Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Principle of Avoidability of Guilt

(PAG) If the world at t1 is in a state S1 sufficient to cause it to be the case that I am guilty at a time t2>t1, and no aspect of S1 is the product of backwards causation, then I am already guilty at t1. (Note: The state of the world includes my state.)

To be guilty is to be guilty of something. However, I am not claiming here that I am guilty at t1 of the same things that I will be guilty of at t2. For instance, at t1, I might be guilty of getting drunk, while at t2, I am guilty of killing people with my car.

PAG should be compared the Principle of Alternate Possibility (PAP: if I act freely, I could have acted otherwise). PAG implies that if we are guilty of anything, and our world has no backwards causation, then our world is not causally deterministic. PAG might be compatible with acausal determinism as well as with causal determinism with backwards causation (if there is backwards causation, then my later self could have corrupted my earlier self). PAG captures part of the intuition behind PAP that nothing but ourselves can make us be guilty, that if our character forces us to act wrongly, then either we are not culpable for the wrongful action or we are culpable for having had that character.

Some nice things about PAG:

  1. PAG escapes standard Frankfurt examples. The neurosurgeon can make sure that I kill someone, but he can't make sure that I am guilty of killing someone.
  2. Defending PAG does not require us to make a distinction between derivatively and non-derivatively free actions, in the way that a defense of PAP may (a derivatively free action is an action which is determined by the agent's state and the character, but the agent is still responsible in virtue of an earlier, libertarian-free choice, which is a non-derivatively free action[note 1]).
  3. PAG is clearly compatible with God's being free and unable to do evil, since PAG is only a principle about wrong action.
  4. For the same reason, PAG is clearly compatible with the thesis that God's grace makes us act rightly.
  5. Notice that we see nothing unjust about rewarding Jane for her courageous deeds even if given her upbringing she couldn't but have acted courageously, while we at least worry about the permissibility of punishing Patrick for his cowardice when given his upbringing he couldn't but have shown cowardice.
  6. That we have a particularly strong commitment to something like PAG explains why it is that defenders of PAP tend to gravitate towards using examples involving responsibility for wrongful action instead of responsibility for right action.
  7. At the same time, PAG is compatible with the truth of a stronger view that includes not just guilt but also merit, which stronger view may have trouble with God's freedom and grace and the rewarding of virtues that a person didn't have a choice about. So PAG lets us remain open on a number of issues.

2 comments:

Heath White said...

Is the "sufficient to cause" part of PAG strategically chosen to rule out worries about divine foreknowledge?

Alexander R Pruss said...

In part, but only in part. I think the causal stuff is what matters. I have no problem with the result of a free action being entailed by a past event. If I now cause it to be the case that a thousand years ago there was a fatal explosion, and if essentiality of origins holds for events, then that that explosion occurred a thousand years ago entails that I caused it today.