Hi everyone--here is a last post for January before I pass the baton to Derk. Thanks again to Thomas and to all of you for such thoughtful and interesting contributions--the whole experience has been terrific, and you’ve given me much to continue to think about!
One very influential approach to responsibility seeks to understand it in terms of reasons-responsiveness. But there are a variety of ways of understanding reasons-responsiveness, and these include mechanism-based views and agent-based views. So, for example, on Fischer and Ravizza’s mechanism-based approach, one is responsible when one acts on one’s own moderately reasons-responsive mechanism. Without getting into the subtle details of their account, we can understand a mechanism to be reasons-responsive in general as follows: if the mechanism on which one acts were to operate, then in some set of worlds in which there were sufficient reason to do otherwise, the agent recognizes the reason and does otherwise. Here it is the mechanism on which one acts that is reasons-responsive in the first instance. In contrast, on an agent-based account, an agent is responsible for an action if the agent herself is reasons responsive. (Reasons responsiveness on the part of an agent can be cashed out in different ways, including as having the ability to respond to reasons that there are in the situation.) Much has been said about the contrast between these two different approaches, but having recently been thinking about self-deception, I’d like to come at it here from perhaps a slightly different angle.
Consider a case that allows for an agent to be reasons-responsive even when the agent does not act on a reasons-responsive mechanism (understood as above). Suppose that a woman deceives herself, coming to believe that her son is not abusing his own children, for example. Suppose the mechanism on which she forms the belief--or collects her evidence--is a motivated biasing mechanism. Supposing that the biasing mechanism is not reasons-responsive (or does not meet the requisite threshold level of reasons-responsiveness), then the self-deceiver will not be responsible on the mechanism-based view. In contrast, on the latter view, it is not exonerating that a non-reasons-responsive mechanism is operating. What matters is whether the agent could have either prevented that mechanism from operating, or instead put another into action. Since there is good intuitive support for the idea that self-deceivers like this woman can be responsible, does the case of self-deception provide support for the agent-based approach to responsibility?