Moral Responsibility (Fall 2012) - Syllabus

Moral Responsibility

PHIL 306-01 | ID 11274 | MR 12:30-1:50 | Alger 106 | Fall 2012

Course Syllabus

Instructor: Dr. Aaron Smuts | | office hours: 219 Alger Hall, 12:15-1:45 T


Many think that it's appropriate to punish criminals because they deserve it. "They've got it coming to them." In contrast, we don't think that it's appropriate to retributively punish non-human animals. You don't lock a dog in a cage until it has paid for its sin. No, you condition animals. They aren't responsible in the same way. Unlike dogs, we think that humans can be moral responsible for their actions.

In this class, we will explore the nature of moral responsibility and look at several related puzzles. We will spend a few classes on free will. But this is not our focus. We will look at the major compatibilist contenders and how they approach questions such as the following:

1. What is moral responsibility? Is there just one kind of moral responsibility?

2. What must something have to be morally responsible? Does moral responsibility require control or the ability to do otherwise?

3. What is the significance of moral luck? (Why is an unlucky drunk driver any more responsible than a lucky drunk who makes it home safely?)

4. Does normative ignorance excuse the wrongdoer? Are we blameworthy for doing what we think is right? (Does a dedicated, well-meaning Nazi deserve blame?)

5. Conversely, should we sometimes act against our best judgment? (Is Huck Finn praiseworthy for not turning in Jim?)

6. Are we responsible for our attitudes, emotions, and concerns?

7. What distinguishes the moral responsibility of animals from that of normal adult humans? Should we retributively punish animals? What about children?

8. Are psychopaths morally responsible for their actions?

This course presupposes no background in free will, though students will be expected to familiarize themselves with the area once the semester begins. I recommend reading the first few chapters of Kane's short introductory book on free will this summer.


There are two required texts for this course:

  1. Gary Watson, ed. Free Will (Oxford Readings in Philosophy) (Oxford UP, 2003). ISBN-10: 019925494X. [GWFW] [buy]
  2. Derk Pereboom, ed. Free Will. Hackett, 2009. ISBN-10: 1603841296. [DPFW] [buy]

There is one recommended book for background:

  1. Robert Kane. A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will (Oxford UP, 2005). ISBN-10: 019514970X. [CI] [buy]

I will post numerous additional readings on Blackboard. [BB]


There will be (a) fifteen 1 pagers, (b) some simple quizzes, (c) two take-home exams, and (d) a term paper. (a) The 1 pagers will typically be due at the start of class on Thursday. These merely ask you to present an argument in no more than a page. You should define the key terms and formalize the important arguments in the reading. I don't need paragraphs. Do not evaluate the arguments here. (b) On Mondays we will have a simple quiz on the assigned reading. (c) The take-home exams ask you to explain arguments and objections. An explanation provides background details that a mere presentation does not. The exams will help you develop fundamental skills of exposition and competency with the subject. (d) The term paper is your chance to go deeper into a problem. If should defend a clear thesis. It must take a stand on an issue. You should be working on your paper from the beginning of the semester. Start thinking about a topic now. You must turn in an abstract and an outline one month before (W: 11/14) the paper is due (S: 12/15).

20% = First Take-home Exam

25% = Second Take-home Exam

15% = 15 (out of 15 possible) 1 Page Formalizations (for readings marked " 1 Pager")

5% = 10 (out of 14 possible) Monday quizzes

5% = Term Paper abstract and outline [due W: 11/14]

30% = Term Paper (13-15 pages; 4,000-4500 words) [due S: 12/15]

Attendance Policy

If you miss 6 or more classes, you will receive a 0 for your quiz grade. If you miss 12 or more classes, you will receive an F for the course. (There are no excused or unexcused absences. But please talk to me if something major comes up that will dramatically affect your attendance.)

Laptop Policy

Laptop use is prohibited. The same goes for tablet computers. Consider this rehab for Facebook addiction. You should print the articles posted on Blackboard and bring them to class.

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism—claiming someone else’s ideas or written work as your own—will not be tolerated. The tests are not collaborative. All sources must be cited. Outside research is not forbidden, but none of the assignments ask for sources outside the assigned readings. Anyone caught cheating will be given a failing grade in the course. I will also report you to the Vice President of Academic Affairs.

Class Schedule

Topic I: A Quick Introduction to Free Will and Moral Responsibility

  • Week 1
    • C01 (M: 8/27) Overview
      • {Background: Kane, A Contemporary Introduction, chs.1-4 [CI]}
    • C02 (R: 8/30) Libertarianism
      • Campbell, "Has the Self 'Free Will'?" (excerpt from On Selfhood and Godhood) [BB] à 1 Pager (#1)
      • Chisholm, "Human Freedom and the Self" [BB]
      • {Background: Kane, ch.4 "Libertarianism, Indeterminism, and Chance" [CI]}
      • {Background: Kane, ch. 5 "Minds, Selves, and Agent Causes" [CI]}
      • {Optional: O'Connor, "Agent Causation" [GWFW]}
      • {Optional: Reid, selections [BB]}
      • {Optional: Kane, "Free Will: New Directions for an Ancient Problem" [BB]}
  • Week 2
    • CXX (M: 9/3) *NO CLASS: Labor Day
    • C03 (R: 9/6) Free Will Skepticism
      • Galen Strawson, "The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility" à 1 Pager (#2)
      • {Background: Kane, ch.7 "Hard Determinists and Other Skeptics" [CI]}
      • {Optional: Robert Audi, "Responsible Action and Virtuous Character" [BB]}
  • Week 3
    • C04 (M: 9/10) Incompatibilism
      • Van Inwagen, "The Incompatiblity of Free Will and Determinism" [GWFW]
      • {Background: Kane, ch. 3 "Incompatibilism" [CI]}

Topic II: Contemporary Compatibilisms

    • C05 (R: 9/13) Alternative Possibilities
      • Hume, selections [DPFW]
      • Frankfurt, "Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility" [GWFW] à 1 Pager (#3)
      • {Background: Kane, ch. 8 "Moral Responsibility and Alternative Possibilities" [CI]}
  • Week 4
    • C06 (M: 9/17) Frankfurt-Style Compatibilism
      • Frankfurt, "Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person" [GWFW]
      • {Optional: Charles Taylor, "Self-Interpreting Animals" [BB]}
    • C07 (R: 9/20) Real Self Views
      • Watson, "Free Agency" [GWFW] à 1 Pager (#4)
  • Week 5
    • C08 (M: 9/25) Criticism of Real Self Views
      • Wolf, "Sanity and the Metaphysics of Responsibility" [GWFW] à 1 Pager (#5)
    • CXX (R: 9/27) *NO CLASS
      • David Shoemaker, "Care, Identification, and Agency" [BB]
  • Week 6
    • C09 (M: 10/1) Reactive Attitudes
      • Peter Strawson, "Freedom and Resentment" [DPFW]
      • {Background: Kane, Ch. 10 "Reactive Attitude Theories" [CI]}
    • C10 (R: 10/4) The Objective Attitude
      • Watson, "Responsibility and the Limits of Evil" [BB] à 1 Pager (#6)
      • {Optional: Sommers, "The Objective Attitude" [BB]}
  • Week 7
    • CXX (M: 10/8) Columbus Day: No Class (meets Tuesday)
    • C11 (T: 10/9) Semi-Compatibilism
      • Fischer, "Frankfurt Style Compatibilism"
      • Fischer, "Moderate Reasons Responsiveness" [BB]
      • {Optional: Fischer, "Responsiveness and Moral Responsibility" [BB]}
    • C12 (R: 10/11) The Four Case Argument
      • Pereboom, "Determinism Al Dente" à 1 Pager (#7)
      • {Optional: Kane, The Significance of Free Will, Ch.6 "Significance" [BB]}
  • Week 8
    • C13 (M: 10/15) Reasons and Attributionism
      • Nomy Arpaly, UnPrincipled Virtue, Ch.3 "Moral Worth" [BB]
    • C14 (R: 10/18) Aretaic Appraisal
      • Watson, "Two Faces of Responsibility" [BB] à 1 Pager (#8)
      • {Optional: Adams, "Involuntary Sins" [BB]}
      • {Optional: Beardsley, Determinism [BB]}
  • Week 9
    • C15 (M: 10/22) Responsibility for Attitudes
      • Angela M. Smith, "Responsibility for Attitudes" [BB]
    • C16 (R: 10/25) Caring and Volitional Necessity
      • Frankfurt, "On Caring" [BB] à 1 Pager (#9)
      • {Optional: Justin Oakley, "Responsibility of Person for Their Emotions" [BB]}
      • {Optional: Shoeman, "The Problem of Induced Desires" [BB]}
      • {Optional: Sankowski, "Love and Moral Obligation" [BB]}
      • {Optional: Eugene Schlossberger, "Why We Are Responsible for Our Emotions" [BB]}
      • {Optional: Blum, "Will, Self, and Emotion" [BB]}
  • Week 10
    • C17 (M: 10/29) Attributability, Answerability, and Accountability
      • David Shoemaker, "Attributability, Answerability, and Accountability" [BB]
      • {Optional: Angela M. Smith, " Attributability, Answerability, and Accountability: In Defense of a Unified Account" [BB]}
      • {Optional: Christine Tappolet, "Autonomy and the Emotions" [BB]}
      • {Optional: Smuts, "Love and Free Will" [BB]}

Topic III: Luck and Ignorance

    • C18 (R: 11/1) The Philosopher
      • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics Book III [BB] à 1 Pager (#10)
  • Week 11
    • C19 (M: 11/5) Moral Luck
      • Nagel, "Moral Luck" [BB]
      • {Optional: Williams, "Moral Luck" [BB]}
    • C20 (R: 11/8) Culpable Ignorance
      • Holly Smith, "Culpable Ignorance" [BB] à 1 Pager (#11)
      • {Optional: Beardsley, "Blaming" [BB]}
  • Week 12
  • Week 13
    • C23 (M: 11/20) Culpable Ignorance
      • Elizabeth Harman, “Does Moral Ignorance Exculpate?” [BB] à 1 Pager (#13)
    • CXX (R: 11/22) - Thanksgiving Break: No Class

Topic IV: Akrasia

  • Week 14
    • C24 (M: 11/27) Akrasia
      • Richard Holton, "Intention and Weakness of Will" [BB]
      • {Optional: Davidson, "How Is Weakness of the Will Possible?" [BB]}
      • {Optional: Plato, Protagoras [BB] }
    • C25 (R: 11/29) Akrasia
      • Alfred Mele, "Weakness of the Will and Akrasia" [BB] à 1 Pager (#14)

  • Week 15
    • C26 (M: 12/3) Huck Finn, Himmler, and Brimstone
      • Jonathan Bennett, "The Conscience of Huckleberry Finn" [BB]
      • Nomy Arpaly, Unprincipled Virtue, Ch.1 "The Complexity of Moral Psychology" [BB]
    • C27 (R: 12/8) Inverse Akrasia
      • Nomy Arpaly, Unprincipled Virtue, Ch.2 "On Acting Rationally against One's Best Judgment" [BB] à 1 Pager (#15)

(S: 12/15) *DUE: TERM PAPER