Welcome everyone to PEA Soup‘s second JESP discussion. The target article this time is Matt King‘s (University of Alabama, Birmingham) recent “Manipulation Arguments and the Moral Standing to Blame“, which is a very interesting exploration of when we (and God) are in a position to blame other people and what implications such considerations have for more general debates about moral responsibility. To kick things off, below is Patrick Todd‘s (Edinburgh) helpful critical introduction. It is very illuminating especially because the target article itself is in part a critical discussion of Patrick’s 2012 Phil Imprint article “Manipulation and Moral Standing: an Argument for Incompatibilism“.

First, thanks very much to Jussi for the invitation to contribute to this discussion, and to Matt King for his very interesting paper.  Below I pick up on just one theme his paper addresses, though of course I would be interested to pursue other issues in the comments.



Perhaps you are familiar with the debates in the moral responsibility literature regarding so-called ‘manipulation arguments’ for incompatibilism.  The basic thought behind such arguments is this: if moral responsibility is compatible with determinism, then it must also be compatible with the thesis that everything a given agent does is determined by powerful controllers or designers working “behind the scenes”.  But, according to the incompatiblist, intuitively, it would be unfair to blame any agent “set up” in the given way, even if that agent meets the compatiblist’s favoured conditions for responsibility.  But the compatibilist has to maintain (falsely) that this could indeed be fair.  So compatibilism is false.

Perhaps the dominant compatibilist reply to this sort of argument has been “hard line”: such agents may indeed be responsible (and fairly blamed).  Speaking for myself, I’ve always found the “hard line” reply too hard to accept.  In a recent paper (in Philosophers’ Imprint), however, I tried to make the hard-line yet harder.  Instead of focusing on whether we could appropriately blame those who had been deterministically “set up” to do wrong, I wished to consider whether the manipulators or controllers may appropriately blame those they determined to do wrong.  For fairly obvious reasons, I focused on a case that, historically, many have thought to be actual: the case of a theological determinism on which God determines everything that ever happens, including our bad actions, and moreover stands ready to hold us responsible for performing those very actions.  My argument was that

(1) God cannot blame those God determines to do wrong, even if they meet compatiblist conditions for responsibility, but that

(2) Incompatibilism is the best explanation of why this is so.  So,

(3) Incompatibilism is true.

From my perspective, if God wants to know why he can’t blame those he determined to do wrong, then I’ve got an easy answer: if you determined everything they did, you obviously didn’t give them free will! This reply, however, isn’t open to the compatibilist: on their view, God did give these creatures free will (the control required to be responsible).  So, if God can’t blame them, it can’t be because they aren’t really blameworthy: they are.  It will have to be because, though they are blameworthy, God (in particular) lacks the moral standing to blame them.  I argued, however, that, given the right story, the compatibilist cannot explain why God would lack the moral standing to blame those God determines.

In his recent JESP paper, however, Matt King demurs: the compatibilist can and should deny (2).  God cannot blame those he determines to do wrong, not because they would thereby have to lack free will, but because he would be problematically “involved in” their wrongdoing. In my paper, however, I had argued that “involvement” only removes standing to blame when (a) one’s involvement is itself wrong or (b) one’s involvement compromises the relevant agent’s freedom.  Since (b) is stipulated not to obtain, that leaves (a), and I argued that God’s “involvement” needn’t be wrong, given that God determines the relevant wrongdoing as part of a comprehensive plan to actualize an overall very good universe.  Further (and, on reflection, it is really this that seems crucial), God’s “involvement”, I said, does not indicate that God fails to endorse the moral values that would condemn the wrongdoer’s actions.  God may approve of someone’s bad action being part of the script, but not approve of that action, considered in itself.  So, yes, God is “involved in” the person’s wrongdoing: but, given that the person is perfectly free (on compatibilism), why should this imply that God lacks standing?

So much for the setup.  King contends, inter alia, that, in fact, “involvement” may undermine standing, even if neither condition (a) or (b) is met.  Here he considers the case of Charlie and Linus.  Charlie knows that Linus has a weakness for sweets and is trying to avoid them, but nevertheless takes Linus to dinner next to an extremely tempting ice cream shop.  Predictably, Linus gives in to the temptation and gets some ice cream (which we assume is criticizable in the context).  Maybe we can blame Linus – but, so the thought goes, Charlie cannot.  If Charlie blamed Linus, we can imagine Linus saying (p. 6): “Not only do you throw a huge temptation at me, you have the gall to blame me for succumbing to it!”

Now, the issues here are subtle – extremely subtle, in my opinion.  (The devil is usually in details of these cases.) However, my contention is that if we are thinking that Charlie lacks the standing to blame Linus, this is in fact because we’re thinking that Charlie’s behaviour here is itself somehow criticizable – or somehow reveals something about Charlie’s (criticizable) quality of will.  So, in fact, if Charlie can’t blame Linus, condition (a) will be met.  On the other hand, if we suppose that, well, Charlie had his reasons for selecting this dinner location, and those reasons were justified, then, well, why can’t he appropriately blame Linus?  I can imagine extensions of this story on which such criticism (mild, of course, given the nature of the case) can seem perfectly appropriate.  In the end, King contends that “involvement” may undermine standing without (a) or (b) being met, even if (p. 8) he can’t provide a general principle that explains how and when it does.  I am less sure.

King presents some further (extremely interesting) cases and ideas, but perhaps King’s central criticism of my argument is this.  We need an explanation of what is particularly inappropriate about God’s blaming those he determines.  My explanation, however, is perfectly general: since these creatures aren’t responsible, no one can blame them, since they aren’t blameworthy!  My explanation thus leaves something out, viz., what is particularly problematic about God’s blame.

I think this is a fair worry; I’m still thinking about it.  My (tentative) response is this.  Whereas, on theological determinism, no one is fairly blamed by anyone, since no one is free, what is particularly problematic about God’s blame is that, in some sense, God is the source of the given agents’ unfreedom.  Consider a case of standard responsibility-undermining coercion, in which A coerces B into doing X (which would ordinarily be wrong).  Well, no one can blame B for doing X, since B was coerced, and therefore not responsible.  But it seems especially problematic for A to blame B, since A was the source of B’s unfreedom with respect to Xing.  Perhaps a similar thought applies to God on theological determinism: no one can blame the wrongdoer, because the wrongdoer isn’t responsible, but especially not God, because God made him non-responsible. God’s blame is thus especially problematic, but the explanation here is still essentially incompatibilist.  My other response is to simply accept that God’s blame is equally inappropriate, and to explain the relevant intuition here epistemically – that is, just in terms of God’s being in better position to know that the given agents aren’t responsible.  In any case, I think this issue deserves further discussion.

Thanks once more to Matt for his excellent paper!

25 Replies to “JESP discussions at PEA Soup: Matt King’s “Manipulation Arguments and the Moral Standing to Blame” with a Critical Précis from Patrick Todd

  1. Thanks to both Matt and Patrick! Your interaction has been fascinating to me, and I have learned a lot from both of your articles and also from Patrick’s post here. Great stuff! And I agree with Patrick that these issues are *extremely* subtle and difficult. I often find myself swaying this way or that, depending on whose article I’ve read last!!
    Well, not exactly. But still: I agree that these are very subtle issues. I think I’m inclined to disagree with both of you, since I’m inclined to think that God could indeed blame someone He set up in advance (in a deterministic world) to behave wrongly. In general, I don’t agree that God (or others, even Charlie) could not legitimately blame and individual, even if He is “implicated”in the behavior in the indicated ways.
    Of course, God, being perfect, will have had his reasons for setting up the individual in question. (This in contrast to Chris Carter, the NFL Hall-of-Famer, and his “fall guys” for every situation of bad behavior.) And, in my view, just by creating the individual in such a way that he eventually does wrong, in a deterministic world, it does NOT follow that God has made it the case that the individual does not act freely. Indeed, God might well have given the individual all of the characteristics required for acting freely. I’m partial to ownership and reasons-responsiveness, but nothing here depends on this. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say that God made it the case (at the beginning of the universe) that the individual would act wrongly, from his own, appropriately reasons-responsive mechanism.
    Why couldn’t God blame the individual? After all, God ensured that the individual was not coerced, hypnotized, forced, subject to subliminal advertisement, subject to direct manipulation of the brain, deceived, and so forth. Nothing and no one forced him to do what he did, or tricked him into it, or bypassed his normative orientation or will. He acted from his own, suitably reasons-responsive mechanism; thus, on my view, he acted freely. But, despite the fact that God gave him everything he needed to act freely, and nothing impaired or distorted these capacities or their exercise on the given occasion, he acted wrongly. He misused his freedom, and, as such, God could legitimately blame him. God could say,”I gave you your freedom, and yet you screwed up–not only did you not use it wisely, you abused it.”
    So, although I fully concede the complexity of the issues, I supposed I’m committed to a harder-ass position than either Matt or Patrick. I certainly would resist Patrick’s characterization of theological determination (or causal determination, for that matter) as eo ipso implying lack of freedom (of the relevant kind). But, of course, this is highly contentious.

  2. As a possible explanation of what is wrong with the blaming in these cases –
    I wouldn’t want to live under the rule of someone who blames others for things he (or He) made them do. That’s just inherently abusive. Just say no to hypocracy.

  3. Paul,
    If I may: there are different ways of “making someone do something”. Typically, when we use such an expression, especially in the context of attributing “abuse”, we are thinking (or at least suggesting) that someone (or thing) is coercing the individual (or at least applying undue pressure). But here I am supposing that God simply designs the universe in the distal past in such a way that He knows an individual will meet the conditions for acting freely.
    Why would it be “hypocrisy” (was “hypocracy” supposed to be a pun for “rule by hypocrite”??) for God to blame the individual in such a case? After all, the individual (arguably–but this is contentious) FREELY did the wrong thing.
    Of course, it is a vexed and much-discussed question whether someone who has done the same kind of wrong thing has the “moral standing” to blame a wrongdoer; but this is not the situation with respect to God.

  4. Paul,
    Some brief further reflections. I myself am not a religious person. But if you asked me whether I would want to live under the “rule” of a perfect person–perfectly powerful, knowledgeable, and benevolent (among other perfections)–who created me as a free being (i.e., a creature capable of acting freely), and who sometimes praises me, but also sometimes blames me when I have freely done wrong (like a benevolent parent), where this is all part of the Best of All Possible Worlds, I suppose I would not object!

  5. Dear Matt and Patrick,
    thanks again ever so much for this fascinating exchange!
    I did have one question simple myself. How are you thinking about the nature of blame itself? Are you thinking of it as mere attitude of disapproval or something richer? The reason I am asking this is that, for me, thinking about first what the nature of the attitude in question is helps us to consider in what circumstances this attitude is appropriate (and towards which objects).
    Let me just run through quickly one suggestion. I quite like Tim Scanlon’s idea of thinking of blame as the attitude and act of distancing oneself from someone in the kind of a relationship one was in with that person. The questions of standing to blame then become questions of when it is appropriate to do so – when should one withdraw oneself from the relationship one is in.
    This view seems to explain much of the data. It seems that there is a general reason why God would not have a standing to blame which has nothing to do with his involvement in manipulation or potential wrong-doing. This would be the fact that He has created us and is in this sense responsible for our existence (in the same way as by being a parent we acquire responsibility from which we cannot withdraw unless in extreme circumstances). Despite this, even if God cannot blame Ernie for this general reason we can – it can be appropriate for us to distance ourselves from Ernie due to his actions and the attitudes towards us they express (even if he was designed to have them towards us).
    I don’t want to go through the other cases in the discussion, but the general suggestion just is that thinking about the nature of blame might help with considering when blame is an appropriate reaction and for whom.

  6. Hi Jussi,
    Thanks, and good question. I suppose I’m thinking of ‘blame’ as something stronger than mere ‘distancing’. After all, it could be appropriate to ‘distance’ oneself from someone, even if that person isn’t really morally responsible (in the sense at stake) for the behavior and attitudes that make the distancing appropriate. For instance, if a friend gets a head injury that makes him uncontrollably irritable and mean-spirited, that might appropriately license a sort of ‘distancing’, even if I don’t regard him as to blame for being that way. Similarly, I would of course grant that, in some sense, it would be appropriate for us to ‘distance’ ourselves from Ernie (whom God determined to act in the bad ways). What I deny is that God could *morally condemn* Ernie for his behavior — and I maintain that the only good explanation of this is that, well, he isn’t really condemnable for it!
    Of course, it is hard to say much more about the relevant sort of ‘blame’, but perhaps this is a start.

  7. Hi Patrick
    thanks! I guess as someone who has compatibilist inclinations this might be enough for me. It allows me to think that blame in the weaker mere distancing sense of the word is compatible with the truth of determinism and you seem to grant that your argument doesn’t speak against this view.
    Perhaps there is also a stronger *moral condemnation* type of blame that might not be compatible with the truth of determinism. However, it is less clear to me whether that type of moral condemnation is so central to our human interaction, relationships and way of life as the distancing type of blame that is so central to our practices and lives together. This is why I might be more willing to grant that perhaps that stronger sense of blame, once you sketch it out, is not compatible with determinism.

  8. On reflection, here’s another thought about moral relationships and blame. I like an account of blame on which blaming marks a rift in one’s moral relationship with the one blamed. And I can see how this could work, even in the case of God. If God gives us free will, then (other things being equal), when we use it badly, this harms our moral relationship with God, which harm partially constitutes God’s blame towards us. (Many religious people seem to think precisely in this way.) So far so good. But if God is determining what we do, how is it that our ‘moral relationship’ with God is compromised when we do wrong? Indeed, it isn’t even clear what a ‘moral relationship’ with God could look like on a deterministic picture of the God/human relationship. How could this work?
    On my picture, we could then have the following account of why God can’t blame us on theological determinism. Blaming is always the compromising of a moral relationship. But on theological determinism, there isn’t a moral relationship between God and humans there to be compromised. And there isn’t because God doesn’t give such creatures free will; rather, God determines everything they do. (There’s the incompatibilism.) If God really *did* give them free will, then there *would* be the requisite moral relationship — a relationship that might be harmed when we freely act badly. That there isn’t that kind of relationship indicates that God never really gives such creatures free will.

  9. Hi Jussi,
    Thanks, and yes, your latest comment seems right! A question for you: do you think the relevant sort of ‘distancing’ can be justified on wholly consequentialist grounds? If so (and that seems to be the case to me), that’s a pretty strong indication that this sort of ‘blame’ is going to be consistent with determinism — but also probably not what has traditionally been at stake in the compatibility debates. The relevant sort of blame (most have said) can’t just be forward-looking etc.
    In short, given your recent comment, I’m inclined to count you as part of Team Incompatibilism — for it is seemingly the stronger sense of blame that has been at stake. What do you think?

  10. Thanks again! Just two quick concerns. One, now we seem to be assuming that moral relationships and blame are incompatible with determinism rather than providing an argument to that conclusion on the basis of our patterns of blame.
    Second, I guess for me it is more natural to think that God could not comprise his moral relationship to us, not because there were no such relationship in the first place, but rather because God would be so much responsible for the relationship He would be to us that it would be unreasonable for him to withdraw from it no matter what we did.
    One attraction of this hypothesis is that it explains why God is a special case and why he cannot blame us whereas other people can (no people, except perhaps parents, are in the same kind of total relationships). In contrast, if it were true that determinism meant no moral relationships then other people’s blame would be on a par. However, intuitively it seems like other people are often entitled to withdraw from their relationships from us.
    I should also say that making this kind of judgements about God are very difficult for someone who doesn’t really believe in Him.

  11. Hi Patrick
    also – not sure the distancing kind of blame can be justified on wholly consequentialist grounds. I’d be more inclined to think that the rules of distancing are internal to the kind of relationships we live in and I’m not sure there are necessarily consequentialist justifications for living in such relationships or that they are in the need of such justifications.
    The question about where the line between compatibilism and incompatibilism is is interesting and I am not sure what to say about in response. Maybe. I’m also not sure what sense of blame has been at stake in the philosophical debates or elsewhere. This has often been left quite unclear.

  12. Hi John,
    Great comment. So, you ‘bite the bullet’, or anyway what I had hoped would be seen to be a bullet! I’ve been trying to think through ways of further motivating why this move is unappealing; what do you think of this way?
    It seems that, on theological determinism, the universe is, in a sense, One Big Divine Artifact. God just says “Let it be!”, and (setting aside questions about time), there it is — there’s the whole show, start to finish, in all of its actuality. As such, it has seemed to me that the only sort of evaluation that could be appropriate for God to engage in with respect to the Artifact is (broadly speaking) aesthetic evaluation – the tapestry looks rather good here, rather ragged there, and so forth. But this isn’t distinctively *moral* evaluation. To get *that*, we need something more; something is missing.
    Well, much more can be said here, but I probably shouldn’t write a book in these comments…

  13. Thanks, Patrick.
    Yes, it is hard to know what more to say to motivate the different intuitions we (and people in general) have about these cases. I guess I’m ok with the Big Divine Artifact picture, and perhaps from the outside, as it were, a salient kind of evaluation would be aesthetic, although I think God could also evaluate the Artifact along other dimensions, too. But isn’t it important that God would also be *inside* the Big Divine Artifact, and from within, God can be a “participant” and engage in the full range of “reactive attitudes,” can’t He? I don’t see what is missing, when one takes the perspective from within the Artifact.
    An interesting and subtle dialectical point has come up–raised by Jussi above. Is it fair here simply to assume that determination (either mere divine determination or causal determination) rules out acting freely? If that is the *presupposition* of your argument, then of course I cannot defend my intuition. But I thought the argument is supposed to get to that as a conclusion, as it were, and not a starting point. This raises delicate and difficult–but important–dialectical issues. Here, as elsewhere in the free will debates, I think a lot hangs on the meta-issues.

  14. Perhaps the following can help to motivate at least some of my intuitions.
    Suppose a parent is extremely worried about the fact that his child is becoming a serious drug addict. He is worried that the addiction is becoming worse and worse, and that it will eventually lead to terrible consequences, possibly death for the child. I won’t fill in all the details, but it is not too difficult to do. The parent and perhaps the parent’s friends and other family members have done all they possible can do to get the kid to stop, but he just keeps going back to the drug.
    Under the circumstances, the parent (reasonably) believes that the only way to get the kid to stop taking drugs is to have him arrested and thrown into jail for using the drugs. Suppose, further, (and this is less plausible, but not totally incoherent), that the parent believes that the child really has a chance to quite permanently, if he is indeed subject to arrest and incarceration; maybe the community in question has a great program for drug offenders in the jail. In any case, I simply stipulate that the parent has the beliefs in question, and really loves and cares about his child.
    Under these circumstances, imagine that the parent “sets the kid up” in the sense that the parent invites a known drug-dealer to meet his kid at a certain parking lot, and he has also alerted the police. The parent hopes that the child will give up drugs totally now, even before the meeting with the drug dealer, but he knows that this will almost certainly not happen. When the child does go to the parking lot to get the drugs, and he is arrested, I think the parent can indeed blame him for doing so. Why couldn’t the parent blame the child for freely going wrong (yet again)? (By the way, although I use the terms “child” and “kid”, I’m imagining this person to be “of age”–say in his twenties or even thirties.) And this even though the parent has set the child up to fail.
    Could God do something like this? I don’t see why not. After all, God has a reason for setting an individual up to do wrong; somehow, this fits into the structure and plan of the best of all possible worlds (i.e., the actual world, on the perfect being theological picture). Similarly, the parent has a loving motive for setting his child up in the envisaged way. Sometimes life is tough; sometimes it has to be tough to get something better.
    Well, I have probably gone on too long. There are a lot of loose ends here, but I hope this story goes a few steps toward rendering my intuitions less implausible.

  15. Hi all,
    This discussion has raised some very interesting issues. Thanks!
    I really like John’s distinction between an external and internal perspective and his suggestion that God could appropriately be a participant in the blame-game, as it were, because he would also be within the Divine Artifact. This strikes me as correct.
    It also raises a question that puzzles me in this context. If a created creature’s wrongdoing is part of God’s plan, as has been assumed here, are we also to think of God’s reactions to this wrongdoing as part of the plan as well? We are supposing that Ernie’s wrongdoing is all a part of “the script.” Are we also to suppose that whatever reaction God would have to Ernie’s conduct (qua participant in the Artifact) would also be part of “the script?” If so, then it seems that one reason it could be appropriate for God to blame Ernie–even where this involves moral condemnation–might be because God’s blaming Ernie is an integral part of bringing about the best of all possible worlds. Moreover, insofar as God is infallible, the fact that he did blame Ernie would show that it was appropriate, even if we can’t understand why and even if his having done it doesn’t make it the case that it is appropriate.
    Is this right? Or am I missing something?

  16. John,
    You successfully parsed “hypocracy”. I do get that the human agent acts freely (I agree that he does). But I have a problem accepting one of the apparent premises here – that the Designer can correctly see the designed action as wrong, yet also correctly judge it the best action possible in the circumstances. In my view “wrong” precludes “best”. I realize that puts me at odds with many theologians, and I’m fine with that.
    Now I’ll admit that the designed agent might show bad character in selecting that action, because the designed agent might not have enough information to see that the act is the best. But that’s not the same thing. Nor would the Designer be entitled to blame the agent for that character, if that character was designed as well. Again: that’s abusive. Putting my Kantian hat on, I’ll say that the designed agent is being treated merely as a means, with regard to this act, or this character (whichever is the target of the blame).

  17. Hi Jussi,
    Thanks for the further elaboration about God and withdrawing from moral relationships; this is really interesting. I think I can agree (and do in fact agree) that there’s a sense in which (supposing God exists) God can’t totally withdraw from relationship with us, no matter what we do (though I guess I think this is still a bit tricky). So, for instance, given that God created us and is responsible for our existence, maybe it follows that he can’t just completely abandon us or give up on us or something of the sort. But would that imply that he can’t blame us? I would think these things are different. You draw an analogy to parents and children, but here it is notable that parents often do appropriately blame their children — even if, perhaps, they could never appropriately wholly withdraw from them. In short, couldn’t God satisfy your requirement of “non-withdrawal” while still blaming those he creates? Blaming itself wouldn’t imply total withdrawal, on this picture. What do you think?

  18. Hi everyone –
    I’d first like to thank Jussi for arranging discussion on my article, and to Patrick for the comments. I don’t want discussion to become just a back and forth between us, and so I’ll try to be brief here.
    Since many will not read the paper, I want to highlight that it is principally a paper about whether there are circumstances under which our blame of another can be inappropriate, despite the fact that we’ve done nothing wrong and haven’t curtailed their capacities for free will or responsibility. I think there are. Indeed, I think there are many such instances.
    I think that Patrick thinks there aren’t any such instances. Part of the reason may be that we also seem to disagree about what the standing to blame amounts to. Some in the literature seem to take ‘standing to blame’ to be like the legal standing to bring suit. Such standing is an enabling condition, such that if you don’t have the standing, you cannot bring suit. But I don’t think that’s what the standing to blame is like, at least for the many cases in which we’re interested. Instead, I think the relevant phenomenon concerns cases in which a blamer is themself morally criticizable for their blame. So the paper begins to outline a way of investigating supposed ‘cases of compromised standing to blame’, by looking to what those moral criticisms might be.
    This difference is important, I think. Patrick speaks of God being unable to blame Ernie (he says things like, “God could not blame Ernie under theological determinism”). But this is misleading, I think. If the claim to be explained is why God literally could not blame Ernie, then I think he’s right – but only because the only reason for which God would be literally unable to blame Ernie would be that Ernie isn’t blameworthy. If that’s the case, though, we don’t really have anything other than the standard kind of disagreement regarding manipulation cases. One party says Ernie isn’t responsible under conditions C; the other side disagrees.
    But if the claim is just explaining what seems problematic about God’s blame of Ernie, then I think we have access to a much broader range of considerations we can exploit to do the explaining. And, even better, they all can target the right sort of considerations: those having to do with God and God’s role in the circumstances. We can point to the fact that Ernie looks like a justified agent, since his wrongdoing is absolutely necessary to bring about the best possible world. We can point to how God cannot want Ernie to act differently, since that would undermine the overall plan. We can point to how the buck stops at God for the plan, even while we acknowledge that others played a role in the details.
    Despite my disagreement with Patrick, I hope the paper is more than just a refutation of his argument. That’s supposed to be an application of what’s important about the standing to blame. And the lessons are supposed to be broader. It isn’t that God’s standing to blame can be compromised for, roughly, moral reasons. It is that this is true of lots of ordinary people in ordinary circumstances. Charlie and Linus are a case in point. The paper discusses others. What reflection on such cases show us, I think, is that our blame of others can often be itself criticizable, even when we haven’t acted wrongly or undermined another’s agential capacities.
    Sorry to go on so long!

  19. Hey John/Ben,
    That’s a good point about God being “in” the Artifact, as it were. And this goes also to something Jussi mentioned — viz., that it is hard to know what to say about this case, in part because it is hard to know how to think about “God”. When we’re asked to imagine nefarious neuroscientists (how manipulation scenarios began, roughly speaking) with their chips in people’s brains, it is at least reasonably clear what we’re being asked to imagine; when we move to Mele’s goddess Diana, it is perhaps less clear, and when we move to my case, perhaps even less so. I admit that this is a liability of my strategy, but I still think thinking from the “theistic perspective” can help us see something about moral responsibility that we perhaps otherwise might not have seen. It is a liability, but not, I think, an insurmountable one.
    I wonder whether, for the moment, we could just imagine God as (in some sense) standing “outside” the universe, just observing what’s going on. But God doesn’t intervene, by, say, literally communicating blame towards anyone (which indeed raises Ben’s questions about whether God’s reactions are themselves parts of the script). He’s just there watching the big story unfold. Now, we often blame people in far away places when we hear about their actions on TV — in that kind of case, our blame goes unexpressed (to the wrongdoer). So, our question is this: would it be appropriate for God to react in that sort of way to the wrongdoing he’s observing? My thought is that it wouldn’t be appropriate. If I imagine that the universe is a deterministic one of God’s own making, then I just can’t also imagine God being appalled with us for having turned out as badly as we did. How could it be fair for God to judge us for being exactly as he determined us to be?
    Admittedly, there’s an issue here concerning God’s foreknowledge and the distinction between predictive and normative expectations. I need to think about this some more…

  20. Thanks for your reflections, Matt.
    Matt writes:
    “But if the claim is just explaining what seems problematic about God’s blame of Ernie, then I think we have access to a much broader range of considerations we can exploit to do the explaining. And, even better, they all can target the right sort of considerations: those having to do with God and God’s role in the circumstances. We can point to the fact that Ernie looks like a justified agent, since his wrongdoing is absolutely necessary to bring about the best possible world. We can point to how God cannot want Ernie to act differently, since that would undermine the overall plan. We can point to how the buck stops at God for the plan, even while we acknowledge that others played a role in the details.”
    I don’t think it follows from the fact that Ernie’s act is part of God’s plan that Ernie is a “justified agent”. It might be part of God’s plan that certain agents act wrongly and are not justified in doing what they do. Various “theodicies” posit this sort of thing. Further, it might be part of God’s plan that the agent be blamed by God; this might be necessary to get some greater good.

  21. Hi John,
    Here’s how I think about it. Either, Ernie’s action is necessary to God’s plan (and thus necessary for bringing about a maximally – or at least *very* – good world or it isn’t. If it isn’t, then it might be wrong for God to have scripted the world that way. And that would be one possible source of compromised standing.
    If Ernie’s action is necessary to the plan, however, then it looks like a necessary evil to bring about greater good. And that’s pretty good grounds for justification. Of course, you might reject greater good justifications, but then that puts God in hot water again.
    As for God’s role also being part of the plan, and thus, that God blame Ernie, I think my view can accommodate this idea pretty nicely. All I claim is that there are moral reasons that compromise God’s standing under theological determinism (and, in fact, beyond). If God should nevertheless blame Ernie for the greater good, then this might be a strong enough moral reason to outweigh the one’s I point to. I don’t have a view about that (though I am skeptical that the case could be made).

  22. Hi Matt,
    Thanks. As Patrick wrote, these issues are extremely delicate and complicated.
    You write, “If Ernie’s action is necessary to the plan, however, then it looks like a necessary evil to bring about greater good. And that’s pretty good grounds for justification.” Hmm. But the fact that Ernie’s action is necessary for the plan is from God’s point of view, right? Ernie would not necessarily know this. And thus, even though God would be justified in setting the world up that way, Ernie would not be justified in so acting. After all, it is built into the case that he is doing something morally wrong.
    Just as a parent can blame a child for doing soemthing that is, according to the parent’s plan, a necessary evil, so God can blame an individual, such as Ernie. Or at least that is the way I see it (today!).

  23. Hi, again, Matt,
    Does this help? (Who has ever thought that I’m not neurotic?)
    Shouldn’t we distinguish between God’s being justified in creating the world (including Ernie) and Ernie’s being justified in acting as he does? If Ernie’s so acting is part of the best of all possible worlds, then presumably God is justified in creating Ernie so that he acts in this way. But it wouldn’t follow, would it, that Ernie is justified in so acting, does it? (Well, I suppose it depends in part about what we mean by “justified”.)

  24. Thanks, John. It’s been a long day of teaching, but I’ll do my best to respond.
    Certainly, we might think that for an agent to be justified in acting, they must at least take themselves to be justified. By stipulation, Ernie does not. He acts for selfish reasons. But he has to act for such reasons in order to realize the good to be realized — for, if he could have acted in the knowledge that he was contributing to the greater good, God could have presumably scripted the world to be like that. Ordinarily, we can demand of justified agents that they realize the greater good for the right reasons, since we think, rightly or wrongly, that they can still realize the greater good that way.
    So, Ernie may not be fully justified, since he acts for bad reasons. But I think he’s enough like a justified agent, especially from God’s perspective. And, since I think the problem with God’s blame here has to do with the role God plays as designer of the universe, that perspective is where we should look.
    This allows me to agree that Ernie may be blameworthy, and that those around may be able to blame him without incurring criticism, while maintaining that God’s blame would be problematic.

  25. Teaching?? Yikes, already?? How could a perfectly good and powerful God bring it about that a nice guy like you has to teach so early in the year? (Oh, I guess it is part of his plan that some schools are on a semester system.)
    Thanks. I’ll continue reflecting on these fascinating (but difficult) issues. I appreciate the work you and Patrick have done to advance the debates.

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