin whichagents are trying to makea difficultchoice between the optionsthat their characters dispose them to consider.(The paradigm 18 GALENSTRAWSON caseswill be casesin whichthey face a conflictbetween moral duty and non-moraldesire.) But the old objectionto libertarianismrecurs. How can this inde- terminismhelp with moral responsibility?Granted that the truthof determinismrules out truemoral responsibility, how can the falsityof determinismhelp? How can the occurrenceof partlyrandom or inde- terministicevents contribute in any way to one's being trulymorally responsibleeither for one's actions or forone's character? If my efforts of will shapemy characterin an admirableway, and in so doing are partlyindeterministic in nature,while also being shaped (as Kane grants) by my alreadyexisting character, why amI notmerely lucky? The generalobjection applies equally whether determinism is true or false,and can be restatedas follows. Weare born with a greatmany geneticallydetermined predispositions for which we arenot responsible. Weare subject to manyearly influences for which we arenot responsible. Thesedecisively shape our characters, our motives, the general bent and strengthof ourcapacity to makeefforts of will. Wemay later engage in consciousand intentional shaping procedures - call themS-procedures - designedto affectand change our characters, motivational structure, andwills. Supposewe do. Thequestion is thenwhy we engagein the particularS-procedures that we do engagein, andwhy we engagein themin the particularway thatwe do. The generalanswer is thatwe engagein the particularS-procedures that we do engagein, given the circumstancesin whichwe findourselves, because of certainfeatures of the way we alreadyare. (Indeterministicfactors may also play a partin whathappens, but these will not help to makeus responsible for whatwe do.) And thesefeatures of the way we alreadyare - call themcharacter features, or C-features- areeither wholly the products of geneticor environmentalinfluences, deterministic or random,for whichwe arenot responsible,or areat leastpartly the resultof earlier S-procedures,which are in turneither wholly the product of C-features forwhich we arenot responsible, or are at leastpartly the product of still earlierS-procedures, which are turn either the products of C-featuresfor whichwe arenot responsible, or the product of suchC-features together with still earlierS-procedures - and so on. In the end, we reachthe firstS-procedure, and this will have beenengaged in, andengaged in THEIMPOSSIBILITY OF MORAL RESPONSIBLITY 19 the particularway in whichit was engagedin, as a resultof geneticor environmentalfactors, deterministic or random,for whichwe werenot responsible. Movingaway from the possiblerole of indeterministicfactors in characteror personalityformation, we can considertheir possible role in particularinstances of deliberationand decision. Heretoo it seems clearthat indeterministic factors cannot, in influencingwhat happens, contributeto truemoral responsibility in anyway. In theend, whatever we do, we do it eitheras a resultof randominfluences for whichwe arenot responsible,or as a resultof non-randominfluences for which we are not responsible,or as a resultof influencesfor whichwe are proximallyresponsible but not ultimately responsible. The point seems obvious.Nothing can be ultimatelycausa sui in anyrespect at all. Even if Godcan be, we can'tbe. Kane says little aboutmoral responsibility in his paper,but his positionseems to be thattrue moral responsibility is possibleif inde- terminismis true. It is possiblebecause in cases of "moral,prudential and practicalstruggle we . .. are truly 'makingourselves' in such a way thatwe are ultimatelyresponsible for the outcome".This 'makingof ourselves'means that "we can be ultimatelyresponsible for our present motivesand character by virtueof pastchoices which helped to form themand for whichwe wereultimately responsible" (op. cit., p. 252). It is for this reasonthat we can be ultimatelyresponsible and morally responsiblenot only in cases of strugglein whichwe are 'makingour- selves',but also for choicesand actions which do not involvestruggle, flowingunopposed from our character and motives. In claimingthat we can be ultimatelyresponsible for our present motivesand character,Kane appears to accept step (2) of the Basic Argument.He appearsto acceptthat we have to 'makeourselves', andso be ultimatelyresponsible for ourselves,in orderto be morally responsiblefor whatwe do.10The problem with this suggestionis the old one. In Kane'sview, a person's'ultimate responsibility' for the outcomeof an effortof will dependsessentially on the partlyindeter- ministicnature of the outcome.This is becauseit is only the element of indeterminismthat prevents prior character and motives from fully explainingthe outcomeof the effortof will (op. cit, p. 236). Buthow 20 GALENSTRAWSON canthis indeterminism help with moral responsibility? How can the fact thatmy effortof will is indeterministicin sucha way thatits outcome is indetenninatemake me trulyresponsible for it, or evenhelp to make me trulyresponsible for it? Howcan it helpin anyway at all withmoral responsibility? How can it make punishment- or reward- ultimately just? Thereis a further,familiar problem with the view thatmoral respon- sibilitydepends on indeterminism.If one acceptsthe view, one will have to grantthat it is impossibleto know whetherany humanbeing is evermorally responsible. For moralresponsibility now dependson the falsityof determinism,and determinism is unfalsifiable.There is no morereason to thinkthat determinism is false thanthat it is true,in spiteof the impressionsometimes given by scientistsand popularizers of science. (III)The third option begins by acceptingthat one cannot be held to be ultimatelyresponsible for one's character or personality or motivational structure.It acceptsthat this is so whetherdeterminism is trueor false. It thendirectly challenges step (2) of theBasic Argument. It appealsto a certainpicture of the self in orderto arguethat one canbe trulyfree andmorally responsible in spiteof thefact that one cannot be heldto be ultimatelyresponsible for one's character or personality or motivational structure.Th}is picture has some supportin the 'phenomenology'of humanchoice - we sometimesexperience our choices and decisions as if thepicture were an accurateone. Butit is easy to showthat it cannot be accuratein sucha way thatwe can be saidto be trulyor ultimately morallyresponsible for ourchoices or actions. It canbe set outas follows. Oneis freeand truly morally responsible becauseone's self is, in a crucialsense, independent of one'scharacter orpersonality or motivational structure - one'sCPM, for short. Suppose one is in a situationwhich one experiences as a difficultchoice between A, doingone's duty,and B, followingone's non-moraldesires. Given one's CPM,one respondsin a certainway. One'sdesires and beliefs developand interactand constitutereasons for both A and B. One's CPMmakes one tendtowards A orB. So farthe problem is the sameas ever:whatever one does, one will do whatone doesbecause of theway one'sCPM is, andsince one neither is norcan be ultimatelyresponsible THEIMPOSSIBILITY OF MORAL RESPONSIBLITY 21 forthe way one's CPM is, onecannot be ultimatelyresponsible for what one does. Enterone's self, S. S is imaginedto be in someway independentof one's CPM.S (i.e. one) considersthe deliverancesof one'sCPM and decides in the light of them, but it - S - incorporatesa power of decision thatis independentof one's CPMin sucha way thatone can afterall countas trulyand ultimately morally responsible in one'sdecisions and actions,even thoughone is not ultimatelyresponsible for one's CPM. Step(2) of theBasic Argument is falsebecause of theexistence of S." The troublewith the pictureis obvious. S (i.e. one) decideson the basis of the deliverancesof one's CPM.But whateverS decides, it decidesas it does becauseof the way it is (or else becausepartly or whollybecause of theoccurrence in thedecision process of indetermin- istic factors for which it - i.e. one - cannot be responsible,and which cannotplausibly be thoughtto contributeto one'strue moral responsi- bility). Andthis returnsus to wherewe started.To be a sourceof true or ultimateresponsibility, S mustbe responsiblefor being the way it is. Butthis is impossible,for the reasonsgiven in theBasic Argument. Thestory of S andCPM adds another layer to thedescription of the humandecision process, but it cannotchange the fact that human beings cannotbe ultimatelyself-determining in sucha way as to be ultimately morallyresponsible for how theyare, and thus for how they decide and act. The storyis crudelypresented, but it shouldsuffice to makeclear thatno moveof this sortcan solve theproblem. 'Characteris destiny',as Novalisis oftenreported as saying.12The remarkis inaccurate,because external circumstances are part of destiny, but the point is well takenwhen it comes to the questionof moral responsibility.Nothing can be causa sui, and in orderto be truly morallyresponsible for one's actions one wouldhave to be causa sui, at leastin certaincrucial mental respects. One cannot institute oneself in sucha way thatone can takeover true or assumemoral responsibility for how one is in such a way that one can indeedbe trulymorally responsiblefor whatone does. Thisfact is not changedby the factthat we maybe unablenot to thinkof ourselvesas trulymorally responsible in ordinarycircumstances. Nor is it changedby the fact thatit may be a very good thing that we have this inability- so thatwe might 22 GALEN STRAWSON wish to takesteps to preserveit, if it lookedto be in dangerof fading. As alreadyremarked, many human beings are unable to resistthe idea thatit is theircapacity for fully explicitself-conscious deliberation, in a situationof choice, thatsuffices to constitutethem as trulymorally responsibleagents in the strongestpossible sense. TheBasic Argument showsthat this is a mistake.However self-consciously aware we are,as we deliberateand reason, every act andoperation of ourmind happens as it does as a resultof featuresfor which we are ultimatelyin no way responsible.But the convictionthat self-conscious awareness of one's situationcan be a sufficientfoundation of strongfree will is very powerful.It runsdeeper than rational argument, and it survives untouched,in theeveryday conduct of life, evenafter the validity of the BasicArgument has beenadmitted.
VII Thereis nothingnew in the somewhatincantatory argument of this paper. It restatescertain points that may be in need of restatement. "Everythinghas been said before", said Andre Gide, echoing La Bruyere, "butsince nobodylistens we have to keep going backand beginning all over again." This is an exaggeration,but it may not be a gross exaggeration,so faras generalobservations about the human condition areconcerned. Thepresent claim, in anycase, is simplythis: time would be saved, anda greatdeal of readilyavailable clarity would be introducedinto the discussionof thenature of moralresponsibility, if the simple point that is establishedby theBasic Argument were more generally acknowledged andclearly stated. Nietzsche thought that thoroughgoing acknowledge- mentof the point was long overdue,and his belief thatthere might be moraladvantages in suchan acknowledgementmay deserve further consideration.13
NOTES l Adaptedfrom G. Strawson, 1986, pp. 28-30. 2 That is, the infinite series must have a beginning and an end, which is impossible. THEIMPOSSIBILITY OF MORAL RESPONSIBILITY 23
3 Two have rejectedit in fifteen years. Both had religious commitments,and argued, on general and radical sceptical grounds,that we can know almost nothing, and cannot thereforeknow thattrue moral responsibility is not possible in some way thatwe do not understand. 4 It is notable thatboth Robert Kane (1989) and Alfred Mele (forthcoming),in two of the best recent incompatibilistdiscussions of free will and autonomy,have relatively little to say about moralresponsibility. S Cf. NichomacheanEthics III. 5. 6 Cf. MacKay(1960), and the discussion of the 'GenuineIncompatibilist Determinist' in G. Strawson(1986, pp. 281-6). 7 I suspect that they have startedout from their subjective certaintythat they have true moralresponsibility. They have then been led by reflectionto the realizationthat they cannot really have such moral responsibilityif they are not in some crucial way responsiblefor being the way they are. They have accordinglyconcluded that they are indeed responsiblefor being the way they are. 8 Carrin WhatIs History?,p. 89; Sartrein Being and Nothingness,Existentialism and Humanism,p. 29, and in the New Left Review 1969 (quoted in Wiggins, 1975); Kant in Religion withinthe Limitsof ReasonAlone, p. 40, The Critiqueof Practical Reason, p. 101 (Ak. V. 98), and in Opus Postumum,p. 213; Pattenin The Spectator, January 1992. These quotationsraise manyquestions which I will not consider. It is often hard,for example, to be sure what Sartreis saying. But the occurrenceof the quoted phrasesis significanton any plausibleinterpretation of his views. As for Kant,it may be thought to be odd thathe says whathe does, in so far as he groundsthe possibilityof our freedom in our possession of an unknowable,non-temporal noumenal nature. It is, however, plausibleto suppose that he thinksthat radical or ultimateself-determination must take place even in the noumenalrealm, in some unintelligiblynon-temporal manner, if there is to be true moralresponsibility. 9 Kane (1989) p. 254. I have omitted some italics. 10 He cites Van Inwagen (1989) in supportof this view. 1' Cf. C.A. Campbell(1957). 12 e.g. by George Eliot in The Mill on the Floss, book 6, chapter6. Novalis wrote "Oft fiihl ich jetzt ... [und]je tiefer einsehe, dass Schicksal und Gemut Namen eines Begriffes sind"- "I often feel, and ever more deeply realize, that fate and characterare the same concept". He was echoing Heracleitus,Fragment 119 DK. 13 Cf. R. Schacht (1983) pp. 304-9. The idea thatthere might be moral advantagesin the clear headed admission that true or ultimate moral responsibilityis impossible has recently been developed in anotherway by Saul Smilansky(1994). 24 GALENSTRAWSON
Aristotle,1953. Nichomachean Ethics, trans. J. A. K. Thomson,Allen and Unwin, London. Campell,C.A., 1957. 'Hasthe Self "FreeWill"?', in C.A.Campbell, On Sel hoodand Godhood,Allen and Unwin, London. Caff,E.H., 1961. What Is History?,Macmillan, London. Kane,R., 1989. 'TwvoKinds of Incompatibilism',Philosophy and Phenomenological Research50, pp. 219-254. Kant, I., 1956. Critiqueof PracticalReason, trans.L. W. Beck, Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis. Kant, I., 1960. Religion within the Limitsof Reason Alone, trans.T. M. Greene and H. H. Hudson,Harper and Row, New York. Kant,I., 1993.Opus postumum, trans. E. F6rsterand M. Rosen,Cambridge University Press,Cambridge. MacKay,D.M., 1960. 'On the Logical Indeterminacy of Free Choice', Mind 69, pp.31- 40. Mele, A., 1995. AutonomousAgents: From Self-Controlto Autonomy,Oxford Univer- sity Press,New York. Nietzsche,F., 1966.Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Walter Kaufmann, Random House, New York. Novalis, 1802. Heinrich von Ofterdingen. Sartre,J.-P., 1969. Being and Nothingness, trans. Hazel E. Barnes,Methuen, London. Sartre,J.-P., 1989. Existentialismand Humanism,trans. Philip Mairet,Methuen, London. Schacht,R., 1983.Nietzsche, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London. Smilansky,S., 1994. 'TheEthical Advantages of HardDeterminism', Philosophy and PhenomenologicalResearch. Strawson,G., 1986.Freedom and Belief, Clarendon Press, Oxford. VanInwagen, P., 1989.'When Is the Will Free?', Philosophical Perspectives 3, pp.399- 422. Wiggins,D., 1975.'Towards a Reasonable Libertarianism', in T. Honderich, ed., Essays on Freedomof Action, Routledge,London.
JesusCollege, Oxford OxfordOXI 3DW England