The other day, while taking my kids to school, I held up traffic by trying to cut over a lane to make a left turn, and a car stuck behind me honked long and loud. My son, Lucas (10), said matter of factly, “You deserved that, Dad.” (I think he was right.) Of course, I then had to go Socratic on him and try to figure out what he means by ‘desert’, and I won’t bore you with the details. But it reminded me of an issue I’ve raised here before (e.g., here), and I’d like to get more explicit answers from people, especially skeptics about ‘genuine desert’ (by way of skepticism of ‘desert-entailing’ free will). Let me pose the questions this way:
Either (a) I didn’t deserve to be honked at (children don’t deserve to be reprimanded for bad behavior, top musicians don’t deserve their awards, bad politicians don’t deserve to be voted out of office, etc.) or (b) I did deserve it (they do deserve it).
If (a), is it because even low-level degrees of desert are unjustified for the same reasons that all desert is unjustified—i.e., we lack the powers of self-creation, sourcehood, agent causation, or unconditional choice that would be required for any and all desert? (If so, does this mean that Lucas was implicitly assuming that I have such metaphysical powers when he made his comment? And I was misusing the concept when I thought I deserved to be honked at—and that others deserve things—since I don’t think people have such powers?)
If (b), is it because ‘desert’ is properly used in different ways, and it applies to my case and other low-level desert cases because those cases don’t require the metaphysical powers, but it does not apply to other cases that seem to involve more significant degrees of desert, like deserving to be punished retributively? (If so, does this mean that Sandusky or this guy do not deserve blame and punishment, but I do, because the concept is being applied differently across the cases? Or does it mean that they deserve blame in the same watered down sense as I do, but not in the genuine sense that would justify more significant responses, such as retributive punishment?)
Or is there some other explanation I’m missing?
Of course, I think I deserved my low-level reprimand for the same reasons most people deserve blame and punishment, praise and reward (when they do and to the degree that they do): I had the capacities to recognize that what I was doing was (low-level) wrong (i.e., d-baggish), and I had the opportunity to act differently (in the ordinary sense that nothing prevented me from exercising my capacities to recognize what I was doing, to choose and act otherwise, etc.). And I think that’s roughly what Lucas was implicitly assuming (I also think he’d be quite good at picking up on mitigating circumstances based on these compatibilist conditions—from fanciful manipulators to ordinary excuses such as my being unable to see whether there were cars behind me or our being really late for school or my being so tired I couldn’t think straight, etc.).
Skeptics (and libertarians?) about desert tend to focus on heinous crimes and criminals, perhaps thinking that if those guys (Robert Harris, Hitler, etc.) don’t deserve blame, then obviously no one does. But this strategy may make the case more plausible, both because those guys may seem so crazy that it’s hard to distinguish whether what they lack is libertarian powers or compatibilist capacities and because those crimes are the sort that invoke the G-Strawsonian idea of heaven-and-hell responsibility/desert. I’m thinking the case is harder to make working from the bottom up rather than the top down. Convince us that no one deserves anything, including clearly rational, knowledgeable, self-controlled people, to any degree (and in both directions—blame and praise), or explain why low-level desert is different in kind from the sort of desert that you claim is not justified.
Yep, that's right: P.F. Strawson's landmark article was originally published in Proceedings of the British Academy in 1962.
In honor of its remarkable influence over the past half-century, The College of William & Mary is hosting a two-day conference this fall, Responsibility & Relationships, that will explore Strawsonian themes in contemporary moral philosophy, psychology, and the law, including new work on blame, punishment, and the moral emotions. And you're all invited.
It's happening on September 27-28, 2012, and participants include Laura Ekstrom, John Martin Fischer, Bennett Helm, Pamela Hieronymi, Jeanette Kennett, Adrienne Martin, Victoria McGeer, Jeffrie Murphy, Dana Nelkin, Paul Russell, Tim Scanlon, David Shoemaker, Dan Speak, Galen Strawson, R. Jay Wallace, and Gary Watson.
Information about how to register will come soon. For now, just save the dates, and plan on joining us for some great philosophy and, I hope, a beautiful few days exploring America's Historic Triangle.
Thanks to the hard work of Oisín Deery, the website for the Society for Philosophy of Agency is now up here. The Society is now accepting applications for membership. Membership is free and open to graduate students, professional philosophers, and researchers working on issues about human agency who work primarily in cognate fields (e.g., law, neuroscience, psychology, theology, etc.).
All you need to do to apply for membership is send an email to <philosophyofagency[at]gmail.com> with your name, email address, and institutional affiliation (if applicable). You will be added to the Society's email list. Your information will not be shared with anyone.
The Society's first event will be held in a group session meeting on Friday, April 6, 2012, at the Pacific Division Meeting of the APA. It will be a panel discussion on "The Current State and Future of Philosophical Research on Action and Agency" featuring Jeanette Kennett, Alfred Mele, Thomas Nadelhoffer, Eddy Nahmias, and Manuel Vargas.
NEWPORT BEACH, CA—After meeting with his agent Monday to discuss his free agency prospects, Prince Fielder told reporters he was left wondering if he or any man can ever say his agency is truly free. "Free agency suggests I am able to make a choice void of any constraint, but right from the get-go, that premise is problematic," said Fielder, adding that it isn't as if he can just get a job as an acoustical engineer, or even as a professional athlete in another sport. "In the end, I am not an autonomous entity who can choose a path based on multiple options. Instead, I am one link in a causal chain, so my actions are merely the inevitable product of lawful causes stemming from prior events. What I'm saying is, I'm essentially limited to the 30 baseball organizations in North America; realistic, long-term socioeconomic factors have already decided which cities can support a team that pays the kind of salary I demand; and roster decisions dating all the way back to the invention of the game have determined which teams are in need of a first baseman today—so there are only a few clubs that could logically take me. And human nature will compel me to pick the one that offers the best, highest salary." Fielder concluded the press conference by saying that he is essentially a determinist, and that he enjoys hitting baseballs.
Call for Papers: Narrativity: Interpretation, Embodiment and Responsibility 3rd Workshop in the series Moral Agency, Deliberative Awareness, and Conscious Control & Special Issue of Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences Erasmus University of Rotterdam, the Netherlands & Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany. Special slots reserved for PhD's and junior researchers! Friday - Sunday 19-21 October 2012 Location: International School for Philosophy, Leusden, The Netherlands (within easy reach of airport Schiphol, Amsterdam)
Maybe the most attractive feature of retributivism in the philosophy of punishment is that it has a principle of proportionality. Proportionality is intimitately connected with desert. As the criminologist Andrew von Hirsch (who has written a fantastic series of books and articles on this topic) describes it, the proportionality principle dictates that punishment should be “commensurate to the degree of blameworthiness of the conduct,” where “blameworthiness depends both on the harmfulness of the conduct and on the degree of culpability of the actor.” (Reply to Bedau, J Phil, 1978). According to von Hirsch, the proportionality principle is “a basic requirement of fairness.”
The big problem for retributivists is trying to match deserved punishments to particular crimes. What punishment does someone deserve for armed robbery (where no one was physically harmed)? Ten years in prison? Five years? Two years and probation? Flogging? Retributivists have a notoriously hard time coming up with a theoretical basis to answer this question, and our intuitions are hazy at best. So what does the proportionality principle really entail?
This a call for postgraduate respondents for an upcoming conference on the Manipulation Argument.
The conference will be held in Budapest in early June 2012. Deadline for applications: 29 February, 2012. Please find details below.
Conference Title: The Manipulation Argument Place: Central European University (Budapest, Hungary) Date: 7-9 June, 2012
Confirmed invited speakers: - Ish Haji (University of Calgary) - Michael McKenna (University of Arizona) - Al Mele (Florida State University) - Derk Pereboom (Cornell University) - Paul Russell (University of British Columbia)
Organizers: - Michael McKenna & Andras Szigeti (Lund University/CEU)