Justice Without Moral Responsibility?

Elizabeth Shaw* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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In recent years, a growing number of theorists have argued that there is an important sense in which no one is morally responsible for his or her actions (e.g., Pereboom 2006, Caruso 2019, Vilhauer 2013, Waller 2017, Corrado 2001, Levy 2011, Smilansky 2000, Greene and Cohen 2004). Broadly speaking, moral responsibility depends on two prerequisites: first, an epistemic requirement (such as the ability to understand the nature of one's action and whether it was morally right or wrong) and, second, a control or "free will" requirement. The challenge to moral responsibility typically focuses on the second requirement and so theorists who make this challenge can be referred to as "moral responsibility skeptics" or "free will skeptics." There is a vast literature on the various reasons for being skeptical about free will and moral responsibility (for an overview see Caruso 2018). For example, some skeptics argue that if all our actions are ultimately determined by causal factors outside our control, such as our genes and upbringing, then we cannot be responsible for our actions, as these actions would be the inevitable consequence of causal factors for which we were not responsible. Many skeptics also claim that if, on the other hand, determinism is false, we would still not be free or morally responsible, as our actions would be a matter of luck-agents would be "unable to settle whether a decision/action occurs and hence [would not] have the control in action required for moral responsibility" (Caruso 2018). It has become increasingly common for skeptics to support traditional philosophical arguments against free will and moral responsibility with empirical evidence, such as findings from neuroscience.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Information Ethics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • skepticism
  • neurosciences
  • free will
  • ethics
  • criminal law
  • morality


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