Moral Responsibility and Personal...
Moral Responsibility and Personal Identity Author(s): Walter Glannon Source: American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 3 (Jul., 1998), pp. 231-249 Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of North American Philosophical Publications Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20009933 Accessed: 16/09/2009 04:12 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=illinois. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with the scholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform that promotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. University of Illinois Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to American Philosophical Quarterly. http://www.jstor.org
American Philosophical Quarterly Volume 35, Number 3, July 1998 MORAL RESPONSIBILITY AND PERSONAL IDENTITY Walter Glannon I. Introduction Y V hen we hold a person morally respon? sible for his actions, omissions, or the consequences of his actions and omissions, we assume that the individual we hold re? sponsible at a later time is numerically identical with the individual who acted or failed to act at an earlier time. Yet for the abundance of accounts of moral responsi? bility in the philosophical literature, there have been few accounts linking responsi? bility with personal identity.1 Proponents of the reductionist psychological continu? ity theory maintain that a person persists through time just in case there is continu? ity involving memories, beliefs, intentions, and other mental states due to the holding of certain causal relations between them.2 Some even maintain that the connections between mental states admit of degrees and hence that identity itself is not absolute but a matter of degree.3 Yet this conflicts with the intuition that responsibility for one's behavior does not diminish with the mere passage of time. On the other hand, nonreductionists maintain that a person persists through time as one and the same substance that is irreducible to a body, brain, or mental states.4 This accords with the intuition that identity is ontologically determinate but conflicts with the conviction that it is in virtue of their desires, beliefs, intentions, and other mental states that persons are appropriate candidates for at? tributions of responsibility. Can we reconcile these competing views and arrive at a theory of personal identity which can satisfactorily ground our practice of hold? ing persons morally responsible? After spelling out the conditions of moral responsibility for individual moral agents, I will adopt the view that responsibility pre? supposes a conception of personal identity consisting in psychological connectedness and continuity based on normal structural and functional properties of the body and brain. But while psychological connected? ness may be a matter of degree, only a low threshold of connectedness is necessary to preserve the idea of a single, unvarying subject persisting through time. In this sense, personal identity can be all-or-noth? ing and thus ontologically determinate, even when there is some weakening of the causal connections holding between one's present and future mental states. If this is correct, then diminished psychological connectedness does not imply diminished responsibility. This thesis depends on both the subjective capacity of an individual to anticipate the future from the conscious present and the objective capacity of other people to publicly identify him as one and 231
232 / AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY the same temporally extended moral agent in virtue of observed bodily continuity. Provided that this objective condition ob? tains, and that the individual in question has the capacity to foresee the likely fu? ture consequences of what he freely does or fails to do, the agent may be held mor? ally responsible for an action even if he fails to remember having performed it. This is not to deny that responsibility is a mat? ter of degree. On the contrary, any internal obstacle to an agent's capacity for normal desires, beliefs, intentions, and reasons for actions or external forms of coercion may constitute mitigating factors that may make him less responsible for an action, omis? sion, or consequence than he would have been in the absence of these factors. Nev? ertheless, what makes a person partly or fully responsible for his behavior is not so much the strength or weakness of the con? nections between his earlier and later mental states, but more so his intention and his beliefs about foreseeable consequences at the time of action. I then go on to examine cases of mental illness involving disconnectedness be? tween earlier and later mental states and discontinuity between earlier and later selves and explore the implications for the way in which we excuse some persons from responsibility but not others. I argue that in some cases of psychological discon? nectedness and discontinuity we may justifiably hold an earlier self responsible for what a later self does under delusion, mania, or some other form of psychosis. But this will be the case only if the earlier self can foresee and take steps to prevent the later self from acting out of ignorance of particular facts in a context of action. If so, then psychological disconnectedness and discontinuity do not necessarily rule out moral responsibility. Foreseeability grounds my concept of responsible behav? ior, which says that a person is responsible from the time of a freely performed action to the time when the foreseeable conse? quences of his action (or omission) obtain. These consequences include being held responsible by others for an action many years after that action was performed. II. Conditions of Moral Responsibility A person is an appropriate candidate for an attribution of moral responsibility for his behavior just in case he is capable of responding to moral reasons for or against certain actions.5 As John Martin Fischer and Mark Ravizza argue, there are two components to this responsive capacity.6 First, the agent must have the capacity to recognize that other agents have needs, interests, and rights, and this recognition will indicate that the agent ought to act in a way that respects these other agents. Second, he must have the capacity to be motivated to act on, or react to, these reasons. These capacities involve freedom- and knowledge relevant conditions. That is, the agent must not be compelled or coerced into acting and must have the capacity for relevant beliefs about the circumstances of action.7 Fully responsible moral agents must possess both components of responsiveness: the capac? ity to recognize moral reasons and the capacity to be motivated to act on these reasons. Conversely, to be fully excused from responsibility for their behavior, agents must lack both capacities. This sug? gests that responsibility may be a matter of degree, depending on whether a person has one or both of these capacities. If he is able only to recognize moral reasons and not also able to be motivated to act on these reasons, then he at most can be partly re? sponsible for his behavior.8 Fischer and Ravizza maintain that respon? sibility for actions requires only moderate reasons-responsiveness. This involves