By Gunnar Bjornsson
Both compatibilist and incompatibilist theories of moral responsibility are largely supported with reference to intuitions about cases. However, such intuitions vary among philosophers and laymen alike, and even people theoretically committed to compatibilism or incompatibilism can often feel the pull of intuitions in line with the opposite view. While our understanding of various arguments and of practices of holding responsible has made tremendous progress over the last few decades, it is fair to say that the basic disagreements over incompatibilism have remained.
One way to try to break this stalemate is to look not at the direct arguments for or against incompatibilism, but at the intuitions that seem to drive the debate. For example, if it could be shown, empirically, that pre-theoretical incompatibilist commitments are typically based on some clearly identifiable mistake, this might give us reason to doubt intuitions that flow from such commitments. (Similarly, of course, for compatibilist commitments.)
In earlier work, Karl Persson and I have argued that a certain independently supported general account of responsibility judgments gives us reason to disregard the basic intuitions grounding incompatibilist or skeptical convictions (Björnsson 2011, Björnsson and Persson 2009, 2012, 2013). According to this account, the Explanation Hypothesis, attributions of responsibility are implicit explanatory judgments, understanding the object of responsibility as straightforwardly explained by the agent’s motivational structures. Incompatibilist intuitions arise from shifts in salient explanatory models, shifts that, we argue, are predictable but epistemically weightless side effects of mechanisms the function of which is to keep track of mundane relations between agents and outcomes.
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