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Justin Capes

John,

Here are some questions--invitations, really, to say more.

On the suggested view, what would ground Putin's desert of punishment? Just the fact that he did the bad things?

On another note, what justifies the defeasible presumption of responsibility? Can we--especially those of us at this distance from him--really know anything about the mechanisms that produce his behavior? And if not, then can we presume to know that he satisfies any of the various reasons-sensitivity conditions?

Dave Shoemaker

John: FWIW, I stand with you.

The institution and execution of criminal law, including its attendant harsh treatment, cares nothing for the actual reasons, the motivations, of its defendants, except relative to possible defenses. There is a demand for reasons-responsiveness of a sort, namely, that defendants at least can grasp and respond to *some* reasons against committing the crime they committed. But the criminal law couldn't care less if those are moral reasons, religious reasons, aesthetic reasons, or, yes, prudential reasons (to avoid punishment). This allows it to convict and punish psychopaths (at least those with access to prudential reasons). They were warned, and they deliberately ignored the warning.

But which types of reasons against your action you have access to in interpersonal morality -- well, that *does* matter. A husband who doesn't cheat on his wife solely because he's afraid of getting caught isn't off the hook for her anger (wrong reasons!!).

All of this is to support your thought that there can well be deserved institutional/criminal accountability, even where there's no interpersonal moral accountability, and I think this is true of psychopaths. And that's how one could deserve harsh treatment -- meted out by the state or some institution, crucially -- without being (morally) blameworthy. So while you and I probably couldn't legitimately torture and kill him, I'd surely think some (international?) state could. And they could also distribute popcorn.

John Fischer

Thanks to Justin and Dave.
I'll try to reply to Justin below, but first thanks to Dave for his insightful comments, and kind words, and idea for the popcorn. I'm with you.

Justin--excellent questions. Dave offers some good suggestions. Here's a very "out-there" idea: whereas punishment involves harsh treatment that symbolizes moral indignation (or resentment), harsh treatment of a psychopath--specifically Putin, if he is one--who has caused enormous pain and death symbolizes our horror, horror that any thoughtful human being would have qua human being. Maybe it is a ground-level principle (or norm or maybe just intuition) that voluntarily and knowingly (not necessarily freely) causing the horrific justifies severe harsh treatment, even when the targeted individual is not morally blameworthy. Perhaps we can say that the justification involves desert--moral desert. You might say: it is a basic or "primitive" idea that an individual who knowingly and voluntarily causes horrific suffering and death deserves harsh treatment, if not blame. Nb: the sorts of desert and justification do not imply justification (or ought)--all things considered. That's important, and thus I've fallen short of my goal of establishing more than just the prima facie conclusions.

Note: I reiterate. I believe that Putin deserves the severest blame and the harshest treatment.

Justin Capes

John, Dave,

Plum knowingly and voluntarily kills Mustard in the ballroom with a candlestick, but he was manipulated by mad scientists. The night before they erased all his normal moral values/desires and replaced them with sadistic ones, and they did so in a way that ensured that he would murder the Colonel. However, Plum is still responsive to prudential reasons.

I assume Plum isn't blameworthy. Given that assumption, I confess that I can't see how Plum "could deserve harsh treatment -- meted out by the state or some institution" given that he's not (morally) blameworthy. It seem obvious to me that, even though he knowingly and voluntarily did a horrible thing, he doesn't deserve harsh treatment for it.

Note: I'm not saying that it would be wrong, all things considered, to give Putin harsh treatment. My worry is simply that we can't know whether he deserves it.

John Fischer

Thanks, Justin. I had just roughed something out quickly, but it is useful to get your counterexample. Perhaps I could say that when an individual knowingly and intentionally brings about a horrific outcome as a result of his own prudential r/r mechanism, then he is pro tanto deserving of harsh treatment, even if not blameworthy. The harsh treatment symbolizes horror (not indignation). No doubt you can come up with a problem for this, but fire away. And hey, it is a start, no?

A morally responsible agent speaks the language of reasons, prudential, ethical, and perhaps other kinds too. She is fluent in this language, and thus can have a conversation, metaphorically speaking, corresponding to moral responsibility practices (Watson, McKenna, Shoemaker, et al) She can be blamed and punished for her wrongdoing. Some people are not fluent, but they still know a good amount of the language. Psychopaths are like this. Although I hesitate to liken myself to a psychopath (I leave this to others!), I am not fluent in German, but I know a good deal of the language. I can get along in German, but academic lectures and the TV news are too fast/difficult for me. A psychopath is like this (metaphorically speaking, again): she can understand a good deal of the reasons language, but she is not fluent: she doesn't speak the language of moral reasons. So just as I can participate in some activities in German but can't in all, a psychopath can participate in some of the responsibility practices, but not all. We can treat them harshly--they speak the language of prudential reasons. But we cannot sensibly hold them morally responsible and blame them, since they lack the capacity to grasp moral reasons. They can deserve harsh treatment as a response to the horror elicited by their actions, and this is a strong pro tanto reason in the evaluation of the justification, all-things-considered, of harsh treatment for psychopaths.

Note that an accent is different from a dialect. A dialect has different vocabulary and grammar, but an accent involves a different way of pronouncing the words. Some may conflate the two, and deem psychopaths morally responsible; but psychopaths have their own dialects (and perhaps idiolects), and not just different accents. Also, some may not recognize that an individual may have a dialect, rather than being in the midst of learning a language. This sort of spurious assimilation may lead to not believing that such individuals deserve harsh treatment, when they do.

Although I presume they wouldn't necessarily agree with (all of what I've said), I reiterate (well, a parenthetical reference above) that various philosophers have insightfully exploited analogies between conversations and moral responsibility practices: Gary Watson, Michael McKenna, Dave Shoemaker, and others.

I'm sorry to be so long-winded. A lot of this is just exploratory and definitely not worked out, or presented, very carefully.

John Fischer

Oh, a quick clarification. I have put my point about Putin's deserving blame and harsh treatment rather strongly, suggesting that almost no civilized person would deny it. Ok, I want to make sure everyone knows that I was referring to "the folk" and also legal theorists and most philosophers. I understand that various very thoughtful and distinguished philosophers, some of whom contribute to this group and blog--quite civilized!--develop theories that call this intuition/view into question. I respect these views, although clearly I disagree.

Thomas Nadelhoffer

John,

Thanks for the post! Here's to many more conversations here on the blog! That said, you state:

"We can treat them harshly--they speak the language of prudential reasons. But we cannot sensibly hold them morally responsible and blame them, since they lack the capacity to grasp moral reasons. They can deserve harsh treatment as a response to the horror elicited by their actions, and this is a strong pro tanto reason in the evaluation of the justification, all-things-considered, of harsh treatment for psychopaths."

Even if I agree that we may be justified in treating psychopaths harshly--for the forward-looking reasons I favor--to the extent that they are not morally responsible and blameworthy on your view, why they think *deserve* the hard treatment? To say "P deserves hard treatment" can't simply mean "There are good reasons for giving P hard treatment." Otherwise, you conflate desert-based reasons for non-desert based reasons. Just because I think that it might make sense to use hard treatment where psychopaths are concerned (which I do), it doesn't follow that I think they deserve it (which I don't). It seems to me that you need a backward looking notion of desert that is unmoored from blame and responsibility. It's not clear what that looks like. The very considerations that are going to serve as the basis of desert would seem to serve as the basis of blame. The two would seem to rise and fall together.

John Fischer

Thomas,

Thanks so much for this insightful post. Honestly, I don't have a well-worked out theory of, or even set of constraints on, desert. I'd like to think more about this, and to do so I'll have to study more carefully the work of Feinberg, our very own Michael McKenna and Derk Pereboom, and even perhaps Shelly Kagan, whose massive (and daunting) tome we don't tend to refer to (in this literature). I don't know however that the latter will be helpful in the context of free will/moral responsibility; I have found it noteworthy that we in the Free Will World haven't interacted with some of the major works in ethics more broadly on this subject (although Saul Smilansky wrote a penetrating review of Kagan's book).

One point: I think that when S deserves blame and harsh treatment in virtue of having X-ed, then there are good (but not necessarily sufficient) backward-looking reasons to blame and treat S harshly for having X-ed. The desert claim is based solely on backward-looking considerations, although the ought all-things-considered blame/treat harshly judgment presumably takes into consideration forward-looking reasons as well. Desert, as opposed say to entitlement, is always (or at least typically) based on action or activity of some sort, rather than simply having a status of a certain kind. This applies to deserving positive as well as negative treatment.

Ok, more needs to be said.

For now, my claim is: No matter how we analyze "desert" and "blame" (within reason), the statement, "Putin deserves to be blamed and punished as severely as possible," should turn out true. If not, there is at least pro tanto something very wrong with one's selected analyses.

That's my view, even without a specific account of "deserve." I'm reminded of Harry Frankfurt's claim about PAP, which he discussed without specific analyses of the major components, such as "could have done otherwise." He said (echoing Bertrand Russell) that he preferred theft to honest toil!

Tom Clark

The question John raises is whether there might be "a ground-level principle (or norm or maybe just intuition) that voluntarily and knowingly (not necessarily freely) causing the horrific justifies severe harsh treatment, even when the targeted individual is not morally blameworthy."

Certainly our reactive attitudes would incline us to believe that a principle justifying those attitudes and harsh treatment might exist, but does it? Of course we pretheoretically *intuit* that such treatment is justifiable, and it's certainly the norm among the folk and perhaps many legal theorists and most philosophers. But unless that principle is adduced and proven, then the claim that Putin should be tortured and killed by some (international?) state distributing popcorn (Shoemaker) is plausibly construed as simply the reactive attitudes talking. Of course such attitudes are essential to keeping justice and the peace, which is why they evolved to be part of our natural endowment, but their wholesale indulgence as recommended by John and Dave might very well be counterproductive. On what principle must our horror at Putin’s crimes (and the thousands of his underlings) be symbolized or find expression in torture and killing, as opposed to refraining from repeating the very behavior they exemplify? I’m discouraged and disgusted by the popcorn proposal.

John Fischer

Hi Tom,
Thanks for reading and engaging with my (and Dave's) thoughts.

I reiterate: in my view any theory of FW/Moral Resp that does NOT entail that Putin is fully deserving of the most severe blame and punishment must be rejected. Period. I'm almost sure that Putin is indeed acting freely, but if not he still deserves to be treated harshly in virtue of the horrible--and genuinely disgusting--nature of what he has voluntarily and knowingly/intentionally done and ordered others to do. That's my story, and I'm sticking with it. That's reality, in my view; sometimes we can get lost in the stratosphere of theorizing and lose track of plain facts.

I can't help but notice that, although you do refer to our/your horror at Putin et. al's crimes, you only actually express "disgust" at a remark of Dave's--clearly in jest. Wow.

Tom Clark

Dave: "So while you and I probably couldn't legitimately torture and kill him, I'd surely think some (international?) state could. And they could also distribute popcorn."

John: "...thanks to Dave for his insightful comments, and kind words, and idea for the popcorn. I'm with you."

Hilarious! But you and Dave weren't joking about the torture and killing of Putin (and his culpable and/or psychopathic underlings too, right?), which of course is what I find disgusting and horrific, just like their crimes. The image of passing around popcorn watching torture just got to me somehow, mea culpa that I didn't find it funny.

"...in my view any theory of FW/Moral Resp that does NOT entail that Putin is fully deserving of the most severe blame and punishment must be rejected. Period...That's my story, and I'm sticking with it. That's reality, in my view; sometimes we can get lost in the stratosphere of theorizing and lose track of plain facts."

Ok, I won't press you for a justification except to ask the predictable question: is there anything that might change your mind?

John Fischer

Thanks again, Tom. You raise some interesting and fair points, and I'm sure some of the very thoughtful and sophisticated thinkers on this blog agree with you.


For now allow me this. I think it is perfectly ok to feel anger, and even rage, at moral wrongs and injustice. Similarly, it is totally unobjectionable to feel pleasure in justice being done, and wrongs being righted. As Tim Scanlon and Bob Adams have argued, pleasure at the victory of morality over evil is not the same as Schadenfreude, which is simply pleasure at another's suffering.

Dave put the point with a flourish. I thought it was a nice way to poke fun at the high-minded, but certainly not to be taken literally (or seriously).

These sentiments come from me, as a human being, with a mind, a heart, and a sense of justice. I'm not sure what you mean, Tom, by the "reactive attitudes speaking." (Btw, is it your disgust that speaks for you?) They come from the best part of me--my passion for justice, especially for those who suffer at the hands of the more powerful. I shouldn't put words in Dave Shoemaker's mouth, but I'm guessing that his thoughts are coming from the same place. A friendly suggestion, Tom: save your disgust for the likes of Putin.

Tom Clark

Of course it's fine to feel the way you do and I share your feelings, but not your conclusion that torturing Putin ("We could justifiably kick the shit out of him, and put him down like an animal") is the sort of justice we should endorse. That scenario really disgusts me and I find it discouraging that anyone recommends such treatment, which simply replicates Putin's brutality. That's not the best part of us, but simply our reactivity in charge. Which is why I ask for a justification for such a policy, as contrasted with a policy of restraining our reactivity in service to a less punitive world in which justice is still served, but more along the lines of what Pereboom, Bruce Waller, and Gregg Caruso recommend.

John Fischer

Tom,

I take your points. I don't think I'll have much more to say about this now or in the near future after this brief comment (but that can always change). Of course, what needs to be "proved" and what is "primitive" or "basic" is always a delicate issue in philosophy. Also, I think our theorizing does need to stay close to the ground--to have street cred, so to speak. Also, I have used some rhetorical excesses (from which I distance myself above), but I stick to the main point (which is not about torture): given that he acts freely, Putin deserves to be blamed severely and punished harshly. Even if he is not acting freely (exhibiting guidance control), he deserves to be treated harshly insofar as he acts from his own, reasons- (but not necessarily moral reasons-) responsive mechanism.

Interesting how (some of) the moral skeptics are not loathe to feel "disgust." There's a lot to go around, apparently! But I suppose that Dave and I can take consolation in the fact that we don't deserve it.

Thanks again. People have probably had enough of JMF at this point. Life is too short (as I argue elsewhere).

Tom Clark

Thomas, you say "I agree that we may be justified in treating psychopaths harshly--for the forward-looking reasons I favor."

Just curious as to what forward-looking reasons you have in mind, thanks!

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