On moral responsibilty

Marvin writes in his recent post

[..]Rehabilitative penalties presume a person with free will. A person with free will autonomously chooses for themselves what they will do. Education, skills training, counseling, and post-release programs like Offender Aid and Restoration open up new and better possibilities for the prisoner upon release. The goal is a changed person, someone who will make appropriate choices of their own free will.


Before I respond to his claims, let us first dispense with matters definitions. In the SEP, they write

to be morally responsible for something, say an action, is to be worthy of a particular kind of reaction—praise, blame, or something akin to these—for having performed it

This is an interesting topic. It relates to the question of determinism and how in a deterministic world can a person be morally responsible.

Below is an argument against moral responsibility, by Galen Strawson, that says what I would have said better.

(1) It is undeniable that one is the way one is, initially, as a result of heredity and early experience, and it is undeniable that these are things for which one cannot be held to be in any responsible (morally or otherwise).

(2) One cannot at any later stage of life hope to accede to true moral responsibility for the way one is by trying to change the way one already is as a result of heredity and previous experience.

For (3) both the particular way in which one is moved to try to change oneself, and the degree of one’s success in one’s attempt at change, will be determined by how one already is as a result of heredity and previous experience.

And (4) any further changes that one can bring about only after one has brought about certain initial changes will in turn be determined, via the initial changes, by heredity and previous experience.

(5) This may not be the whole story, for it may be that some changes in the way one is are traceable not to heredity and experience but to the influence of indeterministic or random factors.

But it is absurd to suppose that indeterministic or random factors, for which one is ex hypothesin no way responsible, can in themselves contribute in any way to one’s being truly morally responsible for how one is. The claim, then, is not that people cannot change the way they are. They can, in certain respects (which tend to be exaggerated by North Americans and underestimated, perhaps, by Europeans). The claim is only that people cannot be supposed to change themselves in such a way as to be or become truly or ultimately morally responsible for the way they are, and hence for their actions. pdf

For further reading

Determinism, freewill and moral responsibility

Moral responsibility and determinism [ I just skimmed through this article]