Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Frankfurt: "Indavertence and Responsibility" (2008)

In his Amherst lecture, Harry Frankfurt defends the unspectacular assertion that we are only morally responsible for things we do on purpose. He does so by distinguishing causal and moral credit:
We are responsible for [things we do inadvertently] as their cause, even though we do not intend them. They accrue to our credit or to our blame, though not to our moral credit or moral blame. (p. 14)
Much of his discussion is spurred by a set of silly thought examples by Thomas Nagel – a person pulling a trigger without intending to fire the gun, etc.

Frankfurt giving the lecture; from amherstlecture.org.

In the course of making his point, Frankfurt presents a rather disconcerting thought example of this own:
Let us suppose, then, that a person is the carrier of a highly contagious and dreadful disease. […] I suppose that the person would naturally be horrified, would feel helplessly discouraged by the evident impossibility of keeping from doing wholesale harm, and might well conclude – even while acknowledging no moral responsibility at all for being so toxic – that the world would be better off without him. The toxicity is by no means his fault; but he certainly cannot pretend that it has nothing to do with him. However he may wish that this were not the case, he is a poisonous creature, who cannot avoid doing dreadful harm. (p. 13; emphases in the original)
Something seems really out of key here.

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