Friday, January 15, 2010

Agent causation

It seems very plausible that if event B is caused by event (perhaps conjunctive or disjunctive) A, where A contains the full set of relevant causal influences that you are praiseworthy or blameworthy for, then x is no more praiseworthy or blameworthy for B than for A. Thus, if you get drunk and this causes you, with no other causal inputs that you are praiseworthy or blameworthy for, insult or kill someone, you are no more blameworthy than you were after you got drunk. If, for instance, you were praiseworthy for getting drunk (e.g., because you falsely believed that the alcohol was a disgusting medication that you had to drink down, and so you did, with great fortitude), you are not blameworthy at all. If your blameworthiness for getting drunk was minor (for instance, because your friends forced you to drink, but you were still somewhat blameworthy for not taking enough care in the choice of your friends), your blameworthiness for the insult or killing is no greater.

The principle here holds whether or not the causation between A and B is deterministic or not. Mere event causation does not increase one's total praiseworthiness or one's total blameworthiness. (Could it decrease it? I don't know. Maybe you think that after total amnesia one is no longer praiseworthy or blameworthy for anything that happened before the amnesia. If you think this—I don't—then event causation can decrease praiseworthiness and blameworthiness.)

Since (unlike God, though it's a hard question why the case of God differs!) we all start out in an initial state we are neither praiseworthy nor blameworthy for, it follows that if event causation is all that happens, we are not praiseworthy or blameworthy for anything, which would be absurd. Hence, there is some other kind of causation, and the only plausible story about it is that it is agent causation.


Andrew said...

You said, "Since (unlike God, though it's a hard question why the case of God differs!) we all start out in an initial state we are neither praiseworthy nor blameworthy for..."

Is this this case according to traditional Catholic theology? Don't we start out in a 'blameworthy' state, i.e., original sin? I am not sure how that fits into the picture (or if it even does), but it seems that there is something about the way in which we start out which is blame worthy.

Granted, I don't think this would affect your argument much as a whole. Just something I was wondering about.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Original sin is an original separation from God. But it is not a separation that God blames us individually for. The Catechism says in paragraph 405: 'Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.'