Notes on Haji’s “Deontic Morality and Control” ch. 7

In chapter 7 of “Deontic Morality and Control” Ishtiyaque Haji develops the notion of the Contrastive Explanation Condition (CEC) to show why he thinks Kane’s Indeterministic Libertarianism fails to underwrite any conception of moral responsibility and free will “worth wanting”.

CEC states that for an action A to be within an agent S’ s free and responsible control S must be able to cite a causally efficacious reason for her choosing to do A over B that would not play the same causal role if, in a counterfactual world, S had chosen to do B instead of A.

Kane’s account of free will does not seem to satisfy this criterion. The reason being that because Kane wants to insert indeterminism between deliberation and execution (rather than, say, between nonoccurent and occurent belief formation like Mele does) the Kaneian agent will have no way to give a causally contrastive account of why she chose to do A rather than B. This follows from the fact that on Kane’s account, the input that ‘flips the switch’ and triggers the action is pure chance, all the weighting and mental effort from S’ s antecedent reasoning not being by itself enough to tip the scales one way or another.

Haji’s critcism is that this view of agency succumbs to the luck objection.

The luck objection, recall, states that if luck or chance causes S to do A rather than not-A then S is not morally responsible for doing A.

I’d like to rehearse a possible Kaneian response to Haji here: the Kaneian may object by pointing out that the agent’s responsibility is, by the time a course of action is finalized, already represented not in either of the alternatives taken on its own but rather in the disjunction itself. The agent is, in other words, responsible insofar as it has come to this garden of forking pathways and not another.

In this sense Haji’s Deweyian point that an agent expresses herself objectively in her actions would bear emendation: it is not what an agent chooses to do that represents her moral character so much as it is the live options she perceives as open to her, when taken together as a totality, that display what she morally stands for.  By the time luck enters the picture the agent’s moral character – up until the moment of action – is already in full disclosure: S is the kind of person who has equally forceful reasons for doing A and B.

This need not be as implausible as it may seem. For it is surely only very rarely that we find ourselves with truly equal reasons for doing one action or another and it is, on Kane’s account, only in these cases that a causal space is opened up for luck take the wheel.  To be sure, it is not that all of an agent’s actions and decisions will demand the kind of soul-searching deliberation that Jones exhibits as he makes up his mind whether or not to quit smoking.  The reason Jones cannot give a contrastive account for deciding to smoke rather than to quit is because there is no extant account available to him at t; he is thus entitled, given his reasons, to keep smoking and to quit smoking.  Another way to grasp the thought here is to say that chance only ‘has the chance’ to determine what S does at t because and insofar as S has no obligation at t to choose A over B.

We can put this yet another way: S only ought to do A if A is what S ought to do insofar as she is under obligation to be SA and not SB. But in a self-forming action (SFA) such as Jones’s, S is compelled by two alternative and mutually exclusive obligations: to be SA or to be SB. And this cannot be decided based on S’s past up until time t.

As Kane says, the justification for an SFA is grounded in the future not in the past.

So, even though for Jones it is true that the choice to smoke or not to smoke is, given his character, a disjunction with equally good and forceful reasons on either side, this is not going to be the case for most other smokers who find themselves entertaining the thought that maybe, just maybe they should quit.

Smith for instance, might consider it virtually inconceivable to quit smoking and thus, it is not the case that he has the opportunity, as Jones does, to do A (continue to smoke) and not-A (quit smoking). Rather, he simply is not deliberating about his addiction here. When Smith, after entertaining the possibility of kicking the habit, proceeds to put his Gambier pipe back in his mouth, he is not deciding between the same A or not-A that Jones is.   He is not, contrary to how it may seem, renewing his original decision to keep smoking.  Smith is not taking the side of the disjunction that Jones rejected.  Smith and Jones deliberate over two separate disjunctions. Since quitting is not a live option for Smith neither is “reaffirming his decision to keep smoking”.

That is, in Smith’s mouth the proposition “I should quit smoking” is Moore-paradoxical; it has the form:

p; but I don’t believe that p

In such cases, p is not an assertion. It is not a judgment. As such it cannot be an action.  Unlike Jones, what Smith is deciding here is not “to smoke or not to smoke” but what his reasons (or justifications) for smoking should be.  Given this, Smith at this moment, might be blameworthy for giving disingenuous reasons for his smoking when he knows that there is really one reason that explains his inability to quit, viz., his addiction, but this act and the agent’s connected blameworthiness should be adjudicated separately from the fact that he may or may not be guilty for getting himself addicted in the first place.  Definitely, Smith may be responsible and blameworthy for smoking to begin with. But this is to be decided by examining Smith’s reasons for smoking at the time before he became addicted. In contrast, we need to be able to judge Smith’s moral worth at t, independently of what he may be guilty of at t0. At time t, he is blameworthy for pretending that he smokes, say, “because life is not worth living without my Gambier pipe” when he should admit to himself instead that he smokes because he is powerless to stop.

If Smith really has no contrastive explanation for why he chose to justify his smoking by citing the enjoyment he derives from it rather than choosing to justify it by citing his addiction then regardless of whether or not chance intervenes and he chooses A over B, we can judge Smith’s moral character by the fact that these two options, for him, have equal rational persuasion, (and for the record, it sounds like he has a lousy moral character).    This should only feel counterintuitive if we forget that such a disjunction as Smith’s is highly unlikely for most rational smokers and even for those pesky rationalizing ones.   In most cases, it is perfectly obvious why one does not quit smoking: because one is addicted.  Thus, it is only for the select few that the kind of puzzle Smith finds himself in is awakened to agentive deliberation.

All of this is to say that even if indeterminacy enters the picture where Kane invites it in – between deliberation and action – we can hold an agent responsible for their actions insofar as these actions express a disjunctive bind that the agent has ‘given herself’ (in the Kantian sense of giving oneself the rational law), a bind that is itself a function of that agent’s reasons, beliefs, efforts and moral character.

As for the action itself – Jones’s decision to fight the addiction, and Smith’s decision to rationalize it – these can be contrastively explained by future reasons made available to Jones and Smith once indeterminacy has had its say.   If we ask Jones and Smith after the fact, “why did you choose A rather than B?” they can say first, “because, at the time, I was under no obligation to do one and not the other and as such, I take responsibility for both,” and secondly, “because, now that I have acted, look at all the good things that came about (or now I see were reasonably likely to come about) given my choosing A over B.”

Now, I want to highlight one thing about this account that I think is highly implausible: the idea that this kind of scenario paints an accurate picture of what happens the majority of the time that we are acting.  The situations in which an agent will have equally forceful reasons for doing this as she has for doing that seem extremely few and far between, even over an entire lifetime.  Most of the time, it is our reasons, beliefs and past history that determine what it is we must and will do and whatever input chance has is negligible precisely because these, call them ‘rational inputs’, are so forceful.

Returning to the example from Kane’s paper:

If it is true that the businesswoman really has no better reason for choosing to help the assault victim than she does for choosing to continue on to the career-defining conference, then it is a matter of luck that she resolves to do the former.  But if this is the case, then she is no more or less blameworthy or responsible than she would have been had she chosen to walk on by.  The alternative is to say that indeterminacy plays a role in her action here but that it is likely not going to figure in her decision but in her opportunity to act on her decision or perhaps to come to a decision in time to act.  That is, the businesswoman may find herself continuing on to the conference in spite of herself, in spite of, that is, her certainty that she is obligated to help the victim.  That is, she may do B even though she knows she should do A.  Here the agent is blameworthy in a way that she cannot be in Kane’s original


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: