Wednesday, May 14, 2008

You asked

Victor wrote:
The argument for incompatibilism is really very simple.

1) I am not responsible for the eternal decrees of God (or the laws of nature and the condition of the universe at the big bang).
2) I am not responsible for the fact that, given the decrees of God, I sinned at 2 PM yesterday.
3) Therefore, I am not responsible for the fact that I sinned at 2 PM yesterday.

Or formally:

Not Responsible for A
Not Responsible for If A then B.
Therefore, Not Responsible for B.

How can I be responsible for that which is the modus ponens consequence of that for which I am not responsible?

I don't know. It seems pretty easy to me. Easy. I promise God I'll meet him for lunch. Suppose that God is good enough at reading minds that he knows if I'll go back on the promise. If I were to go back on the promise, he'll zap me so that I instantaneously appear at our lunch date.

I am not responsible for God's conditional intention. That God has such a conditional intention entails I'll be at our lunch date (one way or another). God never zaps me and I arrive freely. I'm responsible for being there, but it's a modus ponens consequence of something I'm not responsible for. Am I wrong?


Jonathan Ichikawa said...

This looks pretty obviously right.

Clayton said...

I so, so rarely hear that.

I meant to ask you when you plan on heading to St. Andrews. I'll be there in July.

Andrew Bailey said...

You've given a Frankfurt-style-counterexample to a moral responsibility transfer principle.

There's a big literature on this maneuver, but for what it's worth I think it's the right one to make. =)

Mike Almeida said...

Not so fast. Suppose you also promised God2 that you'd meet him for lunch. When he complains that you did not show, you explain that it was not possible for you to do other than what you did: had you attempted not to meet God1, he would have zapped you present. Since that's true, God2 reasonably does not hold you responsible for what you did: viz., meeting God1 for lunch. But then you are not responsible for meeting God1.

Andrew Bailey said...

Mike: it looks like you've simply changed the case. But that doesn't vitiate Clayton's initial claim, does it?

Mike Almeida said...


I don't think so. What I briefly argue is that if I am responsible for meeting God1 in case (1), then I am responsible for meeting God(1) in case (2), where case (2) just adds God(2). Notice that in case (2), I also choose to meet God1, God1 does not zap me into his presence. We still have everything that is allegedly sufficent (in the quasi-Frankfurt case) for the attribution of responsibility to me. Yet it looks to me like I am not responsible for meeting God1 in case (2). If I were, I would also be responsible for failing to meet God2, which I'm not. It seems decisive in getting me off the hook with God2 that I could not have done other than what I did. So I am not responsible for meeting with God1 rather than God2.

Mike Almeida said...

Maybe this will help. Suppose it is true that I'm responsible for meeting with God1. Necessarily, I meet with God1 only if I do not meet with God2. Assuming that closure is ok, I am responsible for not meeting with God2. But it sure seems like not being able to do other than meet with God1 removes one's responsiblity for failing to meet with God2.

Clayton said...

Hey Andrew,

I meant to post this earlier, but my blog is selective and sometimes rejects my comments. I know that I was offering something along the lines of a Frankfurt example. I figured it would be common knowledge that I wasn't taking myself to have come up with this.

Very, very interesting. My initial reaction is to say that you are responsible for not meeting God 2 since you did after all choose to meet God 1 rather than God 2 in the case you've described. To appeal to God 1's conditional intention is to appeal to a factor that was idle in explaining the choice and subsequent action. It's been ages since I've looked at the article, but I recall there being some similar cases in the Frankfurt piece where someone had decided to fork money over to a shabbily dressed man who clearly needs it. The shabbily dressed man produces a gun and demands the money. If you were going to fork it over any, the presence of a coercing factor does not mitigate responsibility.