Sunday, May 03, 2009

Authority and Holding Responsible

There is currently a discussion going on at the Garden of Forking Paths blog about a hypocrite loses her moral standing to hold another responsible for his wrongdoing (where holding responsible means more than simply judging the act to be bad).

I am having trouble getting my head around idea that authority should have any deep importance in our practices of holding responsible. I have the intuitions about non-parents not having the authority to punish others' children and hypocrites not being able to hold others to their word in good faith. However, I'm not sure that the claim that authority is necessary for holding responsible is what follows from these intuitions. Or maybe the problem is just that I don't understand exactly how to understand what it means to appropriately "hold responsible" and "holding responsible" really is not what the hypocrite is doing. If that's the case, then what is the hypocrite doing when she appears to hold someone responsible for a bad deed she herself has done?

What is wrong with saying that anyone who recognizes another's act as wrong and engages in prototypical blaming behavior (holding attitudes and censuring) is holding the wrongdoer responsible?


Evan said...

This is just sort of a wild guess, since my intuitions seem to line up with yours, but one possible way of making sense of it is with a moral influence view of responsibility of the kind that people like Arneson and Vargas go for. The idea being that when one cheater censures another, the hypocrisy compromises his ability to effectively discourage that particular behavior. He is, at best, holding someone responsible poorly(...?)

Meanwhile, I imagine that various constructivists would be able to tell a story about how, by failing to participate in a norm, an individual can lose contact with his putative moral community, but I wouldn't know anything about that.

...I was about to start speculating about moral zombies and whether they could hold people responsible, but let's not do that, ever.

Per said...

I like the Vargas/Arneson view. The hypocrite is holding responsible, she's just doing a crappy job of it in virtue of her lack of authority. However, I think that many of the people arguing for this kind of position might think of themselves as doing something beyond commenting on the effectiveness of holding responsible from a position of non-authority.

I think some do want to say something about losing contact with one's moral community. Authority can confer a particular status loss of which may alter the way in which one engages in certain communal moral practices, but I'd like to know what exactly they'd say about non-authorities in those contexts. Obviously they are not entirely outside the community. They can engage in some moral practices.