Reforming responsibility practices without skepticism

Philosophical Psychology (NA):1-17 (2022)
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Abstract

Derk Pereboom and Gregg Caruso argue that humans are never morally responsible for their actions and take that thesis as a starting point for a project whose ultimate goal is the reform of responsibility practices, which include expressions of praise, blame, and the institution of legal punishment. This paper shares the skeptical concern that current responsibility practices can be suboptimal and in need of change, but argues that a non-skeptical pursuit of those changes is viable and more promising. The main lines of the argument are developed by assessing the prospects of implementing one of the changes favored within the skeptical project (namely, the reduction of punishment severity) in light of how human moral psychology works. An original vignette experiment (N = 180; participants from Facebook groups related to Brazilian universities) asked participants to recommend sentences for a fictitious criminal after considering alternatives to regular punishment that varied in their effectiveness to prevent reoffending. The results suggest that people can become less punitive even if they continue to believe in moral responsibility and free will. The paper further argues that reforming responsibility practices is more likely to occur without the endorsement of skepticism.

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