Our own beloved Manuel Vargas has been pushing a revisionist line regarding freedom and moral responsibility. In short, (and he can correct me if I misrepresent his view) revisionism is the view that our ordinary folk concepts of freedom and responsibility are hopelessly jacked up. There's really no hope of untangling the various threads in a way that can be both internally coherent and consistent with the empirical data. So we ought to stop trying. Instead, we ought to admit defeat, abandon the project of salvaging the folks concepts, and get to work on a revised story of responsibility.
Recently I admitted to Manuel that I think his project is a good one and that I wish him well in his efforts. But, I claimed, this is because I am inclined to see revisionism as a kind of fall-back position. If the traditional efforts to salvage the folk concepts ultimately fail, it will be good to know that smart people have been working on what can take their place. Still, I'm not a revisionist. I'm not yet prepared to admit defeat. I still hold out hope. (There's a way in which my position here is like the "flip-flopping" van Inwagen countenances and about which John Fischer has complained).
But here's my worry. It's not clear to me what would count as sufficient pressure to force revision. Manuel's sensitive reply has been to give me his best sheepish grin and ask what more pressure one could want than 2500 years of failed philosophical efforts to make the folk concepts clear. This isn't a bad point. Makes me wonder if I've backed myself into a corner.
To get myself out of this corner, I want to think more about the kinds of pressures that can force us to revise our folk concepts. As I'm seeing it, there is a dynamic tension between the "evidence" that the concepts can't be legitimized and the value of maintaining the concept. When a particular folk concept has little riding on it, then the amount of evidence needed to dislodge it is less, and vice versa. So, there are two questions I'd like to explore. First, what counts as evidence for the failure of a concept. Second, what values hang on the preservation of the folks concepts. Manuel, obviously, thinks there is enough evidence but this is largely because he also thinks that less hangs on the concepts than I do. I think it would help to make our answers to these questions as explicit as possible.
Here's what might help. Suppose we could amass a list of circumstances in which there is some pressure on a folk concept and in which some revisionsist conception is in the offing. In some of these cases, the folk concept will have prevailed. In others, we will have made the switch to the revised concept. And, in some others, it will still be up for grabs. I'd like to get some of these cases out in the open. Then, perhaps, we might see more clearly what drives the preservation of folk concepts and what supplies sufficient pressure for revision.
cases that come to mind:
epistemological skepticism (Have we revised our concept of knowledge?)
People used to blame and punish animals under the law (having trials and executions, etc.).
What else comes to mind?