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The impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson

Tuesday, May 26, 2015 at 8: Clarendon Press, 2008 and uploaded onto academia. Here is one version of his informal statement of his case: And 4 any further changes that one can bring about only after one has brought about certain initial changes will in turn be determined, via the initial changes, by heredity and previous the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson. The claim, then, is not that people cannot change the way they are.

They can, in certain respects which tend to be exaggerated by North Americans and underestimated, perhaps, by Europeans.

The Impossibility of Ultimate Moral Responsibility

The claim is only that people cannot be supposed to change themselves in such a way as to be or become truly or ultimately morally responsible for the way they are, and hence for their actions. The possibilities may include feelings of responsibility even if we have no objective responsibility as well as distinctly non-moral versions of responsibility e. But, in essence, he wants to offer an argument which denies peculiarly moral responsibility and, thus, the validity of supposing we ever really make moral choices in the way we think we do.

On this view morality is illusion. Blame or praise for the behaviors of others, or for their guidance or our owncan never be more than a chimera, something we fool ourselves about. Of course, if people come to this conclusion, after considering arguments like Strawson's, they will have no reason to act or refrain from acting for specifically moral reasons.

This rejection of moral possibility is not unique with Strawson. Others have hazarded this approach including thinkers like J. Mackie and, in more recent times, Richard Garner. If so then moral notions may still deserve a place in our discourse although those of us who see through them, to discern the fictions they are, will then have to make the choice of whether or not to play along. Failing to do so simply removes us from the game of moral responsibility.

Garner, for his part, proposes jettisoning the concepts of morality entirely in favor of psychological notions about our better and worse choices for the purpose the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson getting along with others in the world while still attending to the satisfaction of our own individual needs, goals, etc—those which are worthy of our attention in any case. For Garner, ethics can still be done in a sense, albeit without the antiquated notion of morality which consists of belief in some special sort of moral authority.

He equates moral valuing, as a phenomenon a form of activity which we engage inwith schemas we build on a framework of prescribed codes of action, the prescriptions for which can never, he tells us, be justified as they seem to require. That is moral claims, for Garner, simply lack the authority we suppose them to have, moral valuing proper simply pretending to an authority which sets their claims above other value claims even though no basis for such authority can be demonstrated to exist.

Thus, while Mackie provides a kind of linguistic cover for continuing to make use of moral discourse, Garner suggests we do away with moral categories entirely, replacing them with a kind of non-moral ethical language—a discourse concerning judgments for acting, or refraining from acting, that reflects other factors influencing and shaping our choices.

Garner offers the ancient Mediterranean world's Stoics and the Buddhist and Taoist approaches of the ancient east as better models for guiding and judging behaviors than the moral codes model prevalent in the West today. In so doing, he seems to have simply moved the goal posts, however, the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson the kind of thing we think of as moral valuation in different terms.

But Strawson's attack looks more serious because it focuses on the impossibility of a self judging ever itself in terms of the quality of the actions it performs since whatever we think the self is what we can say about how that person behaves is entirely a function of that person's biological predispositions and the cultural influences which have shaped them. On Strawson's view, the self cannot change the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson because it cannot cause changes in itself in a fashion that reflects a judgment that lies outside it.

Whatever the self decides to do is already decided, in a sense, because it will reflect what that self already is.

To the extent we think we are all victims of forces outside ourselves either heredity or cultural or both there can be no independent judgment of the choices we make other than that which reflects whatever it is we want or think we want the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson any given moment. In the paper Strawson says he has found this argument compelling with his students but most the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson professionals tend to dismiss it as: And I think that it is the natural the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson, not fear, that has convinced the students I have taught that this is so.

I think that the Basic Argument is certainly valid in showing that we cannot be morally responsible in the way that many suppose. If the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson wants to think about free will and moral responsibility, consideration of some version of the Basic Argument is an overwhelmingly natural place to start. It certainly has to be considered at some point in a full discussion of free will and moral responsibility, even if the point it has to make is obvious.

Belief in the kind of absolute moral responsibility that it shows to be impossible has for a long time been central to the Western religious, moral, and cultural tradition, even if it is now slightly on the the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson a disputable view.

It is a matter of historical fact that concern about moral responsibility has been the main moto —indeed the ratio essendi—of discussion of the issue of free will. The only way in which one might hope to show 1 that the Basic Argument is not central to the free will debate would be to show 2 that the issue of moral responsibility is not central to the free will debate.

But 2 is clearly false nonetheless.

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Strawson is right, I think, that the question of free will is critical to the possibility of moral valuation or any sort of valuation, actually, though it's moral valuation, uniquely, where our freedom to choose, based on our judgments about reasons, really matters.

Whether we like vanilla flavored ice cream more than chocolate or raspberry is not a very significant concern in the choice of which to eat. No one thinks our dispositions to favor one flavor over another are somehow rendered pointless or unreal just because we may have certain biological factors in our taste buds or bodily needs which manifest as taste preferences.

Nor does anyone think that liking what we have become familiar with, or conditioned to, undermines the quality of our choice in choosing vanilla rather than raspberry. The physically and behaviorally conditioned preferences we have simply don't matter at this level of valuation. But when more is at stake, as is the case in moral valuing, when the issue is whether the person is acting in ways that are appropriate when behaving toward and with other persons, then we want to be able to tell the agent that he or she must choose correctly, that there's more at stake than in such cases than when choosing from competing ice cream flavors.

But we cannot claim there are such stakes in the moral case if our decisions about whether to pay for that ice cream or just to steal itor whether to deny it to someone who is starving so we can enjoy it, or whether to use our funds which were intended to purchase it for some other purpose involving others, are thought to be the outcome of factors which compel us, even if we are the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson of them.

If the freedom to choose isn't available to us, including the real possibility of doing something else, then moral responsibility is impossible—and so are genuine moral choices.

If Strawson's argument, hinging on the impossibility of a "self" the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson actions that are inconsistent with itself its present wants, needs, desires, inclinations, etc.

As Strawson goes on to say: In saying that the notion of moral responsibility criticized by the Basic Argument is central to the Western tradition, I am not suggesting that it is some artificial and local Judaeo—Christian—Kantian construct that is found nowhere else in the history of the peoples of the world, although even if it were that would hardly diminish its interest and importance for us. It is true that neither of these two fundamental moral emotions necessarily presupposes a conception of oneself as truly morally responsible for what one has done.

But the fact that both are widespread does at least suggest that a conception of moral responsibility similar to our own is a natural part of the human moral-conceptual repertoire. Suppose you set off for a shop. On the steps of the shop someone is shaking an Oxfam tin.

You stop, and it seems completely clear to you that it is entirely up to you what you do next. That is, it seems to you that you are truly, radically free to choose, in such a way that you will be ultimately morally responsible for whatever you do choose. In essence, Strawson's argument is that we do what we do because of what we the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson and, even if what we do affects what we are as it arguably mustat any given moment it is only what we are which determines how we respond to the options before us because what we think, in any given case, is already determined by what we are and have been.

The farther back you go in this chain of causes, so must you inevitably come to rest at a place where what you are is given by your genetic make-up and the enculturation which informs your upbringing and education. We are caused but not the causes of what we are in this sense. On this view the possibility of moral praise or blame, the very possibility of supposing judgment in the actors, must collapse and with it the entire edifice of moral valuing. Here Strawson's argument seems to rest on two suppositions.

The first regards free will and what it means to have it. And, of course, I may agonize here and there over the choice of a word or phrase, always convinced The impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson could have done otherwise.

To the extent that causal factors constrain physical entities like ourselves they are certainly exceedingly complex. A person may bump the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson me in the street without any intention of doing so and cause me to stumble the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson move to one side.

But it's not this level of causation that concerns us here. To the extent this is about agential choice, the possibility of thinking about and drawing conclusions and coming to decisions based on those conclusions is what matters and this means the workings of our brains in producing our mental world. Here, too, causation seems to be the operant factor because brains, being physical entities, operate according to physical laws.

At the cellular level, too, and below, at the molecular and atomic levels, physical causes govern what happens. Few today would dispute that brains are physical and so is what they do causing the subjective dimension in entities like ourselves which we recognize as our mental lives.

At this level one may well ask whether the pervasive role of physical relations really matters to the choices we're considering. Of course without such relational activity on a physical level there is no mental life and so no actions that come from it.

But discourse about deliberative choice and actions is not focused on the underlying physical dimension which produces, through its activity, the mental phenomena of choosing and acting. Its concern is with what the mental entity the brain makes in each of us is looking at, thinking about, deciding to do, etc.

Whether or not there is physical causation at this level simply seems irrelevant. The question is whether a physically caused self, a subject distinguished by having a mental life, can choose freely on its own level of operation.

Even if we are all constrained at the various micro levels available to physical phenomena, still we want to the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson if those constraints have an impact on our moral level of operation. And here it seems that the answer is to point out that there is simply no translation from physical activity at a micro level to the physical activity manifested at the intentional level.

Actions taken by agents via deliberation, whatever the physical underpinnings of that deliberation, are finally actions taken by decision, by volition. Yet this removal from the physical domain still can't assure us of free will on the intentional level or at least enough of it to justify a belief in moral responsibility if Strawson is right.

As he notes, the mental life which each self possesses is itself a function of certain physically determined predispositions including the preferences the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson inclinations we are biologically geared to have. Even assuming other mental lives which are, themselves, grounded in other physical activity, our mental lives are not strictly speaking our own. On the view Strawson has sketched, they are not made by us but what we are made of.

To the extent any choice and the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson action we make in the course of our lives simply reflects the mental state we are in when we make it, it seems reasonable to say, as Strawson does, that we are not the ones deciding—even if it seems otherwise to us.

And if we're not, then there can be no real moral responsibility just the illusion of that and so no real moral dimension to our behavior. This, perhaps, takes us closer to the real issue at hand and that is to what extent, if any, can one be responsible for what one is over the course of one's life?

More significantly, can one act in ways that are contrary to what one already is and can one's actions, in doing so, alter in some fashion what one happens to be? If the answers to these questions are negative, then moral discourse is, as Strawson suggests, illusory because we can never be held responsible for what we choose to do.

Indeed, we can the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson choose other than what we are already predisposed to do. And even if this seems to run up against how things seem to us when we act, the truth of the matter will be that moral valuing is unreal, a lie we tell ourselves and others.

It is exactly as just to punish or reward people for their actions as it is to punish or reward them for the natural colour of their the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson or the natural shape of their faces. The point seems obvious, and yet it contradicts a fundamental part of our natural self-conception, and there are elements in human thought that move very deeply against it.

When it comes to questions of responsibility, we tend to feel that we are somehow responsible for the way we are. Strawson explores three possibilities for restoring the notion of free will to moral discourse and rejects them all. He acknowledges the compatibilist position that feeling like we have freedom at our level is enough, even if we are physically determined all the way downbut argues that it is insufficient to answer the free will challenge of his argument because moral discourse demands a higher standard of freedom, namely the capacity to choose differently than we chose at the the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson level.

Compatibilism merely preserves the appearance of moral choice on this view. He also rejects the libertarian account which asserts a degree of free will on the grounds that human behavior contains at least some indeterminate elements.

Such indeterminism, he suggests, merely support the idea of luck in our behaviors, i. If the point, says Strawson, is to restore responsibility to moral choice, luck serves us no better than pre-determined inclination. The general objection applies equally whether determinism is true or false, and can be restated as follows. We are born with a great many genetically determined predispositions for which we are not the impossibility of moral responsibility galen strawson.