On standard Frankfurt cases, there is a counterfactual intervener who does nothing in the actual world, but who would prevent the action if one willed otherwise. I've been musing about reverse counterfactual interveners who do nothing in the actual world, but who would enable the action if one willed otherwise. For instance:
- Fred is sitting on the sofa watching The Good Guys. Unbeknownst to him, freak cosmic rays have just severed the nerve connections between his brain and his leg muscles. Fred knows the baby needs a change, but decides not to get up, and keeps on watching the show.
- Fred can't get up.
- Fred is responsible for not trying to change the baby.
- Fred is not responsible for his baby not being changed by him (since he can't change the baby).
- An alien monitoring Fred's thoughts would instantly reconnect the nerve connections as soon as Fred started trying to go change the baby.
I have a hard time deciding whether Fred can get up with the alien in place. Consider:
- I don't try to run as fast as possible. But an alien is monitoring my thoughts, and were I to try to run as fast as possible, he would supercharge my muscles and the grippiness of my shoes and I'd run at Mach 3.
- I don't try to run as fast as possible. But an alien is monitoring my thoughts, and were I to try to run as fast as possible, he would make me able to speak Cantonese.
But perhaps the ability and responsibility don't line up. For I find it plausible that Fred is responsible for the baby not being changed by him in the case of the alien. After all, such double prevention things are not that unusual. To adapt Locke's example, you're at a party, and the host for security reasons locks the door but installs a doorman who will unlock the door who will open the door for anyone who wants to leave. It sure seems clear that if you stay at the party, you are responsible for that.
Maybe what happens is this. Assessment of outcome responsibility ("Is Fred responsible for the baby being unchanged by him?") tracks something like counterfactuals, while ability ("Can Fred get up?") tracks "internal features". The line between the two ways of tracking may not always be clear (I have some scepticism about how precisely defined counterfactuals are), but perhaps nothing of great moral significance rides on either one. For what matters morally for guilt and praiseworthiness is not what outcomes you are responsible for, but only what choices, what acts of will or failures to will, what tryings and failures to try, you are responsible for. Outcome responsibility does matter for the court system, especially but not only in civil cases, but that's mainly a matter of policy.
If that's right, then it does something interesting to some of the dialectics about alternate possibilities. For instance, Peter van Inwagen has argued that determinism and Frankfurt-style interveners would take away one's responsibility for certain outcomes. The compatibilist can embrace this conclusion. For the morally important question is about responsibility for one's will, not for outcomes. It could in principle be that we are responsible for no outcomes (if only because it could be that our acts of will have no outcomes), but we are responsible for our will.
But I don't know that this gets the compatibilist off the hook entirely. For something like an ability to try is important to assessing responsibility for a failure to try. And it is not clear that compatibilists have very good accounts of the ability to try.