I think there’s something powerful and interesting about the Humean point that there must be some causation happening, somewhere, for our attributions of responsibility to hold. I’m curious about how far back along a causal chain his point can safely be extended, so I’m going to break it down into small steps and ask you all to weigh in on their plausibility.
Consider the following claims.
- For you to be responsible for an action, it must have been caused by an intention of yours.
- For you to be responsible for an action, you must be responsible for the intention that caused it.
- For you to be responsible for an intention, it must have been caused by your psychological states (“internal character, passions, and affections”).
- For you to be responsible for an intention, you must be responsible for the psychological state(s) that caused it.
(1) and (2) seem uncontroversial and correct. I imagine that even incompatibilists will be able to accept them without any trouble. (3), I take it, is the central Humean insight. I certainly see its appeal. But I wonder whether an incompatibilist can just reject it by insisting that the connection between character and intention is something weaker than causation—maybe something like “being causally informed by.” Maybe in order for me to be responsible for my intention, that intention simply needs to be causally informed by my character; it can be caused by something else, like an agent-cause or a quantum indeterminacy. Of course, this sort of response requires some story fleshing out the difference between being causally informed by x and being caused by x.
Assume that (3) works, though. I think that Botterill is probably right when he claims (on p. 299) that Hume’s point can’t progress from (3) to (4). Kevin has a comment on a post below (“One More Link in the Chain”) where he explains how some compatibilists, like Nomy Arpaly in Unprincipled Virtue, hold the following thesis: the causal origin of a psychological state doesn’t affect whether I’m responsible for acting from that state. So not all thinkers (not even all compatibilists!) would necessarily see the force of this further step.
But there is an intuitive force to (4), and some compatibilists would be happy to accept it. Fischer and Ravizza, for instance, claim that we must “take responsibility for” the psychological mechanism that produces our actions before we can be held responsible for those actions. And I imagine that any libertarians who think that psychological states can cause actions would be fine with (4) as well.
So I have a bunch of questions. Are (1) and (2) as uncontroversial as I’m assuming? Would it be more defensible for an incompatibilist to reject (3), or to accept both (3) and (4)? And if, as I’m arguing, there’s a much stronger intuition behind (2) than (4), what does that say about where we locate responsibility?