Matthew Talbert


Some theories of moral responsibility assert that whether a person is accountable for her behavior depends partly on facts about her personal history. Those who advocate such a “historicist” outlook often hold, for example, that people who unwillingly acquire morally corrupt dispositions are not blameworthy for the wrong actions that issue from these dispositions; this contention is frequently supported by thought experiments involving instances of forced psychological manipulation that seem to call responsibility into question. I argue here against the historicist perspective on moral responsibility and in favor of the conclusion that the process by which a person acquires values and dispositions is largely irrelevant to moral responsibility. While the thought experiments introduced by historicists raise perplexing questions about personal identity and involve clear instances of moral wrongs done to the manipulated subjects, neither of these considerations typically have a direct bearing on the question of moral responsibility. Rather, questions about moral responsibility in manipulation cases should be answered, I argue, by considering whether a manipulated agent is capable of expressing through her actions the objectionable attitudes that make blame appropriate in normal cases of wrongdoing.