Featured Philosopher: T.M. Scanlon

Hello all,

It's very exciting for all of us at the Soup, and a true honor for me, to introduce T.M. Scanlon as this week's featured philosopher.  Tim certainly needs no introduction to the PEA Soup crowd, as his work in moral philosophy has been truly agenda-setting.  Therefore, I think I'll simply get out of the way, and let his post—which begins below the fold—speak for itself.  Without further ado, then, please welcome T.M. Scanlon!

dd

As a frequent and admiring reader
of PEA Soup over the years I am very pleased to be asked to be a Visiting
Philosopher in this new series. I will be happy to try to respond to questions
about any of the things I have written. Lately I have been thinking
particularly about equality, trying to revise and extend my views about the
diversity of objections to inequality and to consider how they apply to recent
political controversies about increasing inequality. I have also been thinking about
blame and responsibility.

I believe that one cannot argue
sensibly about moral responsibility,
understood as a precondition for moral blame, unless one begins from a clear
account of what blame involves. It makes a difference, for example, whether
blame is simply a negative moral evaluation or a form of punishment. The latter
view makes incompatibilism more plausible, the former favors compatibilism. It
seems to me that the correct account of blame must be in between these
extremes, and I have advanced my own particular account of blame in my book, Moral Dimensions. But whether or not
people are persuaded of that account, I hope that they will take seriously the
general thesis that an answer to the question of moral responsibility depends
on some account of what blame is.

In this general area, I have revised
somewhat my views about desert. In earlier work, including my Tanner Lectures
on the significance of choice and Chapter 6 of What We Owe to Each Other, I rejected the idea of moral desert
because I identified it with the idea that the fact that someone has behaved
badly can make it a good thing that he or she should suffer some loss. I still
find the latter view morally unacceptable. But it now seems to me that this
rejection of desert is too quick. Desert should not be identified with this
retributivist idea. There is, I believe, a distinct category of valid
desert-based justifications. A desert-based justification for treating a person
in a certain way claims that this form of treatment is made appropriate simply
by facts about what that person is like, or what he or she has done. By simply, I mean without need to appeal to
other factors such as the good consequences of treating the person in this way
or to the fact that this treatment is called for by some institution or
practice that is independently justified. Moral blame, gratitude, and some
honors and distinctions can be justified in this way, and these justifications
do not presuppose that the qualities that form the basis for justification are
all under the person’s control. The responses are justified simply by what the
person is like, or has done. By contrast, legal punishment, insofar as it
involves forms of hard treatment such as fines or imprisonment, cannot be
justified purely on the basis of desert, nor can significant differences in
economic reward be justified in this way. I argue for these views in “Giving Desert Its
Due,”
which has just appeared in Philosophical Explorations.

These are some of the things
I have been thinking about recently, but as I said I would be happy to respond
to questions about other things as well. I look forward to the discussion.

 

31 Replies to “Featured Philosopher: T.M. Scanlon

  1. Tim: It’s great to have you on the Soup! Thanks for doing this.
    I am working on a variety of projects in which I discuss your work, but I will try to contain my questions to a minimum. Here’s one that pertains to the way you’ve put your project on moral responsibility above: why think blame alone is what’s fundamental (or most fundamental?) to moral responsibility (MR), that an answer to the question about the latter depends on some account of the former? I do think that MR (and responsibility generally) does indeed depend on an account of certain of our responses, but I think these responses range much more widely than just blaming responses, even if we widen our understanding of what counts as a blaming response, as you do. And I’m not just talking about positive analogues to blame, like gratitude. I’m talking about a wider range of responses altogether, such as those we have to people’s characters, e.g., admiration or disdain. Now what’s interesting is that these too are responses to facts about what people are like. But they may not be responses to anything they have done to impair a relationship, say (which is the key target of your blaming responses). What they do instead just reflects facts about traits of their character that we evaluate as disdainable (poor qualities of character). Do you not think these are responsibility responses, or do you want instead to subsume them under the rubric of blame?
    I also have a question about the range of the judgment-sensitive, but I’ll just set that aside for now.

  2. Hi Dave,
    Thanks very much for your helpful and clarifying comment. I agree that the conditions of responsibility that are required for blame—what I called, in What We Owe to Each Other, responsibility as attributability—are the same across this wider range of responses, including admiration as well as gratitude. All of these responses can, I think, be justified on a pure dessert basis—that is to say, simply by what the person is like. I focused on the case of blame only because I think it is a case in which, because it involves a response that people rightly dislike, there is a strong tendency to think that it is appropriate only if the person could have avoided having the attitudes that make it appropriate. Since I am defending a compatibilist view, I wanted to focus on the cases that make incompatibilism seem most attractive. But you are quite right that the conditions of responsibility are more general.

  3. Tim,
    I think an interesting case to think about in conjunction with the condemning aspect of punishment is punishing persons for imprudent conduct, i.e paternalistic laws. Even if one thinks it is desirable to have laws requiring drivers to wear seat-belts, the person who refuses to comply does not seem to evince a malice torwards others, or a failure to respect others, that deserves condemnation. At most she does not do her part in supporting a policy that is efficient in promoting the welfare of others; others who resent the law in the first place. In line with your general argument there does not seem to be a desert basis for punishment in these kinds of cases. At most, pethaps, a justification for civil fines.

  4. Hi Jerry,
    It seems to me that if, following Feinberg on “the exressive function of punishment,” we take some kind of condemnation as being essential to anything called punishment (as opposed to a mere tax, say, intended to discourage certain conduct but not to condemn it) then there are two ways to go in regard to cases of the kind you mention. One is to bite the bullet, as you seem perhaps to be suggesting at the end of your comment, and say that what paternalistic laws prescribe for violators is not punishment, properly so called. Alternatively, we might think of such laws on the model of moralistic laws against conduct seen as sinful even though not harmful to others. I’m certainly not in favor of such laws, of course, but they would clearly have a “condemnatory” aspect, all too much of one, you might say. My point is just that one could say that paternalistic laws express condemnation for people’s irresponsibiliy toward themselves. I do think that there is such a thing as blame of oneself, which can be appropriate in such cases. The question is whether it is appropriate for the state to take on expressing blame of this kind, even if it is appropriate. There is, of course, a parallel question in the case of non-paternalistic crimes, of why the state should be in the business of expressing condemnation, as opposed to merely attempting to deter them. I think this question can be answered in that case. But for this reason I would incline toward to former (more bullet-biting) interpretation of paternalistic laws.

  5. Thanks for your response, Tim. So given what you say — that you were motivated to explore the responses that many think appropriate only if the person “could have avoided” the response — I think it could be helpful to hear more about what I think you (still?) take to be the fundamental “responsibility” feature of the targeted attitudes, namely, that they are “up to us.” For you, as I understand it, this comes down to their being judgment-sensitive attitudes, attitudes that would, for instance, disappear in the ideally rational were they to judge the reasons in favor of them to have no worth. (Is that a fair gloss?) So all and only judgment-sensitive attitudes are “up to us,” and to the extent they are, they are attitudes for which we are responsible (and so appropriately subject to blaming and other responses).
    If this is right, then I wonder if there are certain sorts of character traits — traits to which we respond with the wider range of responses, like admiration or disdain — that it will be difficult to capture under this rubric. These are traits expressed only in patterns of attitudes, and not in any particular attitude itself. So suppose I am an unreliable person. Sometimes I come through and show up to help, and sometimes I don’t, and you can’t count on any individual time being one or the other. Or perhaps I am a ditherer, someone who ponders the options of every decision, big or small, going back or forth before settling on anything. These seem to be cases in which I am not appropriately disdained for any individual attitude in any individual case (perhaps in the “unreliable” case, I have a legitimate excuse for every individual flake-out; it’s just insofar as I’m the type of person who tends to have lots of such excuses for not showing up that I’m unreliable). It’s only the fact that my individual attitudes reveal this pattern that it’s true of me that I’m the type of person who deserves the various predicates and responses.
    So here’s the issue: while each individual attitude in each individual case is “up to me” in the sense that it is judgment-sensitive, the pattern as such is not, i.e., the pattern itself isn’t governed (or governable, it seems) by an attitude with respect to being a ditherer or an unreliable person. It still seems that these traits, these patterns, are attributable to me (and certain predicates and responses are thereby rendered appropriate), but not in virtue of their being “up to me,” at least in the judgment-sensitive sense you have in mind.
    (This point is similar to one I have raised to Angie Smith, and about which we have had some exchanges, on whether the state of irrationality could be attributable to someone on her rational relations view, where each of the conflicting judgments that gives rise to the irrationality is individually unobjectionable.)
    Sorry if this gets too “inside baseball” on the details of your view for others to latch onto, but I really am curious to hear your thoughts on it. After that, I’ll (possibly) shut up.

  6. I tried to post this in the afternoon — sorry if this is a duplicate!
    Hi Tim (if I may),
    I have a question about an apparent shift in your thinking about moral motivation, or what a theory of moral motivation should aim to do, from “Contractualism and Utilitarianism” to What We Owe. In CU you pointed out that a theory of moral motivation should account for the authority of moral considerations and the importance of apt responsiveness to them, and you noted several sub-tasks that one would need to tackle to do this. One that you mentioned was the need to respond to accounts of moral motivation which make it look bad for the agent (and, presumably, revisionary theories that propose non-moral forms of ethical motivation and claim they would enable us to better flourish or live well). You mentioned Freud and Nietzsche, I think, as exemplifying the kind of people on needs to rebuff here. When reading chapter 4 of WWO, however, I have always been struck by the fact that this part of the theory has dropped from view and wonder what motivated you to leave this task aside — or do you still consider it something that needs to be done for your theory to be satisfying.

  7. Hi Tim (if I may)
    It’s terrific that you are participating in PEA Soup in this way.
    I am generally very sympathetic to your views on punishment. I have some doubts even about the more limited account of desert that you propose in the excellent recent paper that you mention above.
    I focus on the idea that when a person wrongs me she deserves a decreased tendency on my part to feel sad or regretful when things go badly for her. I agree that it is not wrong for me to have such a decreased tendency. I wonder why you think this deserved rather than that the person is liable to this change of attitude. Drawing on Jeff McMahan’s distinction between desert and liability, to claim that it is deserved is to claim that there is a positive reason for such a diminution in the tendency to feel regret. To claim that the person is liable to this change does not imply this, but implies only that the person lacks a right or a complaint against this change.
    If a person wrongs me, I am not sure that I have a positive reason, independently of any instrumental concerns, to regret it less if the person suffers. I now lack the relationship with the person that requires me to regret, to the ‘normal’ degree, her suffering. It may also, in some cases, be demeaning that I fail regret it less – if the explanation why I do not have this attitude is a lack of self-worth. But my failure to regret her suffering less may not be due to such a lack.
    Failing this, if I continue to feel the same level of regret at things going badly for the person, I am not sure that I fail to have the attitude towards her that she deserves. If I do regret her suffering just as much, I am not sure that it would be warranted for a friend of mine to claim that I ought (in some way) to regret it less given what she has done to me. This would imply that I am deficient in some way (even if admirable in others), but I don’t think that need be true. I think that it is more plausible for the friend to claim that I would be entitled not to have these attitudes towards the person who has wronged me, and that she is lucky that I still have them. I wondered why you thought that we should prefer the desert-based account of the change in attitude to this liability-based account.

  8. Hi Tim
    I hope you are well and thanks for taking part in Pea Soup. I just have a one quick question about the last paragraph of what you wrote above and your earlier work (I know we have touched on this before).
    I take it that contractualism would naturally lead to some form of constructivism about desert (in a Rawlsian fashion). When we consider different acts and attitudes of blame, gratitude, honors, and distinctions, we would look at different alternative principles that would govern these acts and attitudes. We would consider what kind of standpoints different codes of desert would create and what kind of objections individuals could make to them. On this view then, the justification for treating a person in a certain reactive way would come from the fact that these ways of treating others are authorized by the principles no one could reasonably reject (this would be the source of right- and wrong-makers, reasons, and oughts).
    Now the paragraph above suggests much more direct realism about the norms that govern reactive attitudes and actions. What makes it the case on this view that someone ought to be treated in a certain way after they have acted in a certain way is the nature of the actions and agents themselves.
    To me, the latter view about reactive attitudes and actions seems somewhat inconsistent with the contractualist framework. It does seem odd that ordinary actions and attitudes are justified by the non-rejectable principles whereas reactive actions and attitudes are directly justified by the features of the situation. What grounds this difference? The more consistent positions to me would seem to be (i) contractualism about ordinary actions + contractualist constructivism about the norms that govern reactive attitudes and actions and (ii) Rossian intuitionist pluralism about right and wrong and direct realism about reactive attitudes and actions.

  9. Dave—
    You raise a number of good points in our second post. Here are some thoughts in response. First, when I said that I wanted to focus on responses that many think are appropriate only if people “could have avoided them” I meant that I wanted to consider these cases in order to explain why this is not the case—they can be appropriate even when the person to whom they are directed could not have avoided being subject to them. Second, my judgment sensitive attitudes are “up to me” in the sense that it is appropriate to ask me, “Why do you think that?” They need not, however, be “up to me” in a stronger “could have done otherwise” sense, for two reasons. First in cases of irrationality the may not be responsive to my judgment. Second, it may be that I could not judge differently than I did.
    Your second question is, I take it, whether a person can be blamed for character traits of the kind you mention, such as dithering or being unreliable. Individual instances of unreliability or culpable dithering are blameworthy insofar as they involve a failure to take relevant reasons sufficiently seriously. (They do not involve such a failure if the person has a legitimate excuse.) General tendencies to dither or not to be reliable are general tendencies not to give sufficient weight to certain reasons (such as that people are counting on you to do a certain job, or that a decision is called for.) I would count these as general attitudes toward reasons. So I don’t see why they cannot be basis for blame and other reactions. If the person’s excuses are really always legitimate, then perhaps he is not actually unreliable—he does not fail to give reasons their appropriate weight, but just has more conflicting reasons because, perhaps, he is overcommitted. In that case he is not blameworthy.
    Blame and gratitude are responses to a person’s attitudes toward others, which consist in seeing or not seeing certain things as reasons, or as sufficient, or conclusive reasons. As long as a person has these attitudes, these responses can be appropriate. As I explained at the end of my first paragraph, it is not required that having them or not having them be under that person’s control.

  10. Brad–
    If I understand you correctly, I meant to be responding to this worry (that a concern with justifiability to others is a kind of sickness, or weakness) in what I said about the importance and priority of moral requirements in Chapter 4 of my book. No doubt I should have addressed it more directly. I also try, in the chapter on blame in Moral Dimensions, to explain why it would not be better to avoid blaming responses altogether, which I take to be along the same line.

  11. Victor—
    You are quite right that in regard to various possible responses to being treated wrongly one should distinguish between the question of whether a response is permissible and the question of what reason one has to respond in this way. In some cases this reason is fairly clear. We may have prudential reasons to withdraw our trust, and reasons of self-respect not to associate with a person in other ways. I agree with you that these reasons are less clear in the case of failure to feel regret when something bad happens to the person who has wronged you. Although, when asked why you are not as sad at something bad happening to this person as you would be in other cases, it would make sense to say, “I agree that it is too bad, but given what he did to me I just don’t feel all that sorry.”
    On reflection, it seems to me that one point your are raising, which I should have been clearer about, it the kind of reason that a judgment of desert involves. I said that blaming responses, including the suspension of regret, can be justified “simply by what the person is like, or has done.” This could be understood in a stronger or a weaker way. The stronger desert claim would be that there is a reason for this response that one would be making a mistake, or open to some criticism, for not responding to. The weaker claim would be just that what the person is like provides a sufficient reason for this response. What I have just said in response to your comment suggests that in the case of suspension of regret the desert claim I am endorsing may be only of the weaker sort, involving a sufficient but not conclusive reason. This would still be a desert claim in the sense I had in mind, but I think you are right that desert may usually be understood in the stronger sense.

  12. Tim (if I may),
    Thanks for the great post. I am wondering more about your conception of hard treatment and its relation to blame. You suggest that hard treatment cannot be justified purely by desert-based justifications, whereas blame can. I am curious what the essential difference between these two kinds of responses is, such that blame can but hard treatment cannot receive pure desert-based justifications.
    I am also wondering what you think of the following worry: blame does not seem to be an appropriate response simply to what someone has done or the way they are. Rather it is only an appropriate response when the person is at *fault* for what they have done or the way they are.

  13. Hi Jussi—
    Thanks for your comment. I am delighted to have the chance to continue our discussion. I tried to respond to some of the points you raised in your excellent review of Moral Dimensions in my paper in the volume on blame edited by Coates and Tognazzini. But I did not get to the general question you raise here about the relation between my contractualist theory and my views about blame and reactive attitudes.
    I am a constructivist (more specifically, a contractualist) about moral permissibility, but a realist about reasons. A contractualist account of moral right and wrong presupposes some account of reasons, and I do not think that constructivism about reasons in general is a live option. (I explain why in the fourth of my John Locke Lectures, forthcoming from OUP in January.) As I said in my response to Victor, there are two questions about blaming responses and other reactive attitudes: whether these departures from normal attitudes are morally permissible, and what reason a person has to make these revisions. The first of these is a first-order moral question, and contractualism seems to me the best account of such matters. But the second question is different, and I think it is here that you see a “Rossian” strain in my thinking. That is not an unfair characterization, although I try to give a context to the judgments of “appropriateness” that I appeal to by situating them within relationships of various kinds. But I do not see this as at all inconsistent with my contractualist moral view.
    In your review, you asked the more general question of how my arguments and conclusions in Moral Dimensions were supposed to be related to contractualism, and expressed surprise that I did not invoke contractualism more explicitly. I did not do so because I wanted to offer arguments that would appeal to people whether or not they accepted contractualism (although I took what I said about permissibility to be consistent with that view.) The contractualist character of my thinking did play a more overt role at some points, however. One of these is my argument in Chapter 2 about the relevance of intention to permissibility, where I considered first “the claims of agents,” and then “the claims of others” (that is to say, the reasons that someone in these positions might have to insist on principles that made intention relevant.) Contractualism also played a role in Chapter 3, in the form of my favored characterization of what is involved in “treating a person as an end.”

  14. Thanks very much for the thoughtful response Tim.
    I agree that the response: “I agree that it is too bad, but given what he did to me I just don’t feel all that sorry” is apt. We might, though, contrast two ways of understanding that response. One way suggests that not feeling sorry is in some respect preferable to feeling sorry. Another is that although not feeling sorry is in all respects worse than feeling sorry, not feeling sorry is neither blameworthy nor wrong.
    The response that you outline might be offered by me in the second way – as an explanation why my lack of regret is beyond reproach. The most plausible way to understand the response, I think, is that the standard obligation to regret the suffering of others has been disabled in this case by the wrong that the person has done to me. Hence she has no objection to my feeling this way.
    It is another thing , though, to claim that my lack of regret is in some respect better than the regret that I might have continued to feel. In saying that there is a sufficient but not conclusive reason to lack regret, it seems as though you have in mind the idea that lack of regret is in some respect to be preferred over regret, and that is something that I doubt (although I am open to it being explained). I am tempted by the idea that: 1) it is in all respects better to regret the suffering of the wrongdoer than not to regret it, but yet 2) that failing to regret it is not wrong. This view, I think, suggests that the wrongdoer does not deserve the lack of regret even on your weaker understanding of desert.

  15. Hi Tim
    thanks. This is very, very helpful. I like the two questions:
    1. Whether these departures from normal attitudes are morally permissible? and
    2. What reason a person has to make these revisions?
    And, so, you seem to want to use the contractualist story to answer 1, and give direct and situational first-order considerations as the reasons that answer 2.
    Just one quick comment on this. I thought that one central part of the contractualist view was to give an account of the almost always overriding reasons we have for acting in morally permissible ways. One of the main reasons was supposed to be the higher-order consideration that if we act in these ways we can form valuable relationships of mutual recognition with other people. It’s a little odd that in the case of blame this central reason has dropped out of the picture. Here the first-order considerations are claimed to suffice whereas for some reason when it comes to the other actions they don’t.
    Also, I worry that if we can give an account of the reasons to do these acts in terms of the first-order considerations and the relevant reasons are ‘right-making considerations’, then these reasons are enough to explain which reactions of blame are permissible and which aren’t. As a result the contractualist response to 1 seems to drop out as redundant. I guess what I am pushing for is that answers to 1 and 2 perhaps might not be able to come apart in the way you suggest.

  16. Victor–
    This is helpful. I realize that I have not thought as much as I should about this question of reasons for regret. The position I am attracted to, which I think is consistent with what I have said in the past, is that failure to regret bad things happening to someone that would normally be blameworthy, is not blameworthy when that person has treated one very badly. (There is a reason for it that renders it non-blameworthy but does not make it, as you put it “in some respecdt to be preferred.”) But this is compatible with it also being the case that it would be better (more admirable) to regret what happened to the person despite what he has done. If one takes this attitude, someone else might say, “But he does not deserve your sympathy!” That would not be an objection, I think, even though it might be true.

  17. Jussi–
    I don’t see that the “higher order consideration” you mention has dropped out of the picture. It plays a role, for example, in explaining what the limits are on permissible responses to wrongdoing and why we care about observing these limits. (For example, in explaining the wrongness of responding to wrongs with violent retaliation, and explaining why we restrain our desire to do this.)
    On our second point, I think that the reasons we have to do some things that are permissible but not do others are independent of contractualism (and of moral right and wrong generally.) The fact that someone in a certain position would have reason to want to do a certain thing can be part of the explanation of why it would be reasonable to reject a principle that would forbid such actions. I don’t think that makes that reason a “right making consideration.” Such considerations would be things that are specified in the content of a principle as justifying a certain kind of action. Some consideration could, of course play both of these roles. But I don’t see that that makes the first role idle.

  18. Victor–
    A further thought: the fact that it may not be blameworthy to fail to regret something bad happening to a person but better all things considered to regret it after all may mark a difference between such failure to regret and at least some other forms of blame, which it is not better, all things considered to omit (because, for example, to do so would be demeaning.) I am not certain that this is so, but thought I would mention it.

  19. Tim –
    On your last point, the question is whether it would be inherently demeaning not to blame the person who has wronged you in the ways that you outline (by withholding friendship and trust, for example), or whether this is only contingently demeaning depending on whether a failure to blame in these ways is explained by a lack of self-worth. I suspect the latter, but rather than explore it further, let me step aside at this point to give others more space.
    Thanks again for the dialogue.

  20. OK, I just can’t help myself.
    I realize, Tim, that you are arguing against those who require some kind of avoidability/control over their various attitudes and actions. I’m completely on board with this move. Many people think that something can’t count as a responsibility response to someone unless it targets some action or attitude the agent could have avoided doing or having. Their thought (one with which I don’t agree) is this: whatever you’re responding to in an agent, if it’s not an avoidable thing, then your response isn’t a *responsibility* response. As I said, I’m with you on this, at least on the point that our responses count as responsibility responses for a far wider range of actions and attitudes. So then the question becomes: “Well, then, what makes such a wider set of responses *responsibility* responses?” and your answer is that they target actions and attitudes (really just attitudes) that are “up to” the agent. And you’ve explained this as being a fairly weak notion, where the attitudes in question are those for which the agent could sensibly be asked for justification. (Incidentally, I think Angie calls this “rational control,” albeit without including the ability to do or think otherwise).
    The range of attitudes that are up to me in this sense and those that are judgment-sensitive are co-extensive, on your view. I’ve been thinking about an even wider sense of “up to me,” however, and that’s what my question was trying to get at. The examples I raised were character traits that were essentially patterned, ones that we might have negative responses to (e.g., disdain) without there being the expectation or demand for a more general (judgment-sensitive) attitude on the part of the targeted agent with respect to the pattern. That is to say, while it may make sense to ask the justificatory question, “Why did you do that?” or “Why did you think that?” in any particular case, it makes less sense (at least as a demand for justificatory reasons) to ask, “Why are you like that?” (I realize that we do ask this question, but it’s really just as a way of expressing our disdain to the person.) So what I’m thinking is that there might be a way to widen the notion of “what a person is like” beyond just the realm of judgment-sensitive attitudes.
    But if you are not convinced by cases like this, what of cases of failures purely of empathy or emotional sensitivity? To the extent that I am not upset when something has upset my wife, I am subject to her blaming responses (let’s say, uh, hypothetically, yeah, let’s say that). Responding emotionally in sync with her is a response that I have a hard time thinking of as judgment-sensitive. Of course, I may be very attentive to her in such times of crisis, and I may express genuine sympathy and the like, but nevertheless the fact that I failed to be in emotional turmoil is what’s targeted with anger or other responses. Indeed, I might be expected to respond emotionally in this way regardless of my judgments of the worth of the various reasons. This a fine-grained case, and more details are necessary to fully flesh it out, but the bottom line is this: it seems that I could govern myself perfectly by judgment, and thus have many attitudes line up in the right way in response, but that there remain some zones of my attitudes in interpersonal relationships that just aren’t so governed (think also of the sports fan is who is, to his shock, left emotionally cold by his team’s big victory). The question “Why aren’t you upset?” isn’t a question for which we really expect (justificatory) reasons. Instead, the explanation is that I’m just the type of person who’s been constructed such that I’m emotionally less responsive than others would be in such cases. Any blaming response, though, would be to what I am like, and what I am like may be “up to me” in some sense (my emotional sensibilities may be subject to training of a certain, non-judgmental sort), but they aren’t up to me in virtue of being judgment-sensitive.
    I will stop here. It’s not as carefully articulated, fully developed, or defended as I’d like, but it’s already too long, so there you have it.

  21. I think that general characteristics of the kind you gave examples of are features of a person’s mental life that have the kind of significance that I mentioned, and to are ones that make reactions of the kind I am considering appropriate.

  22. Only a bit of my reply made it. So I am trying again.
    Dave—
    I am very glad that you weighed in again with this. It raises a large issue that I have been thinking about, and even considered raising in my initial post. It seems to me that my thinking on this question of responsibility has evolved somewhat since I wrote pp. 20-24 of What We Owe to Each Other, where I discussed “judgment-sensitive attitudes.” As In introduced that notion, it had two roles. One was as part of an account of rationality, as an answer to the question, “what is the range of things that we can have normative reasons for?” (see pp. 20-21.) But the discussion then moved into the question of responsibility, and here is where I think my views have changed.
    The question you ask is “what makes certain responses *responsibility* responses?” That is not exactly the way I would put the question, but let me circle around to it by starting with the question, what is the range of attitudes to which blame and gratitude are appropriate responses I include both blame and gratitude to indicate that the characterization of the range of relevant attitudes I am looking for is a general one that includes both those that merit a “positive” response and those that merit a “negative” one. (I leave aside for the moment the question you raised in your first post about whether other attitudes such as admiration should also be included.) It seems to me that the right way to answer this question is in terms of the content of the attitudes in question, including both their content considered individually and what they tell us about other attitudes that the person probably has.
    So blame and gratitude are, as Strawson says, attitudes that are reactions to a person’s attitudes toward others. If a person tries to hurt me, this directly expresses an attitude toward me (that injuries to me are not generally to avoided and sometimes even to be sought.) But sometimes the significance is more indirect, as when the fact that a person does not remember our appointment indicates indifference. And sometimes the significance of the direct content of one attitude can be modified by information that undermines what it might have seemed at first to tell us about the agent’s attitudes more generally. Coercion cases do this by revealing the wider range of reasons the agent was responding to. I am tempted to put brain stimulation cases in this same category—if a person is hostile to me because her brain was stimulated in a certain way then this tells me nothing about her attitudes toward me more generally, or about her in particular, since anyone would act the same way under these conditions. So the relevant class of attitudes is just those that reveal something about the person’s attitudes as a whole that has the right kind of interpersonal significance.
    By the person’s “attitudes as a whole” I mean to include everything that is part of his or her mental life. This class is then cut back to those that have the relevant significant content, not to those that, as in early Frankfurt “really belong to the person.” I mean to be taking the view that everything that occurs in the person’s mental life belongs to him or her. The question is how much it tells us and why we should care about this. (I said essentially this in my paper in the festschrift for Frankfurt.) The relevant sense of *belonging* is just a matter of evidential links with other attitudes.
    I think that general characteristics of the kind you gave examples of are features of a person’s mental life that have the kind of significance that I mentioned, and to are ones that make reactions of the kind I am considering appropriate.
    Admiration is a slightly different case, or class of cases, because the things that can be admired and the reasons for admiring them (the kinds of significance they can have) are so much broader.
    This is much less clear than I would like, but I hope it goes some way toward answering your question.

  23. Hello Tim,
    I was hoping to ask you about something mostly unrelated from the questions above (if you don’t mind!).
    In Lecture 4 of your forthcoming Locke Lectures, you discuss at length how the method of reflective equilibrium can deflect epistemic worries for the (non-constructivist) reasons fundamentalist. In particular, you believe that the nature of considered judgments is such that any objection that considered judgments cannot provide epistemic access to the truths in question rests on “a misunderstanding of what it is to be a considered judgment.”
    If I understand you correctly, you think that a judgment won’t count as considered in your sense unless it is made in “good conditions for arriving at judgments of the kind in question” (in this case, judgments about what reasons we have).
    Given this conception of a considered judgment, I can see how epistemic access objections (of the kind that, e.g. McGrath and Kelly (2010) press) rest on this misunderstanding. But I am wondering: What would you say to the skeptic that then presses the concern one step back by asking what reason we have to believe that human beings are capable of having “considered judgments” in your sense?
    I’d also be interested in hearing more about how you understand the connection between the metaphysical picture you give in lecture 2 and the epistemology of lecture 4, but I understand if that is too complicated a question to answer in a blog comment!

  24. Preston–
    In response to your last question: if normative truths, in order to have the significance we attribute to them, needed to have some kind of metaphysical reality that goes beyond their ordinary first-order content, then there might be a question of how we could be in touch with this reality. I argue in Lecture 2 that the former is not the case. So the latter problem does not arise.
    This is relevant to your first question as well. In order to understand that question I would need to know what kind of worry you have in mind about whether should really what seem to me to be considered judgments are properly seen as such. One kind of worry would be whether when I am thinking about reasons I really am “in touch with” the relevant subject matter. My answer to your first question is a response to this. Beyond that, it seems to me that I should abandon something that I have taken to be a considered judgment just in case I have some ground for thinking it normatively mistaken. That is, the question of whether it should be held as a considered judgment is a normative question. So deciding whether we are capable of having considered judgments is just a matter of deciding whether any of the things we think about reasons are pretty clearly correct.

  25. Dave—
    Thinking about the matter more over night, I can’t resist adding a few thoughts to me previous post, about whether my views on the subject in question have changed since What We Owe to Each Other, and about what I would say about your examples of dithering and irresponsibility. There is strong continuity with what I said earlier on this point: the aspects of a person that make responses such as blame and gratitude appropriate are facts about what the person tends to see (or not to see) as reasons, and how he or she responds to these reasons. The reason for this is that these are the features that have the right kind of significance for our relations with him or her. Seeing certain things as reasons, or not, are judgment-sensitive attitudes. So again, there is strong continuity.
    It might seem that failure to remember important things about a friend is not a judgment-sensitive attitude, but it is something that a person can be blamed for. But I think that this is not clear. My failure to remember my friend’s birthday, or when he will be in town may reflect the fact that I just don’t care that much, in which case it is the basis for blame, but is also a fact about what I see as reasons. On the other hand, my failure to remember these things may simply be due to my failing short term memory, and hence indicate nothing about how much I care about my friend, in which case (for the latter reason) it is not the basis for blame, because it does not indicate anything about me that has the right content.
    Similarly, a tendency to dither, or to be irresponsible, may indicate, or consist in, a failure to take certain reasons seriously. In which case blame is an appropriate response, on my view. (Here I guess I am just reiterating what I said in my initial response. But that is in order to make clearer that I was not changing my mind about this in my second response.)

  26. Thanks so much for your responses, Tim. They are helping me a great deal. There is certainly much to think about here, and I of course have a host of follow-up questions and thoughts, but I will leave those for another day. For now, though, let me just register my interest in what you say about how your views might have changed. As I understand it, your take on responsibility is no longer(?) restricted to focusing on the content of various attitudes, *but also* to the attitudes of the person “as a whole” (which may be revealed by other information external to the person’s attitudes, like whether there’s a gun to her head). The way you put this many would take to be in synchronic terms: everything that’s part of the agent’s mental life here and now is part of the assessment of significance. But I wonder if you have in mind a broader, diachronic understanding of the “agent as a whole” too. I can see some reasons to do so, but it would wreak havoc in other ways (e.g., for assessments of irrationality in terms of conflicting judgments between me-now and me-ten-years-ago).
    I don’t expect you to respond to this; your week is nearly up! Instead, I really just want to thank you for your time and interest in discussion of these issues with us!

  27. Hi Tim,
    I’d like to chime on a topic related to the very illuminating exchange between you and David. I like the new view you are putting forward: Blame and gratitude are appropriate as responses to conduct that *indicates* something problematic about one’s attitudes that carries interpersonal significance. If one’s conduct fails to indicate anything (such as my forgetting a birthday due *exclusively* to failures of short-term memory), then blame responses would not be appropriate. Indication is, you suggest, an *epistemic relation*. You talk about “evidential” links between attitudes, and what information they “reveal”. I have a worry, however, that epistemic/evidential links can’t do the work that this view needs it to do. Here is an example that brings out my worry.
    Consider Frankfurt’s Unwilling Addict who rails against but is ultimately defeated by an irresistible desire for the narcotic. To make the example go better, let’s us assume there is really is something morally problematic with using narcotics (or substitute something genuinely morally wrong for “using narcotics”). In assessing blame in this case, one might reason this way: What one does due to an irresistible desire can’t provide evidence about there being something problematic about one’s underlying attitudes. Since the addict’s using the narcotic fails to indicate anything about his relevant underlying attitudes, blame responses are not appropriate.
    So far, so good. But now consider Frankfurt’s Willing Addict who has the exact same irresistible desire, but he loves his addiction and is thoroughly identified with it. I, along with Frankfurt and others, think a blame response would be appropriate for such an individual when he uses the narcotic (you appear to agree in WWOE, ch.6). But we just said acting on an irresistible desire can’t indicate anything about one’s underlying attitudes. Since the indication relation fails, we can’t make sense of the appropriateness of the blame response in this case.
    The problem, as I see it, is that the indication relation is only an imperfect guide to something else, and it is this something else that really matters for justifying the blame response. Here is my quick take on what this something else is: With regard to blame, the key issue with the Unwilling Addict is not that his actions fail to indicate anything about his relevant attitudes, but rather the other way around—his relevant attitudes fail to be *expressed* in his actions (where expression is construed as a species of semantic, i.e., content-based connection). He stands against using the narcotic, and what he does contradicts the content of where he stands. In contrast, the content of the Willing Addict’s relevant attitudes *are* expressed in his actions. It is the obtaining of this semantic expression relation, rather than the epistemic indication relation, that determines whether blame responses are appropriate.
    My question to you, Tim, is what do you make of these addict cases, and my broader argument. Are you committed to indication as the key relation? Or are you open to seeing indication as an indirect, and perhaps inexact, way of talking about certain semantic/content-based connections between attitudes? (Sorry for the length of this, and let me echo David’s apology—sorry to Pea Souper’s if all this is too “inside baseball”.)

  28. Chandra–
    Thanks for raising this question. I had meant to say something about how my view related to Frankfurt’s early view in my earlier reply to Dave, but the post got too long.
    In my view the appropriateness of blame depends on the agent’s overall attitudes regarding reasons of the relevant kind. If we accept that an addict is going to take the drug no matter what his or her normative views may be, then the fact that he of she injects, in itself, tells us nothing about whether blame is appropriate. (I am accepting your assumption about the wrongfulness of drug use.) If we learn that the person’s second order volition was not to take the drug, this suggests he has a view of reasons that is admirable rather than blameworthy. Given the assumption about the power of addiction, the fact that he actually injected the drug does not count against this interpretation. If, on the other hand, we learn that the agent’s higher order volition was in favor of injecting drugs for pleasure, then he is prima facie blameworthy. The fact that his actual injection was under the influence of addiction means that this action does not add support to this conclusion, but neither does it undermine it. Shorter answer: the conclusion of non-blameworthiness in the case of the unwilling addict is based on his second order volition. The conclusion of blameworthiness in the other case has this same basis. In that case, the overdetermination of his action may raise a question about what his action “expresses.” I am inclined to agree with you in accepting that it expresses his favorable attitude toward drug-taking despite this overdetermination. But my point is that in order to settle the case we do not need to reach this question.
    I hope this is at least clear, if perhaps not satisfactory.

  29. I will close out this discussion with a footnote to my response to Chandra. One natural objection to my reply to him is that it reflects the fact that my account of blame focuses too much on a person’s attitudes as the basis for blame, and does not account for the special significance of actions as the things people are blamed for. If anyone is interested, I reply to this objection on pp. 157-157 on my book Moral Dimensions.
    Many thanks to Dale and Dave for the invitation to participate in PEA Soup this week, and to all for your interesting questions.

Comments are closed.