Notes on Haji’s “Deontic Morality and Control” ch. 8

In chapter 8 of “Deontic Morality and Control” Haji presents, perhaps here more forcefully and persuasively than in any of the previous chapters of his book, a case for his asymmetry thesis. 

Moral responsibility requires dual-control (ability + opportunity) over S’ s doing A whereas Deontic Anchors require only singular control (ability) – in an indeterministic universe – to do A.
Here, Haji adjusts the asymmetry to make room for a further principle that he introduces, namely, the “authenticity requirement”.

To motivate the thought, Haji places the hypothetical agent (who we’ve been calling ‘S’) in a situation of absolute manipulation at the hands of the ‘Psychohacker’ Max. Max grants her the ability to act in accord with her own will and according to reasons which she endorses but so arranges the case that S acts precisely as Max wants her to act. Under such constraints, S is not, Haji believes, morally responsible for acting as she does. Since S satisfies all the conditions for free will and responsibility stipulated under compatibilism and modest forms of Libertarianism,  Haji thinks Psychohacker reveals the need for a further condition that must obtain in order to secure freedom and responsibility.  This condition has it that in order for an agent to be morally responsible for an act A, it must have stemmed from principles and a will that are “authentically” her own. Under Psychohacker,  her will and rational principles are inauthentic since they perfectly mirror Max’s and thus express nothing at all about what S (as S) morally stands for. Haji’s thinking here is also sophisticated in that it is not solely because S is Max’s “marionette” that she is not morally responsible for her actions but because she has unwillingly become Max’s marionette.  That is, had S chosen to be manipulated by Max in this way, her actions would then spring from and express her own authenticity as a rational, moral agent and as such she would be responsible for doing as Max has her do.  What this tells us is that an agent is morally responsible for doing A/not-A at t only if she at t0 has an obligation to see to it that she has the opportunity at t to do A/not-A. Haji doesn’t put it this way in this chapter (perhaps because he is afraid it will lead to an infinite regress, though it does not) but his authenticity condition harmonizes nicely with our reasoning here.

Now, though S, under Psychohacker is not morally responsible for doing A, Haji maintains that her act of doing A is open to assessment of rightness, wrongness and obligatoriness.  Since it is prima facie plausible that S can still do wrong and can still do what she ought not to given that, as she acts, she does so using principles and reasons that she willingly endorses as her own and so has proximal control over, Haji takes the Psychohacker scenario to exonerate his asymmetry thesis.  He concludes that this makes sense because deontic ascriptions describe acts while ascriptions of moral responsibility describe agents. (In fact he says that the former are “act-directed” while the latter are “agent-directed” though how obligatoriness can describe an act and not be binding for any agent under any circumstances as would be the case under Haji’s determinism, I do not understand). 

An alternative and I think better way to parse the asymmetry is to say the following:

Deontic anchors apply generally while ascriptions of moral responsibility and blameworthiness apply particularly.  The sentence is awkward but the thought is not. Insofar as I am a moral agent I am bound by duties that apply categorically across the entire landscape of agency. However,  insofar as I am this agent and not another I am responsible for fulfilling my categorical duties to the extent that I have had the opportunity to do so.  And if I have the ability and obligation to see to it that I have the opportunity to discharge a further duty then I am responsible for having or failing to have this opportunity. 

In the Psychohacker scenario,  S is under no obligation to see to it that she have the opportunity to resist the covert hacking of her mind by Max and so, she as this S will not be responsible for the wrongs she performs under Max’s control.  However, we need not say that the post-hacked S is devoid of blame or responsibility as long as we stipulate that this S is in a fundamental sense, a different agent. Historiscity of reasoning seems therefore to capture the spirit of Haji’s argument from authenticity. 

But if this is true, then would an originary case of psychohacking, imagine a psycho-hacked baby at birth, for example – who does not have a history of reasoning – be responsible for what it does later in life?  If not, then we need to be able to say why such originary intervention or manipulation differs in essence from cultural indoctrination and socialization under which the baby will later be held accountable for its actions. But this is for another time…

Nevertheless,  the asymmetry thesis holds and Haji has given an intriguing, convincing argument.


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