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Responsibility and Social/Political Choices about Choice; Or, One Way to Be a True Non-Voluntarist


Ethan J. Leib


Fordham University School of Law


Law and Philosophy, Vol. 25, p. 453, 2006

Abstract:     
Linking choice with responsibility is a seduction our voluntarist society often cannot resist. We generally wish to hold people responsible in our tort and criminal law for their free choices - and conceive of responsibility as intimately bound up with personal choice. Samuel Scheffler may have diagnosed why many redistributive forms of liberalism often fail to command support in the public sphere: because they regularly deny what seems to be a basic moral intuition of our society - that people should be held responsible for their free choices.

To be sure, the contours of what counts as a free choice and what counts as a product of duress, genetics, or upbringing sufficient to vitiate or mitigate responsibility is always a matter of vigorous ongoing contestation. Still, there remains a strong intuition in our society's collective moral psychology that responsibility is somehow deeply connected to free choices. Indeed, we might not be able to make sense of ourselves as selves without feeling justified in claiming responsibility first and foremost for what we perceive to be our own free choices. The potential that the Causal Thesis may be true - that some weak form of determinism obtains - does not deter us: to reinforce our aspiration for free will, we tend to design our punitive policies and moral practices of praise and blame consistent with it, in spite of our failure to have a clear faith that our institutions contribute to members' true freedom. We do this, some would argue, to retain the basic connection of responsibility to choice; the business of apportioning responsibility somehow seems manageable, justifiable, and legitimate if it is tied to choice. Accordingly, even many determinists among us are compatibilists. Here, I make an effort to think hard about the purported connection between responsibility and choice - and try to avoid the seduction of voluntarism. I build from the work of Meir Dan-Cohen, who has done the most to develop a theory of responsibility unmoored from choice. In the process, I touch upon love and creativity, two areas of social life that provide a window into a different conception of responsibility that can be used to guide our practices of praise and blame in morality, the criminal law, and torts.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 36

Keywords: Love, creativity, responsibility, Dan-Cohen

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Date posted: July 7, 2005  

Suggested Citation

Leib, Ethan J., Responsibility and Social/Political Choices about Choice; Or, One Way to Be a True Non-Voluntarist. Law and Philosophy, Vol. 25, p. 453, 2006. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=753224

Contact Information

Ethan J. Leib (Contact Author)
Fordham University School of Law ( email )
140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States
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