Should we regret the fact that we are often more emotionally resilient in response to the deaths of our loved ones than we might expect -- that the suffering associated with grief often dissipates more quickly and more fully than we anticipate? Dan Moller ("Love and Death") argues that we should, because this resilience epistemically severs us from our loved ones and thereby "deprives us of insight into our own condition." I argue that Moller's conclusion is correct despite resting (...) on a mistaken picture of the nature and significance of grief. Unlike Moller, I contend that grief is a composite emotional process, rather than a single mental state; that grief is a species of emotional attention rather than perception; and that grief is a form of activity directed at placing our relationships with the deceased on new terms. It is precisely because grief has these three features that it facilitates the scrutiny of our practical identities and thus fosters self-knowledge and self-understanding. (shrink)
I argue that the phenomenon underlying Bernard Williams’ (1976) “agent-regret” is considerably broader than appreciated by Williams and others. Agent-regret— an anguished response that agents have for harms they have caused, even if faultlessly— I maintain, is a species of a more general response to harms that need not be one’s fault, but which nonetheless impact one’s practical identity in a special way. This broader genus includes as a species what I call “relation-regret”, a pained response to (...) harm caused by a person to whom one is intimately related, as a co-member of a group partly constitutive of one’s practical identity (e.g. one’s family). After providing an account of the moral psychology of relation-regret, I attend to its normative significance, proposing in particular that acceptance of relation-regret provides us with reasons for accepting a novel form of moral luck, namely associative luck: the luck of being vulnerable to responsibility-responses in virtue of one’s attachments to others, despite one’s personal faultlessness. (shrink)
Agent-regret seems to give rise to a philosophical puzzle. If we grant that we are not morally responsible for consequences outside our control (the ‘Standard View’), then agent-regret—which involves self-reproach and a desire to make amends for consequences outside one’s control—appears rationally indefensible. But despite its apparent indefensibility, agent-regret still seems like a reasonable response to bad moral luck. I argue here that the puzzle can be resolved if we appreciate the role that agent-regret plays in (...) a larger social practice that helps us deal with bad moral luck. That agent-regret is a component in a social practice limits the questions that we can reasonably ask about it. While we can ask whether an experience of agent-regret is rational given the norms of this practice, we cannot ask the question that motivates the puzzle of agent-regret, viz. whether agent-regret is rationally defensible according to the Standard View. (shrink)
In his classic essay, "The Dilemma of Determinism", William James argues that the truth of determinism would make regret irrational. Given the central role of regret in our moral lives, James concludes that determinism is false. In this paper I explore the attitude of regret and show that James's argument is mistaken. Not only can we rationally regret events that were determined to occur, but we can also rationally regret events that had to occur.
Andy Egan has recently produced a set of alleged counterexamples to causal decision theory in which agents are forced to decide among causally unratifiable options, thereby making choices they know they will regret. I show that, far from being counterexamples, CDT gets Egan's cases exactly right. Egan thinks otherwise because he has misapplied CDT by requiring agents to make binding choices before they have processed all available information about the causal consequences of their acts. I elucidate CDT in a (...) way that makes it clear where Egan goes wrong, and which explains why his examples pose no threat to the theory. My approach has similarities to a modification of CDT proposed by Frank Arntzenius, but it differs in the significance that it assigns to potential regrets. I maintain, contrary to Arntzenius, that an agent facing Egan's decisions can rationally choose actions that she knows she will later regret. All rationality demands of agents it that they maximize unconditional causal expected utility from an epistemic perspective that accurately reflects all the available evidence about what their acts are likely to cause. This yields correct answers even in outlandish cases in which one is sure to regret whatever one does. (shrink)
This book attempts to understand regret, an emotion that bridges the actual and the possible, the past and present. Through a wealth of sources it takes up questions of the meaning of regret and how it differs from similar experiences such as remorse and guilt; what sorts of things people most often regret; and the roots of regret in circumstances and in who we are. It takes issue with the view common both in this culture and (...) in leading theories of decision that regret is irrational and dysfunctional - specifying the surprising benefits of regret, its great and good sense. (shrink)
I explore how agent-regret and its object—faultlessly harming someone—can call for various responses. I look at two sorts of responses. Firstly, I explore responses that respect the agent’s role as an agent. This revolves around a feature of “it was just an accident”—a common response to agent-regret—that has largely gone ignored in the literature: that it can downplay one’s role as an agent. I argue that we need to take seriously the fact that those who have caused harms (...) are genuine agents, to ignore this fails to allow these agents to move on. Secondly, following Sussman and MacKenzie, I explore responses that benefit the victim. I argue that we should strive to understand how to configure these responses in a way that does not blame the agent. To do this I look at the role of actions in our self-understanding, as people who have done particular things. I end by briefly considering the ways in which tort law and restorative justice might help us to understand how to appropriately respond to accidentally harming someone. I urge that we need to take this as a starting point to find a better way to respond to the agents of faultless harms. (shrink)
Women face extraordinary difficulty in seeking sterilization as physicians routinely deny them the procedure. Physicians defend such denials by citing the possibility of future regret, a well‐studied phenomenon in women’s sterilization literature. Regret is, however, a problematic emotion upon which to deny reproductive freedom as regret is neither satisfactorily defined and measured, nor is it centered in analogous cases regarding men’s decision to undergo sterilization or the decision of women to undergo fertility treatment. Why then is (...) class='Hi'>regret such a concern in the voluntary sterilization of women? I argue that regret is centered in women’s voluntary sterilization due to pronatalism or expectations that womanhood means motherhood. Women seeking voluntary sterilization are regarded as a deviant identity that rejects what is taken to be their essential role of motherhood and they are thus seen as vulnerable to regret. (shrink)
Over time, research programs focusing on the processes that underlie dissonance and regret diverged to the point that the present literature only occasionally draws explicit connections between regret and consistency seeking processes. One of our aims in this chapter is to reestablish the connection between regret and consistency within the context of a theory that examines two independent factors that critically interact to enhance or diminish regret. The first of these is opportunity, which includes both perceptions (...) of past opportunities to make alternative choices and future opportunities to take corrective actions, and the second is mitigation, which is the ability to justify one's actions or otherwise engage regulatory processes that allow for the diminishment of regret. We examine both opportunity and mitigation separately before describing how the two may interact to elicit differential experiences of regret. (shrink)
When sporting agents fail through wrongful or faulty behaviour, they should feel guilty; when they fail because of a deficiency in their abilities, they should feel shame. But sometimes we fail without being deficient and without being at fault. I illustrate this with two examples of players, Moacir Barbosa and Roberto Baggio, who failed in World Cup finals and cost their teams the greatest prize in sport. Although both players failed, I suggest that neither was at fault and neither was (...) deficient. I argue that we can fail through no fault of our own because our abilities are always fallible. This fallibility means that to succeed – to achieve sporting glory – we must run the risk of failure. The appropriate emotion to feel over such failures is agent-regret. Sporting agents and observers should not take up what I call the ‘critical position’: the idea that someone who fails must be deficient or must have been at fault. This allows for a softer, but also more accurate, attitude towards our own failures and the failures of others. I end by suggesting that the fallibility of our abilities is made clear through playing or watching sport, and this can illuminate life more broadly. (shrink)
Procedural justifications of democracy emphasize inclusiveness and respect and by doing so come into conflict with instrumental justifications that depend on voters’ competence. This conflict raises questions about jury theorems and makes their standing in democratic theory contested. We show that a type of no-regret learning called meta-induction can help to satisfy the competence assumption without excluding voters or diverse opinion leaders on an a priori basis. Meta-induction assigns weights to opinion leaders based on their past predictive performance to (...) determine the level of their inclusion in recommendations for voters. The weighting minimizes the difference between the performance of meta-induction and the best opinion leader in hindsight. The difference represents the regret of meta-induction whose minimization ensures that the recommendations are optimal in supporting voters’ competence. Meta-induction has optimal truth-tracking properties that support voters’ competence even if it is targeted by mis/disinformation and should be considered a tool for supporting democracy in hyper-plurality. (shrink)
It is often suggested that when opinions differ among individuals in a group, the opinions should be aggregated to form a compromise. This paper compares two approaches to aggregating opinions, linear pooling and what I call opinion agglomeration. In evaluating both strategies, I propose a pragmatic criterion, No Regrets, entailing that an aggregation strategy should prevent groups from buying and selling bets on events at prices regretted by their members. I show that only opinion agglomeration is able to satisfy the (...) demand. I then proceed to give normative and empirical arguments in support of the pragmatic criterion for opinion aggregation, and that ultimately favor opinion agglomeration. (shrink)
This dissertation is a defence of agent-regret and an exploration of its role in our lives. I argue that agent-regret shows that an agent takes seriously her status as an agent who impacts the world, but who only has fallible control over it. To accept responsibility for any outcomes, she must accept responsibility for unintended outcomes, too: agent-regret is part of being a human agent. In doing this, I try to defend and develop Williams’s own conception of (...) agent-regret. -/- In the first part, I explore the nature of agent-regret. Agent-regret is distinct from guilt because we can feel agent-regret without being at fault. I argue that several challenges that seek to reduce agent-regret to a form of guilt fail. I further argue that agent-regret takes as its object not only something one has done, but the fact that one did it; I discuss this in terms of what Bernard Williams called taking an “external” view on one’s own action. -/- I suggest that we can best understand the object of agent-regret as one’s responsibility for an outcome. I argue that this form of “responsibility” is conceptually separate from liability or answerability; it concerns whether the outcome can be ascribed to an agent. This is a restricted form of causal responsibility but retains its agential character. I suggest that we can be responsible for outcomes even when we did not intend to bring them about. -/- In the second part, I vindicate the propriety of agent-regret against the ideas that we are not responsible for unintended outcomes or that such responsibility is not important. I set out several challenges to this effect. I argue that we are responsible for unintended outcomes because in order to be responsible as agents at all, we must use fallible abilities. When we exercise these abilities but fail, we are responsible as agents for those unintended outcomes that arise. I then consider the importance of being responsible for particular unintended outcomes and analyse the idea that this affects our identities. I argue that responsibility for an outcome affects a form of identity, but that it does not involve essential features of a person. Instead, our responsibility for outcomes is a contingent feature that nonetheless plays an important role in our interpersonal interactions and self-conceptions. I argue that these reactions are appropriate, because our responsibility for particular outcomes is independently significant—but these reactions also lend this responsibility added significance as part of inescapable human practices. -/- Thus our responsibility for outcomes is important. Its importance means that it can serve as an appropriate object of agent-regret that vindicates the propriety of agent-regret. I end by considering several interesting features of agent-regret, including its expression and “pure” cases, which are cases where an agent feels agent-regret despite not regretting the result of her action. (shrink)
This is the first sustained study examining how the emotions of remorse and regret were manifested in Greek and Roman public life. By discussing the standard lexical denotations of remorse, Fulkerson shows how it was not normally expressed by high-status individuals, but by their inferiors, and how it often served to show defect of character.
For healthcare professionals and organizations, there is an emphasis on addressing moral distress and compassion fatigue among clinicians. While addressing these issues is vital, this paper suggests that the philosophical concept of agent-regret is a relevant but overlooked issue in healthcare. To experience agent-regret is to regret your harmful but not wrongful actions. This person’s action results in someone being killed or significantly injured, but it was ethically faultless. Despite being faultless, agent-regret is an emotional response (...) concerning one’s agency in a situation that results in death or significant harm. In healthcare, many clinicians are likely to experience regret for faultless actions that significantly harm or cause the death of a patient. The recognition of agent-regret in healthcare is significant because it differs, conceptually and practically, from moral distress and compassion fatigue. Building on the work of Wojtowicz (Citation2022), we should strive to understand clinicians’ agent-regret by recognizing their agency in the situation, not lessening or removing it. (shrink)
This book provides a study of regret (metameleia) in the moral psychology of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. It was important for all these philosophers to insist that regret is a characteristic of neither fully virtuous nor wholly irredeemable characters. Rather, they took regret to be something that affects people who retrospectively feel pain at realising an earlier mistaken action. Regret sets out in full the accounts of the nature of this emotion found in the works (...) of these philosophers, viewing them in the context of their respective accounts of virtuous and non-virtuous agents, ethical progress, the role of knowledge in producing good actions, and compares it with modern philosophical notions of 'agent regret'. (shrink)
The decision tree of life is colossal. While physicists and metaphysicians explore the possibility that the multiverse grows larger at every decision, it is the ethicist’s lot to consider the paths chosen. That is to say, ethics is generally concerned with the build-up to a decision point. But what happens afterwards? And how do our choices influence our future decision-making?
Because anticipated and retrospective regret play important roles in practical deliberation and motivation, better understanding them can illuminate the contours of human agency. However, the possibility of self-ignorance and the fact that we change over time can make regret—especially anticipatory regret—not only a poor predictor of where the agent will be in the future but also an unreliable indicator of where the agent stands. Granting these, this paper examines the way in which prospective and, particularly, retrospective (...) class='Hi'>regret can nevertheless yield important insight into the sorts of creatures we are, both generally and individually. The experience of retrospective regret can show a person she values something in a way she did not know or that she is (or was) a different person than she had thought, insights which can factor into forward-looking, or prospective, deliberation. Such instances of revelatory regret reveal something to the agent about herself as agent. I examine two cases of agential self-ignorance. In the first, the experience of regret reveals what the agent values, not only to others but even to the agent himself. In the second, the agent anticipates experiencing regret for an action but does not experience the regret, suggesting that the agent did not value the rejected alternative in the way she thought. Anticipatory regret is forward-looking and can play an important role in practical deliberation. But insofar as anticipatory regret flows from one’s imperfect judgment and prospection about oneself, retrospective regret can be an important corrective in helping the agent understand her own standpoint. (shrink)
I begin this paper by discussing the difference between outweighing and canceling in conflicts of normativity. I then introduce a thought experiment that I call Crash Drive,and I use it to explain the nature of a certain kind of moral conflict as well as the appropriate emotional response – regret – on the part of the primary agent in this case. Having done this, I turn to a line of criticism opened by Bernard Williams and recently expanded by Jonathan (...) Dancy according to which archetypal examples of modern moral philosophies such as Kantianism cannot make sense of conflict and regret. Finally, I examine the general structure of such theories and explain how at least some of them can avoid this line of criticism. (shrink)
The rationality of future bias figures crucially in various metaphysical and ethical arguments (Prior 1959; Parfit 1984; Fischer 2019). Recently, however, philosophers have raised several arguments to the effect that future bias is irrational (Dougherty 2011; Suhler and Callender 2012; Greene and Sullivan 2015). Particularly, Greene and Sullivan (2015) claim that future bias is irrational because future bias leads to two kinds of irrational planning behaviors in agents who also seek to avoid regret. In this paper, I join others (...) who have objected to Greene and Sullivan’s argument (Dorsey 2016; Tarsney 2017), but for significantly different reasons that put into question an unchallenged premise in the debate. These reasons are based on the relationship between the alleged irrational planning behaviors and certain features of regret that regret shares with future bias. First, regret is dynamic, involving preferences that change over time and in inconsistent ways. Second, regret comes in degrees, meaning that we can rank our potential regrets. Because regret has these features, I show that the future-biased agents in Greene and Sullivan’s cases do not need to act in irrational ways to rationally avoid regret. (shrink)
This paper offers a phenomenological analysis of the relationship between regret and episodic memory, the temporal structure of ‘regretful memory’, the affective and evaluative dimension of regretful memory and the counterfactual dimension of regretful memory. Based on Husserl’s phenomenology, I offer an analysis of regret’s complex structures of intentionality and time-consciousness. Husserl held that episodic memory requires two temporal orientations on one’s own experience: the past now that one relives and the present now in which one does the (...) reliving. If memory generally entails two temporal perspectives, regretful memory brings in a third point of temporal reference: that now that could have been. Drawing on Hoerl and McCormack, I give an account of regret as a mnemic and counterfactual form of intentional consciousness that confronts an alternative past and attempts to negotiate between two essential yet conflicting features of its actual past: its contingency and its irreversibility. On this basis, I then draw on Bagnoli to offer a phenomenological theory of regretful memory as an emotional mode of valuing possibilities that belong to the past. (shrink)
This essay elaborates on my essay, “Confucius’ Complaints and the Analects’ Account of the Good Life,” responding to issues and criticisms raised by Michael Ing and Manyul Im. Ing’s and Im’s critiques most invite reflection on regret, both as it might situate in Confucius’ own life and as it could feature more broadly in developed moral maturity. I consider two modes of regret: regret concerning compromises of conscience and end-of-life regret. The latter can naturally include elements (...) of the former, but may nonetheless have special features not exhausted by it. I argue that the model of Confucius is consistent with versions of both of these forms of regret while also acknowledging that where the Analects is concerned, much of what we might say about regret will inevitably be somewhat speculative. The essay thus dwells in some of the ambiguities suggested by the Analects. (shrink)
I argue that standard decision theories, namely causal decision theory and evidential decision theory, both are unsatisfactory. I devise a new decision theory, from which, under certain conditions, standard game theory can be derived.
In this study, we investigated whether differences in the experience of regret may be a potential explanation for damaging behaviours associated with psychopathy and criminal offending. Participants were incarcerated offenders (n = 60) and non-incarcerated controls (n = 20). Psychopathic traits were characterised with the Psychopathic Checklist: Screening Version. Regret was assessed by responses to outcomes on a simulated gambling task. Incarcerated offenders experienced a reduced sense of regret as compared to non-incarcerated controls. We obtained some evidence (...) that specific psychopathic factors and facets could differentially relate to the experience and use of emotions. Our data provide initial evidence of important associations between negative emotions and decision behaviour in the context of criminal offending. (shrink)
ABSTRACT In cases of apparent moral dilemmas, the feeling of regret reminds us that there were competing, morally significant options. Because Kant denies the existence of genuine conflicts of obligation [1996c. “The Metaphysics of Morals.” In Practical Philosophy, edited and translated by Mary J. Gregor, 353–604. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/cbo9780511813306.013, 6:224], he cannot explain the propriety and phenomenology of regret, or so it is traditionally argued [Williams, Bernard. 1965. (...) “Symposium: Ethical Consistency.” Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 39: 103–138]. I argue that regret can be modelled as a painful and in-part retrospective version of what Kant calls ‘moral feeling’. Different moral feelings arise in different contexts of moral thought and represent our duties in ways that reflect our normative situations. Regret represents the relation between a past action and a general duty that we imagined fulfilling in a certain way but did not. For beings like us, moral feeling is a subjective condition on our being put under obligation at all. Absence of regret therefore suggests that an agent may no longer be, or perhaps never was, sincerely moved by the moral law. (shrink)
This paper concerns regret, where regretting is to be understood, roughly, as mourning the loss of a forgone good. My ultimate aim is to add a new dimension to existing debate concerning the internal logic of regret by revealing the significance of certain sorts of cases—including, most interestingly, certain down-to-earth cases involving vague goals—in relation to the possibility of regret in continued endorsement cases. Intuitively, it might seem like, in continued endorsement cases, an agent’s regret must (...) be tied to the idea that the forgone good is no better than the achieved good but is also not fully made up for by the achieved good because the goods are different in kind. But this view is controversial. After describing a challenge to the view, as well as the main features of the debate regarding regret in which it figures, I appeal first to a fanciful case involving a set of ever-better options, and then to a more down-to-earth case involving a vague goal, to develop a defense of the opposing view that, even in continued endorsement cases, mourning the loss of a forgone good need not be tied to the idea that the loss of the good is not fully made up for by the gain of a preferred or incomparable good of a different kind. (shrink)
We are all familiar with regret. And on the face of it, there doesn't seem to be anything puzzling about it, the way there is about (among other things) self‐deception and survivor guilt. So what philosophical significance does it have?
Several decision rules, including the minimax regret rule, have been posited to suggest optimizing strategies for an individual when neither objective nor subjective probabilities can be associated to the various states of the world. These all share the shortcoming of focusing only on extreme outcomes. This paper suggests an alternative approach of âtempered regretsâ which may more closely replicate the decision process of individuals in those situations in which avoiding the worst outcome tempers the loss from not achieving the (...) best outcome. The assumption of total ignorance of the probabilities associated with the various states is maintained. Applications and illustrations from standard neoclassical theory are discussed. (shrink)
This research examines the moderating role of regret aversion in reason-based choice. Earlier research has shown that regret aversion and reason-based choice effects are linked through a common emphasis on decision justification, and that a simple manipulation of regret salience can eliminate the decoy effect, a well-known reason-based choice effect. We show here that the effect of regret salience varies in theory-relevant ways from one reason-based choice effect to another. For effects such as the select/reject and (...) decoy effect, both of which were independently judged to be unreasonable bases for deciding, regret salience eliminated the effect. For the most-important attribute effect that is judged to be normatively acceptable, however, regret salience amplified the effect. Anticipated self-blame regret and perceived decision justifiability consistently predicted preferences and thus offer a parsimonious account of both attenuation and amplification of these reason-based choice effects. (shrink)
Roger Scruton is Britain's best-known intellectual dissident, who has defended English traditions and English identity against an official culture of denigration. Although his writings on philosophical aesthetics have shown him to be a leading authority in the field, his defence of political conservatism has marked him out in academic circles as Public Enemy Number One. Contrary to orthodox opinion, however, Roger Scruton is a human being, and Gentle Regrets contains the proof of it - a quiet, witty but also serious (...) and moving account of the ways in which life brought him to think what he thinks, and to be what he is. His moving vignettes of his childhood and later influences illuminate this book. (shrink)
The menu-dependent nature of regret-minimization creates subtleties when it is applied to dynamic decision problems. It is not clear whether forgone opportunities should be included in the menu. We explain commonly observed behavioral patterns as minimizing regret when forgone opportunities are present. If forgone opportunities are included, we can characterize when a form of dynamic consistency is guaranteed.
A recent theory (Roese & Summerville, 2005) has suggested that regret is intensified by perceptions of future opportunity. In this work, however, it is proposed that feelings of regret are more likely elicited by perceptions of lost opportunity: People regret outcomes that could have been changed in the past but can no longer be changed and for which people experience low psychological closure. Consistent with the lost opportunity principle, Study 1 revealed that regretted experiences in the most (...) commonly regretted life domains are perceived as offering the least opportunity for improvement in the future, Study 2 indicated that people experience the most regret for outcomes that are not repeatable, and Study 3 revealed that perceptions of higher past than future opportunities and low psychological closure predict regret intensity. Discussion focuses on the hope inducing yet ephemeral nature of perceived future opportunity and on the relationship between dissonance reduction and closure. (shrink)
Regret is often symptomatic of the defective decisions associated with “temporary preference” problems. It may also help overcome these defects. Outcome regret can modify the relative utilities of different payoffs. Process regret can motivate search for better decision processes or trap-evading strategies. Heightened regret may thus be functional for control of these self-defeating choices.
In Albert Camus' 1950 play Just Assassins, terrorists are at work in nineteenth-century Russia. They kill people, and they all believe that there is a superior moral reason for doing so. But they also know that killing is wrong. In their own view, they are innocent criminals; innocent, because their action is justified, but criminals, because they kill. So tacitly they conclude that they deserve punishment that will remove the regret from their shoulders. Their execution, by the same despotic (...) authorities they are attacking, completes their actions: regret, caused by justified killing, gets its counterpart. Regret is an interesting mental phenomenon. Some people say that feeling regret is irrational, or even that it is immoral. But surely the usual opinion is that in some situations regret is an appropriate way to react. An interesting question is what it means to say that sometimes it is 'appropriate' to feel regret. Do we have a moral obligation to feel regret sometimes? How could one have an obligation to feel anything, since, at least seemingly, feelings are not voluntary acts. If we do have a moral obligation to feel regret in some cases, does it follow that all good people are emotionally "hot," while "cool" persons, who are not able to feel deep regret, are bad? (shrink)
I examine the ‘momentous’ choices that one makes early in life – about career or spouse, for example – and I ask what it means to regret such choices at the end of one’s life. I argue that such regrets are almost meaningless because of the difficulty of imaginatively accessing a much earlier self. I then contrast long-term regret to remorse, and argue that the two are qualitatively different experiences because remorse involves another person as victim.