Frankfurt-Style Cases and the Significance of the First Impression

American Philosophical Quarterly 46 (3):213-223 (2009)

Abstract

The claim that moral responsibility requires relevant alternative possibilities is encapsulated by the following principle: PAP: A person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have done otherwise. In 1969 Harry Frankfurt devised what purported to be a counterexample to PAP: Suppose someone, Black, let us say, wants Jones to perform a certain action. Black is prepared to go to considerable lengths to get his way, but he prefers to avoid showing his hand unnecessarily. So he waits until Jones is about to make up his mind what to do, and he does nothing unless it is clear to him that Jones is going to decide to do something other than what he, Black, wants him to do. If it does become clear that Jones is going to decide to do something else, Black takes effective steps to ensure that Jones decides to do, and that he does do, what he, Black, wants him to do. Whatever Jones's initial preferences and inclinations, then, Black will have his way. . . . Now suppose that Black never has to show his hand because Jones, for reasons of his own, decides to perform and does perform the very action Black wants him to perform. In that case, it seems clear, Jones will bear precisely the same moral responsibility for what he does as he would have borne if Black had not been ready to take steps to ensure that he do it

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Gerald K. Harrison
Massey University

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