This article examines the nonhistoricist higher-order compatibilist theory of moral responsibility devised and defended by Harry G. Frankfurt. Intuitions about certain kinds of cases of moral responsibility cast significant doubt on the wide irrelevancy clause of the nonhistoricist feature of Frankfurt’s theory. It will be argued that, while the questions of the nature and ascription of moral responsibility must be separated in doing moral responsibility theory, the questions of whether or not and the extent to which an agent is morally responsible for performing certain kinds of actions cannot be settled without also answering the question of the history of that agent’s attitudes, preferences, etc. which may have contributed to the agent’s performing such actions. Thus Frankfurt’s repeated claim that the history of an agent’s action is “irrelevant” to the question of that agent’s moral responsibility for it is rendered dubious, thereby rendering problematic the strongly nonhistoricist component of his theory. The methodological difference between my challenge to Frankfurt’s nonhistoricism and those of others is that, while others have challenged Frankfurt’s nonhistoriciams by way of thought experiments involving hyper-manipulation, mine presents a set of counter-examples to his nonhistoricism which emanate from morality and the law. Indeed, if my counter-example is plausible, then Frankfurt’s nonhistoricism cannot make good sense of some standard instances of racism. Furthermore, while many believe that racist hate crimes ought to be punished more heavily than crimes committed absent hate, the argument herein provides reasons for mitigating, rather than increasing, the responsibility and punishments of many such crimes. What matters in such cases is the extent to which the hatred accompanying said crimes has a history in the agent’s life, one which makes it significantly difficult for her to do other than what she did in committing the racist crime.
The Journal of Ethics – Springer Journals
Published: May 29, 2018
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