Monday, February 4, 2013

Responsibility and reasons

It is not unusual to say that responsibility for an action requires that the action be done for a reason. Compatibilists particularly insist on this. Now, I think there are no actions without reasons, but I don't know that responsibility has that much to do with this.
Consider the psychopath who acts at the expense of others. To evaluate her responsibility, we do not look at the reasons she had for her action as much as at the reasons she had against it. If she was entirely unaware of the moral reasons against her action, we are apt to count her as not culpable, regardless of whether she had reasons for doing as she did. If she was aware of the moral reasons but unmoved by them--or, better, incapable of being moved by them--we are unsure about her culpability. But the reasons for doing the action don't matter, as long as we are sure of the negative fact that she didn't have good reasons.
Suppose, perhaps per impossibile (perhaps action without reasons is impossible--I think that), that someone acted for no reason at all (on a whim? or are whims reasons?) in a way that went against the conclusive moral reasons she had. As long as she was aware of and sufficiently moved by these reasons against her action, we surely would count her culpable for her action. Again, what counts are the reasons she had against her action, not so much as the ones for her action.
It is different for praiseworthy actions than for culpable ones, though. For an action to be praiseworthy, the action may be done for the right reasons, while for it to be culpable it must be done against the right reasons. Nonetheless, even for praiseworthy actions the reasons against that action matter. Suppose I have such an excess of money that I barely feel any reason to hold on to a thousand dollars. Then my thousand dollar donation is barely praiseworthy (though I may be praiseworthy for my ungreedy feelings). The widow, though, who had great reason to hold on to her mite is very much praiseworthy.


Dagmara Lizlovs said...

"Now, I think there are no actions without reasons, but I don't know that responsibility has that much to do with this."

I will give you one answer to this - Responsibility has everything to do with it. It was when I acknowledged this that the spiritual chains that had kept me in bondage for over 30 years were broken. I had a reason for all my actions including sin. I had reasoned my way out of being responsible for sin. I had lots of support in this from many people. As a result, I found myself in spiritual bondage and much weighed down. It wasn't until I acknowledged full responsibility for my sins and full responsibility for those times when I was totally free to do the right thing and could have done the right thing, but through my own self centered will chose to do things that were wrong. As soon as I took this complete and total responsibility that those spiritual chains were instantly smashed, and I found myself spiritually in a very different place than I was before. At this point I told the Lord "If those chains are not Your will for me, then I don't want them back." I am totally grateful and thankful that these chains were smashed, and may they stay smashed!

The acknowledgement of responsibility for me was a path to freedom.

Matt said...

Fischer and Ravizza take into account such negative moral reasons for compatibilists in their book Responsibility and Control. For the agent to be responsible in this compatibilist sense, although she may not act on the moral reasons, she must recognize them and be moved to act on them in some close possible world.

Alexander R Pruss said...


In a compatibilist setting, large-scale Frankfurt setups can ensure that in no close world is the agent moved to act on these reasons.

I suspect one needs the reasons to be pushing on the agent in the actual world.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

"I suspect one needs the reasons to be pushing on the agent in the actual world."

Yes there are reasons pushing on an agent in the real world. Sometimes there are heavy duty reasons. There is also responsibility. The agent may have ignorance or insufficient knowledge; however there is always responsibility coupled to free will. I say this because when I made a decision to accept and take absolutely total responsibility for all those actions where I knew what was the right thing to do and was perfectly free to do but chose to the wrong things out of a self centered will, not only were my spiritual chains smashed at that instant, but also my free will became enabled in a way that it had not been before. It is as if taking total responsibility for one self enables free will, perhaps inspite of all of the reasons that may be pushing on one.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

I have a couple of additional things. I wish to expand on my ideas about freewill and it comes from my life experience. And I have to look at several parts. I will list key elements. The first one is forgiveness. It is a radical forgiveness in that I made a choice to forgive no matter what one may be feeling inside and forcefully through an act of personal choice sticking to that forgiveness. It was exhausting, but it built confidence in myself and a degree of freedom. The second part is a radical repentance. That is repenting absolutely of all of my sins and getting rid of everything associated with those sins and breaking bonds with individuals who are a part of those sins. This really sucked, and I couldn’t stand the spiritual director who made go through this. But once I did this, it was freeing.
There are other things that I did, such as praying for guidance throughout all of this. Regular Confession and reception of the Eucharist, reading Scripture and various devotional literature, and listening to Christian music. With Scripture reading, I mean not just reading Bible verses, but reading how they are understood in the Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Jewish traditions, and building a foundation on those verses where these different faith traditions agree on interpretation.
Another aspect is the surrender of my personal freedom to Christ. Here I had a lot of problems. I had been raised to hold on to freedom no matter what. Growing up in a family that had lived under both Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler had indoctrinated me into never surrendering independence or personal freedom no matter what. As a result, I had an attitude of live free or die. Somehow surrendering this freedom to Christ was a barrier. Surrender what? My freedom? All my life there was one answer to this – never. Then one day I was out goose hunting some two years ago. In my hunting party was a 14 year-old girl, Carolyn. After the hunt, Big Dave, our guide told me that Carolyn sees me as a role model because I’m a female engineer and a hunter, and that she really needs people like me. Suddenly I realized I was a role model. I was afraid that I might screw up my job as role model and I didn’t want to do that. I knew only too well what role models meant to 14 year-olds. All I had to do was look back at the time when I was 14. Because of that, I turned my freedom over to Christ so that I wouldn’t screw up in being a role model. This was the reason pressing on the agent (me) to surrender my freedom to Christ.
Then came the next two pieces. One was this decision, also made as a choice no matter what I was personally feeling and that was to assert that I was not a victim of anything. And finally, the chain smasher - assuming complete responsibility for my choices.
Surrendering my will to Christ is the last thing left. I struggle here. I keep saying “I surrender my will”, but it feels like my hand is still tightly clutching it. I still keep trying.
I hope this helps anyone who reads this.