Four friendly critics: A response

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In this reply, I seek to summarize fairly the criticisms advanced by each of my four critics, Jonathan Schaffer, Gideon Yaffe, John Gardner, and Carolina Sartorio. That there is so little overlap either in the aspects of the book on which they focus or in the arguments they advance about those issues has forced me to reply to each of them separately. Schaffer focuses much of his criticisms on my view that absences cannot serve as causal relata and argues that this commits me to the view that double preventions (such as beheadings) cannot be causal of events such as deaths. I deny that double preventions such as beheadings are not causal, while admitting that other double preventions are not causal but denying that this latter conclusion is unwelcome in its implications. Yaffe criticizes my view that a person substantially causing some harm H is sufficient for that person having performed the activity of H-ing, whereas I affirm that causing H is sufficient for doing the action of H-ing even if it is not sufficient for intentionally H-ing (Yaffe's definition of "activity"). Gardner takes issue with my "experiential argument" for the relevance of causation to moral blame; he urges that we cannot infer that we are more guilty (when we cause a harm than when we don't) from either the psychological fact that we feel more guilty or from the moral fact that it is virtuous to feel such heightened guilt, because it is viciously circular: we feel such guilt only because we have already judged that we are more guilty, and it is virtuous to feel such guilt only because we in fact are more guilty. I deny such circularity exists. Sartorio takes issue with my thesis that in omissive overdetermination cases (where each omission is sufficient to fail to prevent some harm, meaning neither is necessary) neither omitter is morally responsible for the harm. I trade intuitions with Sartorio about a range of related cases that we each think bears on the issue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)491-542
Number of pages52
JournalLegal Theory
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Law


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