Suppose an action is necessitated by the agent's beliefs and motivational states. Under what conditions is the agent responsible for this action? Most people, compatibilists and incompatibilists alike (Frankfurt is an exception), will say that when the agent's psychological states in relevant respects came from brainwashing, then the agent is not responsible for the action. But of course brainwashing is not the only option here. Compatibilists have to work really hard to say what sorts of histories of the agent's psychological states exclude the agent's responsibility for the action resulting from the states, and there is always the worry that they missed out some particular freedom-cancelling effect.
Step back from the details of particular compatibilist proposals (I think the best one is Mele's compatibilist sheddability condition). What are compatibilists trying to rule out by giving their conditions? It seems to me that, even though they will deny this, what they are trying to rule out is cases where the necessitating psychological states are ones that the agent is not relevantly responsible for. Stipulatively, take an action not to be a psychological state. Then there is a simple principle that we should be able to agree on:
- An agent is responsible for her action necessitated by the agent's psychological states if and only if the action is caused non-deviantly by the psychological states and the agent is responsible for relevant features of the psychological states.
- An agent is responsible for an action necessitated by the agent's psychological states only if the agent is responsible for some feature of these psychological states.
- An agent is responsible for a feature of a psychological state only if the agent is responsible for some action causally upstream from that psychological state.
A technical trickiness in the above is that maybe it's not correct to speak of an action as necessitated by psychological states. For it may be that an action also requires external causes: shooting an arrow requires also a bow. I suppose I could replace "action" by "choice" in the above. Or I could stipulate what I mean by "necessitated by psychological states" in such a way as to allow that there can be external enabling conditions.