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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Does Situationism Threaten Free Will and Moral Responsibility?

Michael McKenna and Brandon Warmke
Journal of Moral Psychology


The situationist movement in social psychology has caused a considerable stir in philosophy over the last fifteen years. Much of this was prompted by the work of the philosophers Gilbert Harman (1999) and John Doris (2002). Both contended that familiar philosophical assumptions about the role of character in the explanation of human action were not supported by the situationists experimental results. Most of the ensuing philosophical controversy has focused upon issues related to moral psychology and ethical theory, especially virtue ethics. More recently, the influence of situationism has also given rise to further questions regarding free will and moral responsibility (e.g., Brink 2013; Ciurria 2013; Doris 2002; Mele and Shepherd 2013; Miller 2016; Nelkin 2005; Talbert 2009; and Vargas 2013b). In this paper, we focus just upon these latter issues. Moreover, we focus primarily on reasons-responsive theories. There is cause for concern that a range of situationist findings are in tension with the sort of reasons-responsiveness putatively required for free will and moral responsibility. Here, we develop and defend a response to the alleged situationist threat to free will and moral responsibility that we call pessimistic realism. We conclude on an optimistic note, however, exploring the possibility of strengthening our agency in the face of situational influences.

The article is here.