This post is a question for those who know more about the debates about moral responsibility. The question is: why is the wrong kind of reasons problem discussed so extensively in the buck-passing/value theory literature but relatively little in the moral responsibility literature? The only discussions I have been able to find are in a couple of Stephen Darwall’s papers where he discusses what we can learn from Strawson. Maybe the issue has been discussed more extensively in which case I would be very thankful for advice…
Fitting attitude accounts of a property have roughly the following structure: ‘An object has a property F iff it is appropriate to have a reaction R (usually a kind of an attitude) towards F’. So, according to fitting attitude account of value, a state of affairs, for example, is good iff it is appropriate to value the state of affairs or to desire for it to obtain or something of the kind.
Pretty much all discussions of moral responsibility begin from the idea that an agent is responsible for an action iff a certain reaction to the agent doing the action is appropriate. Different theorists then disagree about what the relevant reaction is – whether it is the reaction of holding responsible, the reaction of making certain kind of moral evaluations by using moral terms, the reaction of having reactive attitudes (blame, resentment, guilt, praise and the like), the reaction of asking for reasons and explanations, and so on. So, pretty much all accounts of responsibility thus begin from assuming something like the fitting attitudes structure.
The standard problem for the fitting attitude accounts generally is the wrong kind of reasons problem. In the value case, this is often illustrated with the evil demon cases. The saucer of mud is not any more valuable even if it is appropriate for us to value it because the evil demon would punish us otherwise. So, the corresponding worry is that the fitting reaction accounts of moral responsibility too get the extension of morally responsible beings wrong because it is sometimes appropriate to have the relevant reaction towards the agent because of an evil demon’s threat even if the agent isn’t intuitively responsible.
According to Darwall, this is one of the issues Peter Strawson raised in his ‘Freedom and Resentment’. The claim was that, even if there were sometimes utilitarian reasons for having the reactions that are relevant for moral responsibility, the sense in which these reasons make the relevant reactions appropriate is not relevant for moral responsibility. In these situations, the appropriateness of the relevant reactions merely on the grounds of social desirability does not make anyone responsible. So, it seems to be that the people working on moral responsibility have been aware of the wrong kind of reasons problem since Strawson.
What I am less clear about is whether the wrong kind of reasons problem has been seen as a genuine, difficult problem. It seems like, in the responsibility literature, people have assumed that the problem can be easily solved. So, sometimes I’ve seen people add that it’s not only that relevant reactions must be appropriate but also the person must deserve them on the basis of her qualities or that the reasons that make the relevant reaction appropriate must be non-instrumental rather than instrumental reasons. These moves are, of course, familiar from the value context in which they are controversial (I’m thinking of the debates about the object-given reasons in the former case and Philip Stratton-Lake’s solution in the latter).
I can also think of a couple of other moves made in the responsibility literature. Darwall himself suggests that different kinds of attitudes (including the ones related to responsibility) come with their own, distinct norms that are relevant for having those attitudes and so the right kind of reasons are built into these norms whereas the other kind of reasons are external to the norms (this reminds me of Mark Schroeder’s solution to the wrong kind of reasons problem). He also suggests that the right kind of reasons are the kind of reasons that are relevant for deliberation on the basis of which one can come to have the attitudes in question (this reminds me of the wrong kind of reasons scepticism solution). Finally, I also get a feeling that, according to some, when we do enough to describe substantially what makes someone an apt target of the reactive attitudes, the wrong kind of reasons problem falls away. If we know enough of the right kind of reasons and what they are, perhaps we don’t need to worry about the wrong kind of reasons (interestingly, I’m not sure this line of response has been used in the value debates).
Thus, it seems to me that the people working on moral responsibility are aware of the vulnerability to the wrong kind of reasons problem and some solutions have been relied on in passing. However, it seems to me that there is a striking contrast to the value debates. In the latter debate, we get a lot of work discussing the problem explicitly and also in a more general form: people trying to solve the problem in different ways and others trying to explain why the solutions do not work. This seems to suggest that in this context people have thought that this is a pressing and important problem whereas I don’t get the same impression when it comes to the moral responsibility debates. In the latter debates, I haven’t, for example, seen anyone suggest that we should completely abandon fitting attitude/reaction accounts of responsibility because the wrong kind of reasons problem cannot be solved.
So, I would be very interesting to hear from people who work in that area. Is my sense of there being not that much debates about the wrong kind of reasons problem in the moral responsibility literature right? Is there more literature on this and I’ve just missed it? Why is there such a drastic difference? Are the value theorists overreacting to the problem or the moral responsibility theorists underreacting? Why?3