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Gothenburg Responsibility Conference 2016: Michael McKenna on Basic Desert, Blame and Free Will


A familiar claim in the free will debate is that the freedom in dispute between compatibilists and incompatibilists is the type required for an agent to deserve blame for moral wrongdoing. More precisely, it is the type required for an agent to deserve blame in a basic sense of desert. In this sense, the ground for a claim of desert does not flow from some more fundamental normative considerations, such as those pertaining to consequentialist or contractualist principles; the claim of deserved blame is normatively basic. In other recent work, Conversation and Responsibility (2012), Professor Michael McKenna (University of Arizona) articulated a conception of blame. Drawing upon that conception, he argued for a basic desert thesis for blameworthiness. In what follows, McKenna shall build upon his earlier work by responding to a criticism of it. McKenna advances a basic desert thesis for blame by reference to a distinctive sort of noninstrumental good—one that involves harming a blameworthy wrongdoer. Nevertheless, the noninstrumental good upon which McKenna rely is not an intrinsic good; it’s an extrinsic one. There is a worry that the good he identifies is really a variety of a consequentialist good, and so is, despite his contention, not merely an extrinsic but also an instrumentalist good that depends upon some more basic normative considerations. If so, McKenna's account fails as one promising a basic desert thesis. In this paper, McKenna responds to this challenge. Finally, he shall consider whether the free will debate is as intimately tied to the notion of basic desert as many seem to suppose. McKenna do not think it is. While his proposal for a basic desert thesis for blame is available to those working on the free will problem, as McKenna sees it, the relevance of what is at stake regarding the freedom of the will survives even if no basic desert thesis does. There are other candidate normative grounds for the aptness of blame, such as fairness, that might credibly give rise to traditional philosophical worries about free will.

Page Manager: Andreas Ott|Last update: 10/4/2016

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