Hard Determinism, Remorse, and Virtue Ethics

Southern Journal of Philosophy 42 (4):547-564 (2004)
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When hard determinists reject the claim that people deserve particular kinds of treatment because of how they have acted, they are left with a problem about remorse. Remorse is often represented as a way we impose retribution on ourselves when we understand that we have acted badly. (This view of remorse appears in the work of Freud, and I think it fits our everyday, pretheoretical understanding of one kind of remorse.) Retribution of any kind cannot be appropriate if we do not deserve bad treatment because of how we have acted. But remorse seems to be essentially bound up with understanding that we have acted badly. If this is right, it is important for hard determinists to find a non-retributive account of remorse, so that they can accommodate remorse within their theories. My goal in this paper is to provide such an account. I describe a kind of remorse which I think is a common human experience, a kind which is based on suffering in sympathy with the person one has wronged. It is similar to suffering in sympathy with one's friends when they suffer. We suffer in sympathy with friends not because we think we deserve to, but because we care about them, and their suffering gives us pain. In the wake of a wrongful act, a "virtuous wrongdoer" comes to care about the person wronged, and suffers in sympathy with him. This kind of remorse can be accommodated by hard determinists.
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