Moral Responsibility and Intentional Action: A Review of Scott Sehon's Free Will and Action Explanation
Criminal Justice Ethics, Forthcoming
27 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2017 Last revised: 15 Jun 2017
Date Written: March 31, 2017
Scott Sehon is someone who takes the philosophy of criminal justice seriously, who believes that if we are going to condemn people to prison (let alone to death!) we should have pretty good grounds for holding them morally responsible for crimes. He refuses to let the libertarian and the causalist-compatibilist off the hook: the libertarian insists that human beings are sometimes responsible for what they do, but only if there are gaps in just the right places; the compatibilist agrees that human beings are sometimes responsible for what they do, but only if certain arcane requirements are fulfilled. And so if the libertarian is right a prosecutor must be able to convince a jury that, beyond a reasonable doubt, there are causal gaps in just the right places. If the compatibilist is right a prosecutor must be able to convince a jury that, beyond a reasonable doubt, the requirements called for by her theory are fulfilled. Either way, Sehon argues, it would be impossible for a prosecutor to make the required case. I agree. The question is whether Sehon’s own theory of teleological compatibilism succeeds in avoiding this trap and in giving us a theory of responsibility that will support the claims of retribution and desert when punishment is on the line. I have come to the conclusion that it does not. On Sehon’s view, if I have it right, the prosecutor must appeal to counterfactual situations to establish the defendant’s purpose, when in fact it is knowledge of the defendant’s purpose that allows us to determine what would go on in counterfactual situations.
Keywords: free will, teleological theory of action, teleological theory of moral responsibility
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