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And just to add some more empirical data in support of Josh's point in this post, David Faraci and I have gotten the same results (with Josh's help) when looking at the alleged asymmetry between positive and negative cases of moral ignorance due to childhood deprivation, in "Good Selves, True Selves" (manuscript link here:


This is a really important point. Just in case some readers don't already have the relevant background, maybe I should expand on it just a little bit.

In a classic paper, Susan Wolf introduces the case of JoJo, an agent who was brought up by a cruel dictator and always taught to behave cruelly himself. It seems that JoJo would not be fully morally responsible for the morally bad actions he later goes on to perform. Drawing on this case, Wolf argues for an interesting and distinctive account of moral responsibility.

Then, in this more recent experimental paper, David Faraci and David Shoemaker show that the intuitions people have in cases broadly like the one Wolf introduced are actually not best understood in terms of a theory like Wolf's. Instead, it appears that these intuitions are best understood in terms of the way people think about the true self. If you have a deprived upbringing, people think that you are less morally responsible, but that is actually because they think your actions do not express your true self.

So that people need not go and (re-)read your great work with Newman and Freitas or DavidX2's great work (not that I need any reminding!), can you tell us if the relevant studies offered cases that tried to get participants to think the agent had a bad deep self and then tested whether people thought that agent was blameworthy (more or less) for saying or doing mean things (quickly and emotionally vs thoughtfully and deliberately)? And whether those mean things (or nice things they might have done either way) represent their true self or not? I know it can be hard to get people to think that an agent has a bad true self (after all, that's not our proper function!), but it seems like an important control/comparison case.

Hi Eddy,

Yes! This is exactly the right way to test the hypothesis, and it's precisely what we did. In Experiment 5 of the paper linked above, we randomly assigned participants to be told either that the agent's true self was morally good or morally bad, and in both cases, we asked about moral responsibility for the morally bad act that was driven by uncontrollable anger.

Just as you suggest, participants thought the agent was more morally responsible when her true self was described as being morally bad than when her true self was described as being morally good.

Note that this is exactly the opposite of the prediction that comes out of the obvious alternatives to the true self theory. In the case where the agent's true self is morally bad, she is, if anything, less reasons responsive and less capable of doing the right thing for the right reasons. Yet people actually regard her as *more* morally responsible.

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