The causation and explanation literature is big on contrastivity. But the responsibility literature is not big on contrastiveness. However, it seems to me that contrastiveness is essential to understanding respnsibility. Responsibility is contrastive. Consider two cases. Jones is brainwashed in such a way that he continues to be informed by the standard moral reasons not to cause suffering, but no longer by any reasons not to kill. He is brainwashed into having reasons to kill Kowalski. He has two means available for killing Kowalski, and both are poisons: A is painless and B is painful. Jones chooses to administer poison A to Kowalski. Smith, on the other hand, is a normal person, who has the standard moral reasons not to cause suffering and not kill. Smith chooses to administer poison A to Kowalski. (I guess we have two Kowalskis or overdetermination.)
Both Jones and Smith are responsible for killing Kowalski with A. Smith certainly is. But Jones also made a free choice between A and B. However, there is a crucial difference. Jones is responsible for killing Kowalski with A rather than killing Kowalski with B. Smith is responsible for killing Kowalski with A rather than not killing Kowalski. The bare statement that both are responsible for killing Kowalski with A hides the true structure of their responsibility. And the contrastive responsibility structure is important. Jones is praiseworthy in his contrastive responsibility for administering A in place of B. Smith is blameworthy in his contrastive responsibility for administering A in place of doing nothing.
It might be tempting to say that because of the brainwashing, Jones is not responsible for administering A. But to say that is to fail to give credit where credit is due. Jones is to be praised for using A rather than B, though he is not to be praised (or blamed, given the brainwashing) for using A rather than doing nothing. This is especially clear if A was more expensive, or made it more likely that Jones would be detected, but Jones nonetheless did it in order to reduce suffering.
One might try to handle cases like this non-contrastively, by having more sharply delineated actions: Smith is responsible for (a) administering a lethal substance. Jones is responsible for (b) not administering a painful substance. But in at least some cases, it may be a mistake to slice the actions up. Both Smith's and Jones' action was the administering of the lethal substance A to Kowalski. There was just one action each of them did, and there may have been one and the same description under which the action was intended (we may suppose that Smith also didn't want to give the painful poison). If there was one action, then neither (a) nor (b) was precisely what the agent intended. What both agents intended was to administer the lethal substance A to Kowalski. One could, I suppose, say that the one action, intended under the same description, could be such that one person is responsible for it under one description and the other under another. But I think contrastivity more neatly picks out what one one is responsible for.
Moreover, we could imagine a case like this. Jones doesn't have a general belief that it's bad to cause pain. He only has the belief that it's bad to cause a painful death. Smith also has the same belief, and he also has the standard belief that murder is wrong. Smith then is responsible for killing Kowalski painlessly and Jones is responsible for killing Jones painlessly: in both cases, the painlessness and the killing are essential to the intentions. But Jones is not responsible for the killing, but only the killing painlessly. And it seems that the best way to put it is that Smith is responsible for killing Kowalski painlessly rather than either killing painfully or not killing at all. But Jones is responsible only for killing Kowalski painlessly rather than killing him painfully.
And, I submit, the contrastivity in the responsibility matches up exactly with the contrastivity in the choice. Jones did not choose to kill Kowalski rather than not to kill him. To kill Kowalski rather than not wasn't a choice—it was a shoo-in, given that Jones had reasons for it and no reasons against it. What Jones chose to do was to kill Kowalski painlessly rather than kill Kowalski painfully. And this he chose freely, despite being brainwashed, because the brainwashing did not take away this freedom. (We could even imagine cases where the brainwashing bestowed this freedom. Maybe previously Jones did not believe pain to be bad, but did believe murder to be wrong, and the brainwashing made Jones have a belief that pain is bad but murder is not wrong.) Smith, on the other hand, freely chose to kill Kowalski painlessly rather than not killing him at all or killing him painfully. Jones' choice is on the whole to be praised, though we do not praise the having of a character that sets up such a choice. Smith's choice is on the whole not to be praised, except in respect of the painlessly rather than painfully alternative, though we somewhat praise his character for not making killing Kowalski a shoo-in.
Actually, things are slightly more complicated than the above indicates. For the evaluation of one's responsibility requires a specification of reasons. If Jones believes that pain is a good thing (suppose that Jones has never experienced pain, but uses the word "pain" in good Kripkean fashion for whatever quality was originally baptized with the word, and then Jones has been reading certain radical Greek philosophers who think pain is good), then Jones may not be to be praiseworthy for what he is responsible for. For in that case what he is responsible for may be killing Kowalski painlessly in order to take away a good from him rather than killing Kowalski painfully in order to bestow a good on him. And now what he is responsible for is bad.
I take it that statements of non-derivative responsibility are thus of the form:
- x is directly responsible for doing A for reasons R rather than doing B for reasons S or ....
With all of this machinery in place, I can give a simple theory of direct responsibility, freedom and choice:
- The following propositions are logically equivalent: (a) x is directly responsible for choosing A for reasons R rather than choosing B for reasons S or ... ; (b) x freely chose A for R over B for S or ...; and (c) x chose A for R over B for S or ....
- The following propositions are logically equivalent: (a) x is directly responsible for doing A for R rather than doing B for S or ...; (b) x freely did A for R rather than doing B for S or ...; and (c) x did A for R and x's doing A for R was a causally non-aberrant development of x's choosing A for R over B for S or ....
- A finite being x is responsible for doing A if and only if there are relevant R, B, S, ... such that x is responsible for doing A for R rather than doing B for S or ....
- x is derivatively responsible for X if and only if there is something relevant that x is directly responsible for and which relevantly contributes to the explanation of X.
To put it briefly, once we go contrastive and understand actions thickly (i.e., with reasons attached), direct responsibility, choice and free choice all collapse. There is one particularly notable gap in the theory: I only affirm (4) in the case of finite beings. God, who is his own essence, can perhaps be directly responsible for doing something without there being a contrasting action.