Dec 052014

On Thursday’s episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, I discussed “Responsibility & Luck, Chapter Five” with listeners. The podcast of that episode is now available for streaming or downloading.

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Podcast: Responsibility & Luck, Chapter Five

In Chapter Three of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle develops the outlines of a theory of moral responsibility. He argues that responsibility requires (1) control and (2) knowledge. What is the meaning of those conditions for moral responsibility? What do they require in practice? Are those conditions for moral responsibility sufficient? What gaps did Aristotle leave? What is required for a full and clear defense of moral responsibility for actions? I answered these questions and more in this discussion of Chapter Five of my book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame.

Listen or Download:


  • Moral responsibility
  • The control condition
  • The compatibilist challenge to the control condition
  • The epistemic condition
  • Voluntary ignorance and voluntary incapacity
  • The agency condition
  • What’s next


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  • James

    I’m not sure I agree with your statement about folks with short tempers. For two reasons.

    First, I think it’s based on unrealistic expectations. Someone with a short temper can be working to fix it, but not be all the way there yet. Dr. Hurd has a few discussions on this topic; the crux of the issue is, as you learn to control such behaviors you inevitably err on occasion. I’m hesitant to call such slip-ups “revealing the true you”. They’re more along the lines of symptoms of a disease you’re fighting. The fight reveals more than the symptoms do about the nature of yoru character. (I get that this comment was a bit off-the-cuff, but wanted to voice this objection to see what your response would be.)

    Second, I think it down-plays the importance of restrictions for a person’s character. I have a bad temper, often a violent one, and I know it. Therefore I take steps to prevent outbursts. I have coping mechanisms to keep my temper in check, and if I need to blow off steam I know of constructive ways to do so (for example, chopping wood, tilling a garden by hand, or turning a compost pile all benefit me and my loved ones, while requiring enough work to satisfy my impulse to do something physical). To say that a single outburst where I punch a wall under provocation reveals my “true self” more than the countless instances where I maitnain far greater control seems to say that my “true self” is that part of me that’s not under my direct control. Which means that the part of me I DO control–including the steps I take to prevent my temper from causing problems–is somehow artificial, fake, or unreal. I’m not comfortable with such an interpretation.

    I’m not sure what I think about the concept of a true self; personalities are too plastic for me to put much stock in the concept. Impetuous actions can reveal deep values, but I’m afraid they can also short-circuit our responses to values. Think of the furnace break-out in Atlas Shrugged–it was an impetuous actionon Francisco’s part, and actively undermined his true value hierarchy. I think that sometimes, particularly under emotional stress, even the best of us drops the context of the situation, and our impetuous actions when we do so doen’t necessarily reflect our true beliefs, but rather a momentary befuddlement of our true values.

    Sorry to go on such a long tangent based on a minor comment; it’s just something that bugs me, and I wanted to see your thoughts and your evaluation of my thought process.

    • Diana Hsieh

      Ah, that’s helpful — thanks! (And I think that your analysis is basically right too.) I think that the “revealing the true you” case is more like when people put on an act in some way — like they’re polite to their bosses and other “higher-ups,” but rude and demanding to waitresses and other “lower” people. In that case, it’s not so much that the jerk is the true self, but a new theory is required to explain their actions — such as that their character is that of the poseur/suck-up/social climber/second-hander.

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