- Series: MIT Press
- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: The MIT Press (October 14, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0262016591
- ISBN-13: 978-0262016599
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,504,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Against Moral Responsibility (MIT Press) Hardcover – October 14, 2011
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Cogently written, scientifically informed, and compellingly argued, Bruce Waller's Against Moral Responsibility makes the case for the incompatibility of naturalism and moral responsibility. For those of us who shun miraculous intervention, Waller's message is, perhaps surprisingly, optimistic. Although we must reject the notions of justified praise and blame, we can still have our free will, moral judgments, and warm personal relationships. Waller's original monograph offers us a world absent moral responsibility, but better off for it.(Mark H. Bernstein, Joyce & Edward E. Brewer Chair in Applied Ethics, Purdue University)
Waller's daring proposal, that we scrap our belief in moral responsibility in light of naturalism, points the way to a more humane and effective responsibility system. Against Moral Responsibility is a must-read on the free will debate and why it matters.(Tom Clark, Director, Center for Naturalism)
Waller argues against the existence of moral responsibility, while defending the existence of free will....If true, Waller's conclusion is enormously important.(Metapsychology)
Waller takes an unusual position....Whether or not the argument is ultimately persuasive, the author develops it with much detail, care, and attention to empirical data.(The Philosopher's Magazine)
Provocative....Waller has an impressive breadth of knowledge regarding free will and moral responsibility and makes many interesting and convincing points…This book will make readers think about moral responsibility in new ways that hopefully lead to a more healthy society.(American Journal of Bioethics)
Waller has presented us with a forceful, rich, and interesting book arguing for a highly original position. It combines compatibilism on free will with hard determinism on moral responsibility, couple with an optimistic discussion of both the possibility for and the outcome of abolishing moral responsibility. I sincerely hope that with this book his views will receive the critical attention they merit.(Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews)
An adroit survey of...analytic philosophers...[Waller] argues that...the degree of freedom that moral agents have is really far less than usually believed and is by no means equally shared. He makes a good case for this claim, and then goes on to argue for a much stronger claim, namely that we must reject...the social practice of rewarding or punishing other people for their moral or immoral behaviors.(Journal of Moral Education)
The book presents a powerful case. Particularly refreshing and useful is Waller's connection of these philosophical debates with questions in sociology and politics. He argues persuasively that the rejection of moral responsibility shifts the focus, away from the individual and toward the social or systemic problems that cause immoral behavior....This book has an importance that extends beyond narrow philosophical debates.(Philosophy in Review)
Waller offers a compelling argument to the effect that compatibilism does not entail moral responsibility and that systems of moral responsibility are inherently unfair....Waller's prose is easy to read, and his meticulous research runs the gamut from philosophy to neuroscience to cognitive psychology. As unorthodox as his thesis may be, Waller's argument cannot be dismissed easily and should be taken very seriously by all scholars interested in the nature of free will. Highly recommended.(Choice)
Recalling Wolfgang Pauli's famous putdown of a fellow physicist's work as 'not even wrong,' we can appreciate the fact that a crisp, clear argument can illuminate the field by uncovering a tempting but heretofore unexamined falsehood and forthrightly asserting it. I cannot think of a better example that Waller's book, from which I have learned more than from the last dozen books and article on free will that I have read, a bounty of valuable insights all marshaled on behalf of a thesis that has never before been properly defended, and is in the end, in my opinion, indefensible -- but for reasons that are instructive. Waller has opened my eyes about my own project and other competing projects in the field.(Daniel C. Dennett Naturalism.org)
Important and interesting....Waller has written a deeply though-provoking book.(Philosophical Quarterly)
"Cogently written, scientifically informed, and compellingly argued, Bruce Waller's Against Moral Responsibility makes the case for the incompatibility of naturalism and moral responsibility. For those of us who shun miraculous intervention, Waller's message is, perhaps surprisingly, optimistic. Although we must reject the notions of justified praise and blame, we can still have our free will, moral judgments, and warm personal relationships. Waller's original monograph offers us a world absent moral responsibility but better off for it." -- Mark H. Bernstein, Joyce & Edward E. Brewer Chair in Applied Ethics, Purdue University "Waller's daring proposal, that we scrap our belief in moral responsibility in light of naturalism, points the way to a more humane and effective responsibility system. Against Moral Responsibility is a must-read on the free will debate and why it matters." -- Tom Clark, Director, Center for Naturalism
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In Against Moral Responsibility, Bruce Waller claims that although people generally meet standard requirements adduced for being morally responsible, we nevertheless *aren't* morally responsible; no one ever deserves praise or punishment. This of course is a shocking claim, contrary to commonsense, and to defend it Waller must take on the philosophical establishment, both the dominant compatibilists, who claim that being morally responsible is compatible with determinism, and the far fewer libertarians, who hold out hope for a human causal exceptionalism. Waller sets out to destroy, "root and branch," what he calls the moral responsibility system, which he sees as being fundamentally incompatible with science-based naturalism, morally indefensible, and deeply destructive by leading us to ignore or discount the causes of human behavior and the often harmful outcomes of holding people morally responsible.
Waller's case against the libertarians is straightforward and takes up relatively little space in his book: there's no good naturalistic account of how human agents could be first causes, or self-caused, in the way libertarian philosophers (and perhaps many ordinary folk) think is necessary for being morally responsible. There's no evidence for or logical coherence to contra-causal freedom; on a naturalistic view of ourselves, human agents can't be the ultimate originators of their character and actions in the miraculous, god-like way that, Waller suggests, originally justified the idea of moral responsibility and just deserts.
Working within a science-based naturalism that accepts that human agents are likely fully caused phenomena with genetic and environmental antecedents, Waller concentrates his fire on the compatibilist apologists for moral responsibility, that is, the majority of philosophers concerned with human action. This makes his book very useful for those interested in the current debates about free will and moral responsibility; it addresses the central arguments of many of the major players, including Harry Frankfurt, Daniel Dennett, Al Mele, George Sher, and John Martin Fischer. None of their arguments, Waller believes, can justify the claim that wrongdoers should be punished for deontological reasons having nothing to do with the consequences of such punishment, the central demand of moral responsibility. And careful considerations of consequences will often suggest that punishment isn't the best course of action in response to failure or wrongdoing.
Waller argues that to justify the notion of moral responsibility, compatibilists have to provide reasons that outweigh what he sees as the basic unfairness of (non-consequentially, deontologically, retributively) punishing agents who haven't ultimately chosen their character and motives: "When we reflect deeply and carefully, we recognize that the behavior and characters of those we want to blame and punish were shaped by forces beyond their control, and it seems fundamentally unfair to punish people for their bad luck in being misshapen" (p. 94). The naturalistic causal story shows that none of us is self-made in the way that would make such punishment morally fair, and no other naturalistic considerations, Waller says, can make it fair. Moral responsibility is thus morally indefensible within a naturalistic framework. But of course many philosophers think otherwise. They adduce reasons that, they think, make agents deserving of punishment, that is, make it fair and just to punish someone simply because he has behaved badly. Waller points out that, paradoxically, the very breadth and diversity of these reasons suggest that the case for moral responsibility is weak.
What drives the compatibilist quest to justify moral responsibility, Waller suggests, is our strong, biologically-endowed retaliatory disposition to harm those who have harmed us or those we love, what he calls the strikeback response. As Waller puts it, "we feel those desires [to strike back] so deeply that we are certain that they must be justified" (p. 13). The strikeback response obviously had, and still has, naturally evolved functions, for instance to deter aggressors and maintain social cohesion (p. 135), but equally obviously it can be counterproductive when retributive emotions lead us to inflict suffering and death unnecessary for producing any social good. We can overreach in our zeal for punishment. By laying bare the psychological drivers of moral responsibility, Waller suggests that its justifications are simply rationalizations for acting on our retaliatory instincts. Seeing this, we'll be less likely to act on them when they are counterproductive (which they often are, he argues), and be open to more enlightened and effective responses to wrongdoing.
The way Waller sees it, compatibilists are basically begging the question against moral responsibility; they take for granted the longstanding, culturally embedded presumption that of course agents are morally responsible and deserving of punishment. Their justifications therefore operate within the moral responsibility system, picking out characteristics of agents that supposedly make them morally responsible in contrast to agents that aren't. As a result, skepticism about the system itself is in short supply. But if the presumption of moral responsibility is not taken for granted, Waller argues that it's difficult to justify on any deeper grounds.
Despite the diversity of compatibilist arguments for moral responsibility, there is nevertheless a basic theme or strategy uniting them that Waller tellingly exposes: they seek to highlight the agent as the primary causal player when explaining wrongdoing, while diverting attention from the agent's antecedents and situation. This strategy involves focusing on particular characteristics of the agent (e.g., being rational, reasons-responsive, sane, and uncoerced), while downplaying her causal history and the influence of the situation and systems of which she is inevitably a part. This selective emphasis - singling out the agent - works to replicate, as far as naturalistically possible, the libertarian picture of persons as causally independent of their circumstances. Highlighting the agent, while obscuring (intentionally or not) her antecedents and situation, creates fertile psychological ground for generating attributions of agent-focused blame and the desire for punishment....
Can our innate predilection to reward and punish independently of considerations of consequences be justified on deeper, non-psychological, ethical grounds? To succeed in this would be to elevate the predilection into a moral principle, the normative good of moral responsibility. But Waller shows that by highlighting the agent's rational, control and self-forming capacities, while obscuring their origins outside the agent, compatibilists merely incite the very propensity to blame which those capacities supposedly justify. They haven't yet revealed, at least to my satisfaction, or Waller's, a deeper moral principle that the propensity expresses.
The intuition of moral responsibility is given comfort by singling out agents, but threatened when we put them in context. If you think it's fair and indeed obligatory to blame, punish, marginalize or otherwise make individuals suffer for their misconduct or shortcomings, it could be because you've not given due consideration to luck, to causation, to the history, situation and systems that fully explain (but not eliminate) the agent. What is it that makes it fair to punish the unlucky for their bad luck, whether or not it produces good outcomes? What is it that makes punishment obligatory? Answer that question convincingly and you'll have won the day for retributivists, forcing naturalist progressives to concede that desert-entailing moral responsibility has a legitimate place in worldview naturalism. But as it stands, the question is very much open. In his thorough and persuasive critique of compatibilism, Waller shows why.
Pragmatical arguments are interesting and I think they deserve to get more attention from other philosophers and psychologists.
I give only two stars to this book although I believe that its essential content is ok. However book is far too long. Waller presents many different kind of arguments in favour of moral responsibility and is using almost the same counterarguments in each case. Several empirical evidences is repeated over and over again. In effect book is terribly boring although it may be thought-provoking to some people.