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July 03, 2008


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Doug -- In answer to your last post before I left: my problem with what you're saying is that phrases like "relevant to" and "in virtue of" have a natural interpretation that's a bit looser than the one you seem to be relying on.

You write: I want to claim that in whatever sense of 'appropriately responding' that's relevant to determining whether an agent is morally responsible for her actions, it doesn't make sense to hold the agent morally responsible in virtue of her having the capacity to appropriately respond to the relevant reasons and then blame her for acting as she is led to act in exercising that very capacity in a completely flawless manner.

But surely both general reasons-responsiveness and sensitivity to moral reasons are "relevant" to responsibility, though only the latter is sufficient for it. And we hold people morally responsible (partly but not solely) "in virtue of" their having the general capacity. I take the case we're considering to be one where the *general* capacity is exercised "in a completely flawless manner" but the specifically moral capacity is not. Do you deny that that's possible? Or do you deny that moral blame depends on exercise of the specifically moral capacity? If the two capacities are distinguished in the way I suggest, with the moral understood as presupposing the general rational capacity, then blame makes perfect sense.

I think I disagree with both (13) and (14) in the steps you distinguish. But I don't think distinguishing steps adds clarity, when these and other equivocal turns of phrase occur throughout.

Hi Pat,

As you suspect, I would deny that there can be cases "where the *general* capacity is exercised 'in a completely flawless manner' but the specifically moral capacity is not." I think that exercising the general capacity of appropriately responding to the relevant reasons in a completely flawless manner requires being appropriately responsive (i.e., appropriately sensitive) to the relevant moral reasons.

Doug -- OK, but I think that what you're saying here is essentially just that you accept moral rationalism. Of course I'd raise the same issues about your interpretation of "flawless" -- just to question the argument you gave for moral rationalism at the outset, assuming it's supposed to rest on assumptions that don't presuppose it. I acknowledge that you can maintain the position consistently.

It seems to me that one thing that is missing from this very interesting thread is any discussion of what blame is. This would provide a basis for considering what the relation is between blaming someone for an action and blaming them for an attitude, and how much difference there is between the two. It would also provide a basis for discussing the relation between blame and an agent's reasons. On my own view, for example, in which blame is a response to what one judges to be an action that indicates attitudes which impair one's relation with the agent, one might argue that a relationship worth having could not require an agent to do something other than what he or she has most reason to do, and hence could not be impaired by an agent's acting on his or her conclusive reasons. I am not certain that that is correct (even on my view) and I am not trying here to push my own view. I mention it as an example of how a view about blame would undergird particular answers to the questions Doug raises. Perhaps a view of blame which understood it simply as moral evaluation, or as a kind of sanction, would support different answers, or would support them in different ways. The point is just that it would be good to ground the discussion in some account of blame.

Thanks, Tim (if I may). That's very helpful.

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