Moral Responsibility, Voluntary Control, and Intentional Action
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Many theorists writing about moral responsibility accept that voluntary control is necessary for responsibility. Call such theorists volitionists. Recently, volitionism has been called into question by theorists I call nonvolitionists. Yet neither volitionists nor nonvolitionists have carefully articulated a clear volitionist thesis, nor have they sufficiently explained the concept of voluntary control that somehow seems connected to volitionism. I argue that attempts to explain the volitionist thesis, voluntary control, and their relation are more problematic than have previously been recognized. Instead, I recommend understanding volitionism in terms of intentional actions and omissions. This understanding has several benefits. It clarifies the debate and its parameters, it avoids the problematic notion of voluntary control while relying on the clearer notion of intentional action, and it highlights that the debate between volitionists and nonvolitionists essentially concerns the nature and scope of obligations. As a result, understanding volitionism in terms of intentional actions and omissions can help breathe new life into the volitionist debate.
KeywordsMoral responsibility Voluntary control Intentional action Omissions Volitionism Obligation
Thanks to Randolph Clarke, Alfred Mele, and Daniel Miller for helpful feedback on previous drafts of this paper. For productive conversations, thanks also to John Schwenkler, Robert Wallace, and those in attendance for a presentation of a portion of this paper at the 2016 Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association. Finally, thanks to an anonymous referee for thoughtful questions and objections on a previous draft of the paper.
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