Moral Responsibility Without General Ability

Philosophical Quarterly 69 (274):22-40 (2019)
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It is widely thought that, to be morally responsible for some action or omission, an agent must have had, at the very least, the general ability to do otherwise. As we argue, however, there are counterexamples to the claim that moral responsibility requires the general ability to do otherwise. We present several cases in which agents lack the general ability to do otherwise and yet are intuitively morally responsible for what they do, and we argue that such cases raise problems for various kinds of accounts of moral responsibility. We suggest two alternative approaches to thinking about the connection between moral responsibility and abilities to do otherwise, one of which denies that there is any ability-to-do-otherwise requirement on moral responsibility and the other of which requires only an opportunity to do otherwise. We also argue that a general-ability-to-do-otherwise requirement not only faces counterexamples but also lacks positive motivation.
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