Welcome everyone to PEA Soup‘s second JESP discussion. The target article this time is Matt King‘s (University of Alabama, Birmingham) recent “Manipulation Arguments and the Moral Standing to Blame“, which is a very interesting exploration of when we (and God) are in a position to blame other people and what implications such considerations have for more general debates about moral responsibility. To kick things off, below is Patrick Todd‘s (Edinburgh) helpful critical introduction. It is very illuminating especially because the target article itself is in part a critical discussion of Patrick’s 2012 Phil Imprint article “Manipulation and Moral Standing: an Argument for Incompatibilism“.
First, thanks very much to Jussi for the invitation to contribute to this discussion, and to Matt King for his very interesting paper. Below I pick up on just one theme his paper addresses, though of course I would be interested to pursue other issues in the comments.
Perhaps you are familiar with the debates in the moral responsibility literature regarding so-called ‘manipulation arguments’ for incompatibilism. The basic thought behind such arguments is this: if moral responsibility is compatible with determinism, then it must also be compatible with the thesis that everything a given agent does is determined by powerful controllers or designers working “behind the scenes”. But, according to the incompatiblist, intuitively, it would be unfair to blame any agent “set up” in the given way, even if that agent meets the compatiblist’s favoured conditions for responsibility. But the compatibilist has to maintain (falsely) that this could indeed be fair. So compatibilism is false.
Perhaps the dominant compatibilist reply to this sort of argument has been “hard line”: such agents may indeed be responsible (and fairly blamed). Speaking for myself, I’ve always found the “hard line” reply too hard to accept. In a recent paper (in Philosophers’ Imprint), however, I tried to make the hard-line yet harder. Instead of focusing on whether we could appropriately blame those who had been deterministically “set up” to do wrong, I wished to consider whether the manipulators or controllers may appropriately blame those they determined to do wrong. For fairly obvious reasons, I focused on a case that, historically, many have thought to be actual: the case of a theological determinism on which God determines everything that ever happens, including our bad actions, and moreover stands ready to hold us responsible for performing those very actions. My argument was that
(1) God cannot blame those God determines to do wrong, even if they meet compatiblist conditions for responsibility, but that
(2) Incompatibilism is the best explanation of why this is so. So,
(3) Incompatibilism is true.
From my perspective, if God wants to know why he can’t blame those he determined to do wrong, then I’ve got an easy answer: if you determined everything they did, you obviously didn’t give them free will! This reply, however, isn’t open to the compatibilist: on their view, God did give these creatures free will (the control required to be responsible). So, if God can’t blame them, it can’t be because they aren’t really blameworthy: they are. It will have to be because, though they are blameworthy, God (in particular) lacks the moral standing to blame them. I argued, however, that, given the right story, the compatibilist cannot explain why God would lack the moral standing to blame those God determines.
In his recent JESP paper, however, Matt King demurs: the compatibilist can and should deny (2). God cannot blame those he determines to do wrong, not because they would thereby have to lack free will, but because he would be problematically “involved in” their wrongdoing. In my paper, however, I had argued that “involvement” only removes standing to blame when (a) one’s involvement is itself wrong or (b) one’s involvement compromises the relevant agent’s freedom. Since (b) is stipulated not to obtain, that leaves (a), and I argued that God’s “involvement” needn’t be wrong, given that God determines the relevant wrongdoing as part of a comprehensive plan to actualize an overall very good universe. Further (and, on reflection, it is really this that seems crucial), God’s “involvement”, I said, does not indicate that God fails to endorse the moral values that would condemn the wrongdoer’s actions. God may approve of someone’s bad action being part of the script, but not approve of that action, considered in itself. So, yes, God is “involved in” the person’s wrongdoing: but, given that the person is perfectly free (on compatibilism), why should this imply that God lacks standing?
So much for the setup. King contends, inter alia, that, in fact, “involvement” may undermine standing, even if neither condition (a) or (b) is met. Here he considers the case of Charlie and Linus. Charlie knows that Linus has a weakness for sweets and is trying to avoid them, but nevertheless takes Linus to dinner next to an extremely tempting ice cream shop. Predictably, Linus gives in to the temptation and gets some ice cream (which we assume is criticizable in the context). Maybe we can blame Linus – but, so the thought goes, Charlie cannot. If Charlie blamed Linus, we can imagine Linus saying (p. 6): “Not only do you throw a huge temptation at me, you have the gall to blame me for succumbing to it!”
Now, the issues here are subtle – extremely subtle, in my opinion. (The devil is usually in details of these cases.) However, my contention is that if we are thinking that Charlie lacks the standing to blame Linus, this is in fact because we’re thinking that Charlie’s behaviour here is itself somehow criticizable – or somehow reveals something about Charlie’s (criticizable) quality of will. So, in fact, if Charlie can’t blame Linus, condition (a) will be met. On the other hand, if we suppose that, well, Charlie had his reasons for selecting this dinner location, and those reasons were justified, then, well, why can’t he appropriately blame Linus? I can imagine extensions of this story on which such criticism (mild, of course, given the nature of the case) can seem perfectly appropriate. In the end, King contends that “involvement” may undermine standing without (a) or (b) being met, even if (p. 8) he can’t provide a general principle that explains how and when it does. I am less sure.
King presents some further (extremely interesting) cases and ideas, but perhaps King’s central criticism of my argument is this. We need an explanation of what is particularly inappropriate about God’s blaming those he determines. My explanation, however, is perfectly general: since these creatures aren’t responsible, no one can blame them, since they aren’t blameworthy! My explanation thus leaves something out, viz., what is particularly problematic about God’s blame.
I think this is a fair worry; I’m still thinking about it. My (tentative) response is this. Whereas, on theological determinism, no one is fairly blamed by anyone, since no one is free, what is particularly problematic about God’s blame is that, in some sense, God is the source of the given agents’ unfreedom. Consider a case of standard responsibility-undermining coercion, in which A coerces B into doing X (which would ordinarily be wrong). Well, no one can blame B for doing X, since B was coerced, and therefore not responsible. But it seems especially problematic for A to blame B, since A was the source of B’s unfreedom with respect to Xing. Perhaps a similar thought applies to God on theological determinism: no one can blame the wrongdoer, because the wrongdoer isn’t responsible, but especially not God, because God made him non-responsible. God’s blame is thus especially problematic, but the explanation here is still essentially incompatibilist. My other response is to simply accept that God’s blame is equally inappropriate, and to explain the relevant intuition here epistemically – that is, just in terms of God’s being in better position to know that the given agents aren’t responsible. In any case, I think this issue deserves further discussion.
Thanks once more to Matt for his excellent paper!