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GALEN STRAWSON

THEIMPOSSIBILITY MORAL OF RESPONSIBILITY


(Received 15 September1993) I

Thereis an argument, which I will call the Basic Argument, which appears provethatwe cannot trulyor ultimately to be morally responsible for our actions. According the Basic Argument, makesno to it difference whether determinism trueor false. Wecannot trulyor is be for ultimately morally responsible ouractionsin either case. TheBasicArgument various has in of expressions theliterature free will, andits central ideacanbe quicklyconveyed.(1) Nothing be can causa sui - nothing be the causeof itself. (2) In order be truly can to morally responsible one'sactionsone wouldhaveto be causa sui, for at leastin certain crucial mental respects.(3) Therefore can nothing be trulymorally responsible. Inthispaper wanttoreconsider BasicArgument, thehopethat I the in who anyone thinks we canbetruly ultimately that or morally responsible forouractionswill be prepared say exactlywhatis wrongwithit. I to thinkthatthe pointthatit has to makeis obvious,andthatit hasbeen in underrated recent discussion freewill - perhaps of because admits it of no answer. suspect it is obviousin sucha waythatinsisting I that on it too muchis likelyto makeit seemless obviousthanit is, giventhe innate of contrasuggestibilityhuman beingsingeneral philosophers and in particular. I amnot worried But aboutmaking seemless obvious it thanit is so long as it gets adequate attention. faras its validityis As concerned, canlookafteritself. it A more cumbersome statement the Basic Argument of goes as
follows.1

Philosophical Studies 75: 5-24, 1994. ? 1994 KluwerAcademicPublishers. Printedin the Netherlands.

6 (1)

GALEN STRAWSON

in in interested Interested free action,we are particularly actions areperformed a reason opposed 'reflex' that for to (as habitual actionsor mindlessly actions). of Whenone actsfor a reason,whatone does is a function of is alsoa function one's howone is, mentally speaking. (It one'splaceandtime,andso on. But height,one'sstrength, whenmoral is themental factors crucial are responsibility in question.) for So if oneis to be truly responsible howoneacts,onemust for be trulyresponsible how one is, mentally speaking at leastin certain respects. for Butto be truly responsible howoneis, mentally speaking, in certain one it that respects, musthavebrought about oneis in thewayoneis, mentally Andit speaking, certain respects. is notmerely onemust that havecaused oneselfto betheway one is, mentally and speaking.Onemusthaveconsciously chosento be thewayoneis, mentally in explicitly speaking, and certain respects, one musthavesucceeded bringing in it aboutthatone is thatway. But one cannotreallybe said to choose, in a conscious, reasoned, fashion,to be the way one is mentally speaking, in any respectat all, unless one alreadyexists, mentally withsomeprinciples choice, speaking, already equipped of 'P1'- preferences, ideals- in thelight values,pro-attitudes, of whichonechooseshowto be. Butthentobe truly on of responsible, account having chosen to be theway one is, mentally in speaking, certain respects, onemustbe trulyresponsible one'shaving principles for the of choiceP1 in thelightof whichonechosehowto be. Butforthisto be so onemusthavechosenP1, in a reasoned, intentional fashion. conscious, Butforthis,i.e. (7), to be so onemustalready hadsome have principles choiceP2, in thelightof whichone choseP1. of

(2)

(3)

(4)

(5)

(6)

(7) (8)

THEIMPOSSIBILITY MORAL OF RESPONSIBILITY

(9)

And so on. Herewe are settingout on a regressthatwe cannot self-determination is impossible because stop.True it requires actual the of seriesof choices completion aninfinite of principles choice.2 of So truemoral is because requires it responsibility impossible, trueself-determination,notedin (3). as

(10)

Thismayseemcontrived, essentially sameargument be but the can form. (1) It is undeniable one is the way givenin a morenatural that one is, initially,as a resultof heredity earlyexperience, it is and and undeniable thesearethingsfor whichone cannot heldto be in that be any responsible (morallyor otherwise). (2) One cannotat any later stageof life hopeto accedeto truemoral for responsibility thewayone is by tryingto changethe way one already as a resultof heredity is andprevious experience. (3) boththe particular in whichone For way is movedto try to changeoneself,andthe degreeof one's successin one'sattempt change,will be determined howone already as a at by is result heredity previous of and experience. (4) anyfurther And changes thatone canbringabout onlyafteronehasbrought about certain initial will changes in turnbe determined, theinitialchanges, heredity via by andprevious experience.(5) Thismay not be the wholestory,for it maybe thatsomechanges thewayoneis aretraceable to heredity in not andexperience to theinfluence indeterministic random but of or factors. But it is absurd supposethatindeterministic random to or factors,for whichone is ex hypothesi no way responsible, in themselves in can contribute anywayto one'sbeingtrulymorally in responsible how for
one is.

Theclaim,then,is not thatpeoplecannot changethe waytheyare. Theycan, in certain respects(whichtendto be exaggerated North by Americans underestimated, and perhaps, Europeans). claimis by The only thatpeoplecannotbe supposed changethemselves such a to in way as to be or becometrulyor ultimately morally responsible the for waytheyare,andhencefortheiractions.

GALEN STRAWSON II

to I have encountered mainreactions the Basic Argument.On two with whomI have the one handit convincesalmostall the students On discussed topicof freewill andmoral the responsibility.3 theother in discussion free of handit oftentendsto be dismissed, contemporary or or as or will andmoral responsibility, wrong, irrelevant, fatuous, too of rapid, anexpression metaphysical or megalomania. that I think theBasicArgument certainly is validin showing we that in cannotbe morallyresponsible the way thatmanysuppose. And I the think it is thenatural that light,notfear,thathasconvinced students to that I havetaught thisis so. Thatis whyit seemsworthwhile restate
the argumentin a slightly different- simplerand looser - version, and

to askagainwhatis wrongwithit. Some may say thatthereis nothingwrongwith it, but thatit is and not very interesting, not very centralto the free will debate. I or in would doubtwhether non-philosopher beginner philosophy any agreewiththis view. If one wantsto thinkaboutfree will andmoral consideration someversion theBasicArgument an of of is responsibility, has natural overwhelmingly placeto start.It certainly to be considered of at somepointin a full discussion freewill andmoral responsibility, evenif thepointit hasto makeis obvious.Beliefin thekindof absolute has moralresponsibility it showsto be impossible for a long time that beencentral theWestern to and even religious, moral, cultural tradition, if it is now slightlyon the wane(a disputable view). It is a matter of about historical thatconcern fact moral has responsibility beenthemain motor - indeed the ratio essendi- of discussion of the issue of free will. Theonlywayin whichone mighthopeto show(1) thattheBasic was to Argument notcentral thefreewill debatewouldbe to show(2) thatthe issue of moralresponsibility not centralto the free will was debate.Thereare,obviously, waysof takingthe word'free'in which But falsenonetheless.4 (2) canbe maintained. (2) is clearly In sayingthatthe notionof moralresponsibility criticized the by BasicArgument central theWestern is to I tradition,amnotsuggesting thatit is some artificial local Judaeo-Christian-Kantian and construct thatis foundnowhere in the historyof the peoplesof the world, else

THE IMPOSSIBILITY MORALRESPONSIBLITY OF

even if it were thatwould hardlydiminishits interestand although that also to for importance us. It is natural suppose Aristotle subscribed that have that to it,5andit is significant anthropologists suggested most eitheras 'guiltcultures' as 'shame or human societiescanbe classified of moralemocultures'.It is truethatneither thesetwo fundamental a of tionsnecessarily presupposes conception oneselfas trulymorally for responsible whatonehasdone.Butthefactthatbotharewidespread of similar doesatleastsuggest a conception moral that to responsibility ourownis a natural of thehuman part moral-conceptual repertoire. In factthenotionof moral connects moretightlywith responsibility the notionof guilt thanwith the notionof shame. In manycultures of of shamecanattach onebecause whatsomemember one'sfamily to
- 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 feelingthatone is somehow responsible thebehaviour one'sfamilyor government. case for of The of guiltis less clear. Thereis no doubtthatpeoplecan feel guilty(or can believethatthey feel guilty)aboutthingsfor whichthey arenot let responsible, alonemorally responsible. it is muchless obvious But thatthey can do this withoutany sense or belief thatthey are in fact responsible.

III

Suchcomplications typical moral are of and psychology, theyshowthat it is important tryto be preciseaboutwhatsortof responsibility to is under discussion. Whatsortof 'true'moral responsibility beingsaid is to be bothimpossible widelybelievedin? and An old storyis veryhelpfulin clarifying question.Thisis the this storyof heaven hell. As I understand truemoral and it, responsibility is responsibility sucha kindthat,if we haveit, thenit makessense,at of least,to suppose it couldbejustto punish that someof us with(eternal) torment hell andreward in otherswith (eternal) bliss in heaven. The stresson the words'makessense' is important, one certainly for does not have to believe in any versionof the storyof heavenandhell in

10

GALEN STRAWSON

the orderto understand notionof truemoralresponsibility it is that Nor beingusedto illustrate. doesone haveto believein anyversion of in order believein the existence true to the storyof heavenandhell of havebelievedin On moralresponsibility. the contrary: manyatheists The and theexistenceof truemoral responsibility. storyof heaven hell in because illustrates, a peculiarly it vividway,thekind is usefulsimply or that of absolute ultimate or accountability responsibility manyhave to do themselves themselves have,andthatmany stillsuppose supposed to have.It veryclearlyexpresses scopeandforce. its faithin order describe to Butonedoes nothaveto referto religious in the sortsof everyday situation areperhaps that influential primarily givingriseto ourbeliefin trueresponsibility. Suppose set off for a you to shopon theeveningof a national holiday, intending buya cakewith is yourlasttenpoundnote. Onthe stepsof the shopsomeone shaking clearto you thatit is an Oxfamtin. Youstop,andit seemscompletely entirely to youwhatyoudo next.Thatis, it seemsto youthatyouare up free truly, radically to choose,in sucha waythatyouwill be ultimately for morally responsible whatever do choose. Evenif you believe you is thatdeterminism true,andthatyouwill in fiveminutes be ableto time this lookbackandsaythatwhatyoudidwasdetermined, doesnotseem to undermine senseof theabsoluteness inescapability your and of your for and freedom, of yourmoralresponsibility yourchoice. The same of seemsto be trueeven if you acceptthe validity theBasicArgument statedin sectionI, which concludesthatone cannotbe in any way for ultimately responsible the way one is anddecides. In bothcases, it remains thatas one standsthere,one'sfreedom truemoral true and seemobviousandabsolute one. to responsibility or Largeandsmall,morally significant morally neutral, suchsituain tionsof choiceoccurregularly human I think life. theylie attheheart of the experience freedom moralresponsibility. and of Theyare the fundamental sourceof ourinability give upbeliefin trueor ultimate to moral There further are to responsibility. questions be askedabout why of human these situations choiceas they do. It is beingsexperience aninteresting whether cognitively question any sophisticated, rational, self-conscious situations choicein thisway.6 of agentmustexperience

THEIMPOSSIBILITY MORAL OF RESPONSIBILITY

1I1

But they are the experiential rock on whichthe belief in truemoral responsibility founded. is
Iv

I will restatethe Basic Argument. First, though,I will give some of examples peoplewhohaveaccepted somesortof trueorultimate that for responsibility the way one is is a necessary condition trueor of ultimate moral for responsibility thewayoneacts,andwho,certain that theyaretrulymorally for responsible the way theyact,havebelieved thecondition be fulfilled.7 to E.H. Carr held that "normaladult humanbeings are morally responsible theirown personality". for Jean-Paul Sartre talkedof "the choicethateachmanmakesof his personality", heldthat"man and is responsible whathe is". Ina later for interview judged hisearlier he that assertions aboutfreedom wereincautious; he stillheldthat"inthe but endoneis alwaysresponsible whatis madeof one"in someabsolute for sense. Kantdescribed positionveryclearlywhenhe claimedthat the mustmakeorhavemadehimselfintowhatever, a moral "man himself in sense,whether goodor evil, he is to become.Either condition mustbe aneffectof his freechoice;forotherwise couldnotbe heldresponhe sibleforit andcouldtherefore morally be neither goodnorevil."Since he was committed belief in radical to moralresponsibility, held Kant thatsuchself-creation does indeedtakeplace, andwroteaccordingly of "man's whichhe himselfcreates". of "knowledge character, and of
oneself as a person who
...

is his own originator". John Patten, the

current BritishMinister Education, Catholic for a apparently preoccupied by the idea of sin, has claimed that "itis ... self-evidentthatas we

growupeachindividual chooseswhether be goodor bad."It seems to clearenoughthathe,sees suchchoiceas sufficient give us truemoral to of responsibility theheaven-and-hell variety.8 The rest of us are not usuallyso reflective, it seems that we but do tend,in somevagueandunexamined fashion,to thinkof ourselves
as responsiblefor - answerablefor - how we are. The point is quite a

12

GALEN STRAWSON

delicate forwe donotordinarily one, suppose we havegonethrough that somesortof activeprocess self-determinationsomeparticular of at past time. Nevertheless seemsaccurate say thatwe do unreflectivcly it to in rather we mightexperience as experience ourselves, manyrespects, if ourselves we didbelievethatwe hadengagedin somesuchactivity of self-determination.
Sometimes a part of one's character- a desire or tendency - may

a one strike asforeign alien.Butit candothisonlyagainst background or as of character traitsthatare not experienced foreign,but are rather that with(it is a necessary truth it is only relative such to 'identified' that trait a background a character can standout as alien). Somefeel as tormented impulsesthatthey experience alien, but in manya by with of generalidentification theircharacter and sense predominates, withinitselfanimplicit seemsto carry sensethatone thisidentification for somehowin controlof and answerable how one is is, generally, that for (even,perhaps, aspectsof one'scharacter one does not like). in that an Here,then,I suggest we find,semi-dormant common thought, of for implicitrecognition the ideathattruemoralresponsibility what for one does somehowinvolvesresponsibility how one is. Ordinary is to thought ready movethiswayunder pressure. in There however, another to is, powerful tendency ordinary thought even if one'scharacter thinkthatone can be trulymorally responsible - simplybecause is fully is ultimately one whollynon-self-determined awareof oneself as an agentfacingchoices. I will self-consciously return thispointlateron. to
v

Letmenowrestate BasicArgument veryloose- asit wereconverthe in allowfornewformsof objection, sational terms.New forms words of buttheymaybe helpfulnonetheless. (1) You do what you do, in any situation which you find in because thewayyou are. of yourself,

THEIMPOSSIBILITY MORAL OF RESPONSIBILITY

13

So

(2)

for To be trulymorally responsible whatyou do you must for be trulyresponsible the way you are- at leastin certain mental crucial respects.

Or: (1) in What intentionally giventhecircumstances which you do, flowsnecessarily fromhow you (believeyou) findyourself, you are.

Hence (2) you haveto get to havesomeresponsibility howyou are for in order gettohavesomeresponsibility whatyouintenfor to in tionallydo, giventhe circumstances whichyou (believe you)findyourself.

Comment. Onceagainthequalification about'certain mental respects' is oneI will takeforgranted. Obviously is notresponsible one's one for and one'sheight, so on. Butif onewerenot sex,one'sbasicbodypattern, for about for responsible anything oneself,howonecouldberesponsible whatone did,giventhetruth (1)? Thisis thefundamental of question, andit seemsclearthatif one is goingto be responsible anyaspect for be of oneself,it hadbetter someaspectof one'smental nature. I takeit that(1) is incontrovertible, thatit is (2) thatmustbe and the resisted.Forif (1) and(2)) areconceded case seemslost,because thefull argument as follows. runs (1)
So

Youdo whatyoudo because thewayyou are. of

(2)

Tobe trulymorally responsible whatyoudo you mustbe for for trulyresponsible theway are- at leastin certain crucial mental respects.

14

GALEN STRAWSON

But (3) Youcannot trulyresponsible thewayyou are,so you be for be for cannot trulyresponsible whatyoudo.

for Whycan'tyoube trulyresponsible thewayyouare?Because (4) for To be trulyresponsible the way you are,you musthave it intentionally brought aboutthatyou arethe way you are, andthisis impossible.

it that Whyis it impossible? Well,suppose is not. Suppose it Youhave somehowintentionally brought aboutthatyou this are the way you now are, and thatyou have brought aboutin sucha way thatyou can now be said to be truly for responsible beingthewayyou arenow. Forthisto be true (5) (6) N Youmustalready havehada certain nature in thelightof it whichyou intentionally that brought about youareas you noware.

Butthen (7) Forit to be trueyou andyou alonearetrulyresponsible for how you now are,you mustbe trulyresponsible having for had the natureN in the light of which you intentionally it that brought about youarethewayyounoware.

So

(8)

Youmusthave intentionally it brought aboutthatyou had thatnature in whichcase you musthaveexistedalready N, with a priornature the light of whichyou intentionally in it N brought aboutthatyou hadthe nature in the light of whichyouintentionally it brought about youaretheway that
you now are ...

THEIMPOSSIBLITY MORAL OF RESPONSIBLITY

15

Hereone is settingoff on the regress. Nothingcan be causa sui in the required way. Evenif suchcausal'aseity'is allowedto belong unintelligibly God, it cannotbe plausibly supposed be posto be to sessedby ordinary finitehuman causasui is thebestselfbeings."The contradiction hasbeenconceived far", Nietzsche that so as remarked in 1886:
it is a sort of rape and perversionof 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 superlativemetaphysicalsense, which still holds sway, unfortunately, the minds of the half-educated;the desire to bear the entire in and ultimate responsibilityfor one's actions oneself, and to absolve God, the world, ancestors,chance, and society involves nothingless than to be precisely this causa sui and, with more than BaronMiinchhausen'saudacity,to pull oneself up into existence by the hair,out of the swamps of nothingness... (BeyondGood and Evil, ? 21).

The rephrased argument essentially is exactlythe sameas before, although firsttwo stepsarenow moresimplystated.It mayseem the to pointless repeat butthequestions it, remain. theBasicArgument Can simplybe dismissed? is reallyof no importance thediscussion It in of freewill andmoral responsibility? andNo) Shouldn't serious (No any defenseof free will andmoralresponsibility thoroughly acknowledge therespect whichtheBasicArgument validbeforegoingon to try in is to give its own positiveaccountof the nature free will andmoral of responsibility? Doesn'tthe argument to the heartof thingsif the go heart thefreewill debate a concern of is about whether canbe truly we in morallyresponsible the absolute way thatwe ordinarily suppose? (YesandYes) Wearewhat are,andwecannot thought havemade we be to ourselves in sucha way thatwe can be heldto be free in ouractionsin sucha way thatwe can be held to be morally for responsible our actionsin sucha waythatanypunishment reward ouractions ultimately or for is just or fair. Punishments rewards seemdeeplyappropriate and may or intrinsically 'fitting'to us in spite of this argument, manyof the and various institutions punishment reward human of and in societyappear to be practically indispensable boththeirlegalandnon-legal in forms. Butif onetakesthenotion justicethatis central ourintellectual of to and cultural tradition thenthe evidentconsequence the Basic seriously, of

16

GALEN STRAWSON

is Argument thatthereis a fundamental sensein whichno punishment orreward everultimately Itis exactlyasjustto punish reward is just. or as or actions it is to punish reward themforthe(natural) peoplefortheir colourof theirhair or the (natural) shapeof theirfaces. The point a seemsobvious,andyet it contradicts fundamental of ournatural part and thatmove self-conception, thereare elementsin humanthought or verydeeplyagainstit. Whenit comesto questions responsibility, we tendto feel thatwe aresomehowresponsible the way we are. for we Evenmoreimportantly, perhaps, tendto feel thatourexplicitselfof as consciousawareness ourselves agentswho areableto deliberate aboutwhatto do, in situations choice, sufficesto constitute as of us free the morallyresponsible agentsin the strongest sense, whatever conclusion theBasicArgument. of

VI

I havesuggested it is step(2) of the restated that BasicArgument that mustbe rejected, of courseit canbe rejected, and becausethe phrases and can 'trulyresponsible' 'trulymorallyresponsible' be definedin threesortsof response theBasic to manyways. I will brieflyconsider and on in Argument, I will concentrate theirmoresimpleexpressions, thebeliefthattruth philosophy, in in of like especially areas philosophy thepresent is almost neververycomplicated. one, believethatonecanbe a (I)Thefirstis compatibilist. Compatibilists freeandmorally is responsible agentevenif determinism true.Roughly, theyclaim,withmanyvariations detail,that maycorrectly said of one be to be trulyresponsible whatone does, whenone acts,just so long for as one is notcausedto actby anyof a certain of constraints set (kleptomaniac obsessional desiresthatareexperienced impulses, neuroses, as alien,post-hypnotic commands, instances threats, offorcemajeure, and so on). Clearly, sortof compatibilist this responsibility notrequire does thatone shouldbe trulyresponsible how one is in any way at all, for andso step(2) of theBasicArgument comesoutas false. Onecanhave even compatibilist responsibility if thewayone is is totallydetermined outsideone'scontrol. by factors entirely

THEIMPOSSIBILITY MORAL OF RESPONSIBILITY

17

It is for this reason, however, that compatibilist responsibility to fails to amount anysortof truemoralresponsibility, famously given the natural, strongunderstanding the notionof truemoralresponsiof to and aboveby reference thestoryof heaven hell). bility(characterized because the wayone is, andone is of Onedoes whatone doesentirely in no way ultimately for responsible the way one is. So how can one for one have be justlypunished anything does? Compatibilists given in refined accounts thecircumstances whichpunishment of increasingly or maybe saidto be appropriate intrinsically fitting.But theycan do this nothing against basicobjection. otherwise. have Many compatibilists never supposed Theyarehappy that of to admit point.Theyobserve thenotions truemoral the responsiin cannot and thatareemployed theobjection have bility justice possibly is to application anything real,andsuggestthattheobjection therefore In notworthconsidering. response, of proponents theBasicArgument of agreethatthenotions truemoral and responsibility justiceinquestion cannothaveapplication anything to real;buttheymakeno apologies for considering them. They considerthembecausethey are central to ordinary aboutmoralresponsibility justice. So far as and thought if is mostpeopleareconcerned, arethe subject, the subject moral they and responsibility justice. is believethat (II)Thesecondresponse libertarian. Incompatibilists and are with freedom moralresponsibility incompatible determinism, and some of themare libertarians, believethatthatwe are free who andmorally and is responsible agents, thatdeterminism therefore false. Inaningenious statement theincompatibilist-libertarian Robert of case, Kaneargues agents anundetermined canhavefreewill,for in that world the theycan"have powerto makechoicesforwhichtheyhaveultimate responsibility". Thatis, they can "havethe powerto makechoices whichcanonlyandfinally explained terms theirownwills (i.e. be in of and character, motives, efforts will)".9 of Roughly, Kane thispower sees as grounded thepossibleoccurrence, agents, effortsof will that in in of have two mainfeatures:first,they arepartlyindeterministic their in nature, henceindeterminate theiroutcome; and in second,theyoccurin casesin whichagentsaretrying makea difficult to choicebetween the optionsthattheircharacters disposethemto consider.(Theparadigm

18

GALEN STRAWSON

caseswillbe casesin whichtheyfacea conflict between moral dutyand non-moral desire.) But the old objection libertarianism to recurs.How can this indeterminism help with moral responsibility? Granted the truthof that how determinism out truemoralresponsibility, can the falsityof rules determinism of random indeor help? How canthe occurrence partly in terministic eventscontribute any way to one's beingtrulymorally If responsible eitherforone'sactions forone'scharacter? myefforts or in of will shapemy character an admirable way,andin so doingare in whilealsobeingshaped Kane indeterministic nature, partly (as grants) by my already existingcharacter, amI notmerelylucky? why The generalobjection determinism true is appliesequallywhether as orfalse,andcanbe restated follows.Wearebornwitha greatmany determined for genetically predispositions whichwearenotresponsible. for to influences whichwearenotresponsible. Wearesubject many early our the Thesedecisively bent shapeourcharacters, motives, general and of to of strength ourcapacity makeefforts will. Wemaylaterengagein conscious intentional and shaping procedures call themS-procedures - designed affectandchangeourcharacters, to motivational structure, we is andwills. Suppose do. Thequestion thenwhy we engagein the that particular S-procedures we do engagein, andwhy we engagein answer thatwe is themin the particular thatwe do. The general way that engagein the particular S-procedures we do engagein, giventhe in circumstances whichwe findourselves, becauseof certain features of the way we already are. (Indeterministic factorsmay also play a but partin whathappens, these will not help to makeus responsible for whatwe do.) Andthesefeatures the way we already - call of are themcharacter or features, C-features areeitherwhollythe products of geneticor environmental influences, deterministic random, or for whichwe arenotresponsible, areat leastpartly resultof earlier or the whicharein turneitherwhollytheproduct C-features S-procedures, of forwhichwe arenotresponsible, areatleastpartly product still or the of earlier whichareturn either products C-features the of for S-procedures, whichwe arenotresponsible, theproduct suchC-features or of together with still earlierS-procedures andso on. In the end, we reachthe firstS-procedure, this will havebeenengagedin, andengagedin and

RESPONSIBLITY THEIMPOSSIBILITY MORAL OF

19

in, theparticular in whichit was engaged as a resultof geneticor way deterministic random, whichwe werenot or for environmental factors, responsible. factorsin Movingaway fromthe possiblerole of indeterministic theirpossiblerole character personality or formation, canconsider we of and in particular instances deliberation decision.Heretoo it seems whathappens, factorscannot,in influencing clearthatindeterministic in to contribute truemoral responsibility anyway.Intheend,whatever influences whichwe for we do, we do it eitheras a resultof random influences which for or arenot responsible, as a resultof non-random for we are not responsible, as a resultof influences whichwe are or The but responsible. pointseems proximally responsible notultimately at can causa sui in anyrespect all. Even obvious.Nothing be ultimately if Godcanbe, we can'tbe. in Kane says little aboutmoralresponsibility his paper,but his is positionseemsto be thattruemoralresponsibility possibleif indeterminism true. It is possiblebecausein casesof "moral, is prudential
andpracticalstrugglewe . .. are truly 'makingourselves' in such a way

thatwe are ultimately for of responsible the outcome".This 'making meansthat"wecanbe ultimately for ourselves' responsible ourpresent motivesandcharacter virtueof pastchoiceswhichhelpedto form by themandfor whichwe wereultimately (op. responsible" cit., p. 252). It is for this reasonthatwe canbe ultimately and responsible morally in ourresponsible onlyin casesof struggle whichwe are'making not whichdo notinvolvestruggle, selves',butalsoforchoicesandactions fromourcharacter motives. and flowingunopposed In claimingthatwe can be ultimately responsible our present for motivesand character, Kaneappears accept step (2) of the Basic to to Argument.He appears acceptthatwe have to 'makeourselves', andso be ultimately in for responsible ourselves, orderto be morally withthis suggestion the is responsible whatwe do.10Theproblem for old one. In Kane'sview, a person's'ultimate for responsibility' the outcomeof an effortof will depends on essentially the partlyindeterministicnature the outcome.Thisis becauseit is only the element of of indeterminism prevents that and priorcharacter motivesfromfully the of explaining outcome the effortof will (op. cit, p. 236). Buthow

20

GALEN STRAWSON

canthisindeterminism withmoral help responsibility? canthefact How thatmy effortof will is indeterministic sucha waythatits outcome in is indetenninate makeme trulyresponsible it, orevenhelpto make for metruly for responsible it? Howcanit helpin anywayatall withmoral
responsibility? How can it make punishment- or reward- ultimately

just? There a further, is familiar with problem theviewthatmoral responIf sibilitydependson indeterminism. one acceptsthe view, one will haveto grantthatit is impossible knowwhether human to any being is evermorally For responsible. moralresponsibility depends now on the falsityof determinism, determinism unfalsifiable. and is Thereis no morereason thinkthatdeterminism falsethanthatit is true,in to is of the impression spite sometimes and givenby scientists popularizers of science. The (III) third option that be beginsbyaccepting onecannot heldtobe for ultimately responsible one'scharacter personality motivational or or structure. acceptsthatthisis so whether It determinism trueorfalse. is It thendirectly It challenges (2) of theBasicArgument. appeals step to a certain of to picture the self in order arguethatone canbe trulyfree andmorally in responsible spiteof thefactthatonecannot heldto be be for ultimately or responsible one'scharacter personality motivational or structure.Th}is has in picture some support the 'phenomenology' of - we sometimes human choice our experience choicesanddecisions as if thepicture wereanaccurate Butit is easyto showthatit cannot one. be accurate sucha way thatwe canbe saidto be trulyor ultimately in for morally responsible ourchoicesoractions. Itcanbe setoutas follows.Oneis freeandtruly morally responsible because one'sself is, in a crucial sense,independent one'scharacter of orpersonality motivational or structureone'sCPM, short.Suppose for oneis in a situation whichoneexperiences a difficult as choicebetween A, doingone'sduty,andB, followingone'snon-moral desires.Given one'sCPM,one responds a certain in way. One'sdesiresandbeliefs and reasonsfor bothA andB. One's developand interact constitute CPMmakes tendtowards orB. So fartheproblem thesameas one A is ever:whatever does,onewilldo whatonedoesbecause theway one of one'sCPMis, andsinceoneneither norcanbe ultimately is responsible

RESPONSIBLITY OF THEIMPOSSIBILITY MORAL

21

for be responsible what forthewayone'sCPMis, onecannot ultimately onedoes. of to Enter one'sself, S. S is imagined be in someway independent of the one'sCPM.S (i.e. one) considers deliverances one'sCPMand
a decides in the light of them,butit - S - incorporates powerof decision

of thatis independent one's CPMin sucha way thatone can afterall in and morally responsible one'sdecisions countas trulyandultimately for responsible one'sCPM. actions,eventhoughone is not ultimately of of is Step(2) of theBasicArgument falsebecause theexistence S." The troublewith the pictureis obvious. S (i.e. one) decideson of S the basisof the deliverances one's CPM.But whatever decides, or it decidesas it does becauseof the way it is (orelse becausepartly in of process indeterminof whollybecause theoccurrence thedecision
istic factors for which it - i.e. one - cannotbe responsible,and which

to to cannot be plausibly thought contribute one'struemoralresponsiTo us bility).Andthisreturns to wherewe started. be a sourceof true for orultimate S responsibility, mustbe responsible beingthewayit is. for Butthisis impossible, thereasons givenin theBasicArgument. of layerto thedescription the Thestoryof S andCPMaddsanother the but beings human decision change factthathuman process, it cannot in be self-determining sucha wayas to be ultimately cannot ultimately for morally responsible howtheyare,andthusforhowtheydecideand but act. Thestoryis crudely presented, it shouldsufficeto makeclear thatno moveof thissortcansolvetheproblem. as The is 'Character destiny',as Novalisis oftenreported saying.12 are of remark inaccurate, is because external circumstances part destiny, but the point is well takenwhen it comes to the questionof moral responsibility.Nothingcan be causa sui, and in orderto be truly one for morally responsible one'sactions wouldhaveto be causa sui, at crucial mental institute oneselfin respects.Onecannot leastin certain sucha waythatone cantakeovertrueor assumemoralresponsibility for how one is in such a way thatone can indeedbe trulymorally by responsible whatone does. Thisfactis notchanged thefactthat for of ourselves truly we maybe unable to think not as morally responsible Nor in ordinary circumstances. is it changed the fact thatit may by be a very good thingthatwe have this inability so thatwe might

22

GALEN STRAWSON

of it, wishto takestepsto preserve if it lookedto be in danger fading. to As already manyhuman beingsareunable resistthe idea remarked, in deliberation, for thatit is theircapacity fully explicitself-conscious themas trulymorally of a situation choice,thatsufficesto constitute sense. TheBasicArgument possible agentsin thestrongest responsible aware are,as we However self-consciously showsthatthisis a mistake. of and everyactandoperation ourmindhappens we deliberate reason, in as it does as a resultof featuresfor which we are ultimately no of awareness that way responsible.But the conviction self-conscious of can one's situation be a sufficientfoundation strongfree will is and argument, it survives verypowerful.It runsdeeperthanrational thevalidity the of of conduct life, evenafter in untouched, theeveryday has BasicArgument beenadmitted.
VII

of incantatory argument this Thereis nothingnew in the somewhat It restatescertainpointsthatmay be in need of restatement. paper. La said Gide,echoing Bruyere, has "Everything beensaidbefore", Andre "butsince nobodylistenswe have to keepgoingbackandbeginning but all over again." This is an exaggeration, it may not be a gross the about human condition so observations exaggeration, faras general areconcerned. Thepresent claim,in anycase,is simplythis:timewouldbe saved, wouldbe introduced the into anda great dealof readily available clarity of if pointthatis discussion thenature moral of responsibility,thesimple were acknowledged established theBasicArgument moregenerally by that andclearly stated.Nietzsche acknowledgethought thoroughgoing mentof the pointwas long overdue,and his belief thattheremight in further may be moral advantages suchan acknowledgement deserve 1 3 consideration.
NOTES
l
2

Adaptedfrom G. Strawson,1986, pp. 28-30. Thatis, the infinite series must have a beginningand an end, which is impossible.

RESPONSIBILITY THEIMPOSSIBILITY MORAL OF

23

3 Two have rejectedit in fifteen years. Both had religious commitments,and argued,

on general andradicalsceptical grounds,thatwe can know almost nothing,and cannot thereforeknow thattruemoralresponsibilityis not possible in some way thatwe do not understand. 4 It is notablethatboth RobertKane (1989) and Alfred Mele (forthcoming),in two of the best recent incompatibilistdiscussions of free will and autonomy,have relatively little to say aboutmoralresponsibility. 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 accordinglyconcludedthatthey are indeed responsiblefor being the way they are. 8 Carrin WhatIs History?,p. 89; Sartre Being and Nothingness,Existentialism in and Humanism,p. 29, and in the New Left Review 1969 (quotedin 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 manyquestionswhich I will not consider. It is often hard,for example, to be sure what Sartreis saying. But the occurrenceof the quotedphrasesis of significanton any plausibleinterpretation his views. As for Kant,it may be thought to be odd thathe says whathe does, in so faras he groundsthepossibilityof ourfreedom in our possession of an unknowable,non-temporalnoumenal nature. It is, however, must take plausibleto supposethathe thinksthatradicalor ultimateself-determination if manner, there place even in the noumenalrealm,in some unintelligiblynon-temporal is to be true moralresponsibility. 9 Kane (1989) p. 254. I have omitted some italics. 10 He cites VanInwagen (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 are Begriffes sind"- "I often feel, andever moredeeply realize, thatfate andcharacter the same concept". He was echoing Heracleitus,Fragment119 DK. 13 Cf. R. Schacht(1983) pp. 304-9. The idea thatthere mightbe moraladvantages in the clear headed admissionthattrue or ultimatemoralresponsibilityis impossible has recentlybeen developed in anotherway by Saul Smilansky(1994).

24

GALEN STRAWSON

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JesusCollege,Oxford Oxford 3DW OXI England