Talk:Moral responsibility

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RfC: Subsection on legal aspects of 'moral responsibility'[edit]

Responding to formal close request at WP:AN/RFC. This RfC requested "comments and suggestions" on a draft proposal for article content, and three editors obliged. Although it seems that the RfC was not intended to propose this specific text for inclusion in the article, which is when the RfC process is most effective in helping move article improvement forward, it seems that major changes would be necessary (potentially including a significant reduction in length based on WP:UNDUE concerns) before it could be included. Sunrise (talk) 05:29, 7 May 2014 (UTC)
The following discussion is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made on the appropriate discussion page. No further edits should be made to this discussion.

Comments and suggestions for improvement of a subsection on legal aspects of 'moral responsibility' are requested.Brews ohare (talk) 21:43, 23 February 2014 (UTC)

The proposed subsection is below:

Legal aspects[edit]

How does the law interpret 'moral responsibility', and how does that view impact the philosophy of 'moral responsibility'? As stated by Cane, some discount any contribution of the law:1

"Law and legal concepts often seem artificial and contrived,...consisting of arbitrary rules...By contrast, ‘morality’ is seen as ‘natural’ and, at its best, the product of calm, rational and principled reflection on the nature of the world and the place of human beings in it. According to this account, morality is in some sense prior to and independent of social practices in general, and of legal practices in particular. Whereas law is necessarily a social phenomenon, a matter of convention and practice, morality is ultimately non-conventional and critical, providing ultimate standards for the ethical assessment of law and other social practices."

Cane does not subscribe to this view, but suggests that the view of the law upon moral responsibility has bearing outside the law as well:2

"It seems allow of the possibility that legal concepts embody social practices and understandings that exist outside the law; and that by studying legal concepts that have counterparts outside the law, we might learn something about those extra-legal social practices... [There is] no reason to ignore the law in seeking to understand widely used normative concepts."

Cane suggests that a realistic formulation of responsibility has a social basis that cannot be ignored, and that is also the foundation of a legal system. This view also is supported by Kutz:3

"The claim that responses are warranted by governing social norms necessarily implies some social norms define the nature of the act in question and they regulate the appropriate response".

Kutz (p. 557) says: "The retributivist's exclusive focus upon an agent's intentional state and actions dictates that...the response warranted by desert is thus univocal, dependent upon facts about the agent rather than the agent's relation to others." and "It should now be clear that the attitudes and expressions of agents warrant response only given a certain understanding of the nature of the relationship between agent and respondent."

Hart and Stent go beyond this observation to identify 'moral responsibility' as an ascriptive term, not a descriptive one. As Hart puts it:4

"[Responsibility] is a social concept and logically dependent upon accepted rules of conduct. It is fundamentally not descriptive, but ascriptive in character; and it is [not to be defined] by a set of necessary and sufficient conditions whether physical or psychological."

and Stent:5

"Moral responsibility denotes the relation that obtains between an action performed by a person and the duties and obligations of that person...moral responsibility is an ascriptive concept, which attributes duties and obligations to a person that devolve from moral, legal, or ritual imperatives"

This ascriptive legal approach to 'moral responsibility' does not directly address the fundamental issues of whether the social norms underlying the law are well founded either empirically or philosophically, but identifies that the law formalizes a society's conception of 'moral responsibility' and to what it attaches. As with moral relativism, the underlying connection is to the mores of a selected group, which may or may not have a universal basis outside the views of any particular group.6 Assessment of the legal machinery has, in return, implications for the societal beliefs underlying it.2, 3


1Peter Cane (2002). Responsibility in Law and Morality. Hart Publishing. p. 2. ISBN 1841133213. 
2Peter Cane (2002). Responsibility in Law and Morality. Hart Publishing. p. 14. ISBN 1841133213. 
3Christopher Kutz (2004). "Chapter 14: Responsibility". In Jules L. Coleman, Scott Shapiro, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law. Oxford University Press. pp. 548–587. ISBN 019927097X.  Accessible on line through Amazon's 'look inside' feature.
4HLA Hart (May 23, 1949). "The ascription of responsibility and rights". Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series. 49: 171–194.  On line version found at Herbert Morris, ed. (1961). "Ascription of responsibility". Freedom and Responsibility: Readings in Philosophy and Law. Stanford University Press. pp. 143 ff. ISBN 0804700672. 
5Gunther Siegmund Stent (2002). Paradoxes of free will. American Philosophical Society. pp. p. 97. ISBN 0871699265. 
6Chris Gowans (Dec 9, 2008). Edward N. Zalta, ed, ed. "Moral Relativism". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2012 Edition). 


  • Comment: Snowded has already expressed his opinion that there are too many quotations in this text. Specific recommendations on these quotes are solicited. However, the substantive issue is not the number of quotations, but the content of the subsection, whether it is adequately sourced, whether it adds to the article, and above all, how can it be made clearer and more complete. Brews ohare (talk) 21:43, 23 February 2014 (UTC)
  • Comment: As previously stated, aspects of the material might merit a sentence or two which could be added to the earlier mention of legal aspects. They do not warrant a separate section. A simple look at the history on this page of Brew's interactions with Pfhorrest as well as myself will illustrate the wider problem here. He has been asked to make proposals for small specific changes on the talk page which he should do. As on many other articles we have an editor who is seeking to expand specific articles into wider essays on related subjects often comprising strings of quotations he finds using google searches. One change I reverted simply talked about the link between the law and ethics which is not relevant to this article but might be elsewhere. I've also lost count of the number of RfCs Brews has raised on Philosophy articles since he moved to this area after a permanent topic ban from Physics articles. The word tendentious comes to mind. The RfC is premature if anything. That said other editors getting involved would be a great help. ----Snowded TALK 22:12, 23 February 2014 (UTC)
Where is this article's 'earlier mention' of legal aspects? All I can find is a line in the Intro that says moral and legal responsibility are not the same, which is hard to dispute, but not about this topic. There is also a mention of the insanity defense, and rehabilitation rather than retribution, all in the context of attitudes toward 'free will' and not pertinent to this proposal. The subject in this proposal is how the law looks upon moral responsibility, the connection to mores, and what the law's view has to add to the philosophy behind moral responsibility. You are confused on this point, so I have revised the lead sentence.
Attention here is not upon your views regarding 'essays', or upon some 'wider problem'. Attention is upon the fashioning right here in this RfC of a subsection on legal aspects. How about some substantive content proposals?. Brews ohare (talk) 15:59, 24 February 2014 (UTC)
  • Comments
    • I agree with the stylistic critique that this proposal as written is too quote-heavy, and consequently probably too long; it would be better to say what has been said more concisely in paraphrases, than to introduce large quote blocks to say it themselves.
    • The first half of the proposed section (everything about Cane) does not on the surface seem to have anything to do with moral responsibility, but rather just the relation between law and ethics. Upon reading the cited passages, it looks like Cane's book in general is about responsibility in general, and specifically how the legal concept thereof may shed light on the moral concept thereof. That could be relevant, but needs to be made more apparent in the actual article text (which could be done in the process of the paraphrasing proposed in the previous point). We should also ask the question of due weight; sure Cane is writing on this topic, but how well known is he, or his book, and is anyone else discussing the same thing? (That thing being, to reiterate, whether legal concepts of responsibility have any light to shed on moral concepts thereof). Those all factor in to how much we should devote in this article to talking about him.
    • I can't seem to access the chapter of the Kutz source cited, so I can't really compare it, but the first quote given and the journal that it's in seem again to be saying nothing about moral responsibility per se, but just about the fact that law behaves in a socially relative way.
    • The second, shorter comment from Kutz, that responsibility is about facts about the agent's relations to others, not just facts about the agent, may be much more relevant than any of the above, assuming it can be established that he's actually talking about moral responsibility at all and not just legal responsibility. It could be a noteworthy view to include in the article, that moral responsibility does not depend on anything intrinsic to the person whose moral responsibility in question, but more on a society's view of that person; in a similar way to how some cultures' concept of personhood is not of a certain intrinsic quality of a being which makes them sufficiently human or whatever, but rather something more like 'citizenship' or 'kingship': it's more of just a title bestowed, than it is anything about the one it is bestowed upon. This of course also hinges on what weight is due to such a viewpoint; if we are to include it, we should probably include more than just one source talking about it, unless that source it very notable itself.
    • The comments from Hart and Stern might or might not qualify as further sources on that same matter; I'm not entirely clear from a brief read over the cited parts. It looks plausible that they might only be making the point that to say someone is responsible for something is not simply to describe a fact of their causal relationship to the thing (as in "X is responsible for Y" meaning "X caused Y"), but rather to say something normative about them, about how something ought or ought not be. If that's all they're saying then that's not very relevant to this article, as it merely belabors a point that should be clear from the lede about what the subject of the article is. However, it also looks plausible that they might be saying something like what Kutz seems to be saying above: that someone being morally responsible (in the normative sense that this article is about) does not hinge on anything about them, but rather it's just a social status bestowed upon people by other people, again like citizenship or kingship. There's nothing inherent to a person which makes them intrinsically a king or a citizen or not, they just get that title if society gives it to them, and perhaps some hold the view that moral responsibility is like that. It looks likely that Kutz at least holds that view; I'd like to hear others' opinions (besides Brews') on whether Hart and Stern hold that view as I'm ambivalent after a cursory read and don't really have time to study more in depth right now.
  • Closing comments: I think the latter half of this is more likely salvageable than the former half, but reframed in a different way. Something about the former half might also be salvageable but if so in a much more condensed form probably not warranting its own section and likely not belonging in the same section as the latter half as it's not really on the same subject. --Pfhorrest (talk) 06:36, 25 February 2014 (UTC)
Pfhorrest: You can access Kutz via Amazon's 'look inside' feature. His Section 2 is entitled "Moral Responsibility", which should encourage the belief that he has something to say on this topic. His essay here is referred to by Garrath Williams as "the most intellectually penetrating treatment" of the relational aspects of moral responsibility, "arguing that the relational aspects of responsibility attribution are of critical importance". Brews ohare (talk) 15:52, 25 February 2014 (UTC)
None of those Amazon links seem to work the way I expect they're supposed to. They just take me to the main Amazon page where I can buy the book. I can click "Look Inside" from there, but that doesn't give access to the full text, and the search it offers doesn't seem to work very effectively: searching for "Moral Responsibility", for example, does not pull up a section by that title in the results, only a bunch of isolated instances of the words "moral" and "responsibility" (not necessarily together). --Pfhorrest (talk) 05:53, 26 February 2014 (UTC)
Pfhorrest: Your remark: " It could be a noteworthy view to include in the article, that moral responsibility does not depend on anything intrinsic to the person whose moral responsibility in question, but more on a society's view of that person; in a similar way to how some cultures' concept of personhood is not of a certain intrinsic quality of a being which makes them sufficiently human or whatever, but rather something more like 'citizenship' or 'kingship'" is at the heart of the matter, and is what all the cited sources are aiming at. Brews ohare (talk) 19:48, 25 February 2014 (UTC)
I would suggest rewriting the proposed section to make that more apparent then, as the proposal as written doesn't seem to be about that, merely to mention it as the last of many different things it discusses. The rest of the article is largely talking about different conceptions of what moral responsibility consists of, and whether or not anyone has moral responsibility by those standards. Refactoring this proposal into a section on the position that moral responsibility consists of nothing more than a kind of social 'title', or something along those lines, and discussing that explicitly without digression into broader topics of the relationship between the law and morality, relativism, etc, would be much more acceptable. --Pfhorrest (talk)
Along the lines of your remark: "moral responsibility does not depend on anything intrinsic to the person whose moral responsibility in question, but more on a society's view of that person" we have implications within the law, upon the law, and outside the law entirely. In this last category we have Eshleman's article, where he states one of several views: "the concept of moral responsibility as accountability is an inherently social notion, and to hold someone responsible is to address a fellow member of the moral community." We have Hart's view of the law as a social phenomenon that evolves through its practice over time to arrive at an improved concept of moral responsibility. And Kutz' remark (p. 557) "The retributivist's exclusive focus upon an agent's intentional state and actions dictates that...the response warranted by desert is thus univocal, dependent upon facts about the agent rather than the agent's relation to others."
The proposal here is only a tip of the iceberg, and is not a parenthetic addition to the article. Can you make some concrete suggestions? Brews ohare (talk) 20:44, 26 February 2014 (UTC)
  • Oppose - The section starts with a question, is a quote farm, avoids summary style and creates undue weight.-- KeithbobTalk 19:46, 3 March 2014 (UTC)
Keithbob: These issues all can be addressed, I suppose, if the proposal is shortened by paraphrasing the quotes in summary form? That would be less eloquent than using the source's wording, and perhaps lead the reader to question whether the sources are being accurately presented, but I guess your greatest priority is brevity? Brews ohare (talk) 04:08, 6 March 2014 (UTC)

The discussion above is closed. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made on the appropriate discussion page. No further edits should be made to this discussion.

Snowded reverts, again![edit]

In this revert Snowded removed a link supporting the following statement in Moral responsibility#Philosophical stance.

"Depending on how a philosopher conceives of free will, they will have different views on moral responsibility."

Snowded originally reverted the supporting citation with the comment Citation is not relevant to an introductory sentence to a list of different approaches. Upon undoing this reversion and suggesting it was a source that backs up exactly the statement it is attached to, Snowded again reverted with the in-line justification is No it doesn't Brews, it is tangential at best. You have been reverted, if you disagree then raise it on the talk page

Snowded suggests that I need to mount this Talk page defense against his silliness, but his removal of material needs no such attention. And he need supply no reasoning.

What the source Peter Cane (2002). Responsibility in Law and Morality. Hart Publishing. p. 4. ISBN 1841133213.  says is:

"A common argument in the philosophical literature is that the essence of responsibility is to be found in what it means to be a human agent and to have free will...There is disagreement amongst philosophers about what freedom means, about whether human beings are free in the relevant sense, and about the relevance of freedom to responsibility." (p. 4)

Now Snowded believes that the following subsections of the WP article constitute "a list of different approaches", but that is an elliptic description, as the following subsections actually engage in an outline of various positions on free will, and not just a list. The above quotation from Cane provides a very natural explanation for the subsequent variety of views on free will, and why they bear upon moral responsibility, namely, the explanation that different philosophers have differing views on the question of "what it means to be a human agent", and so forth.

Apart from supporting the lead sentence, the source provides a reader with a very cogent discussion of the entire subject.

Of course, there is no doubt about the pertinence of the source to the lead of the subsection Moral responsibility#Philosophical stance. Snowded's reversions are just part of his very long history of reversions based upon his personal aesthetics without Talk page engagement. Just what is behind his habitual activity is hard to say, but it has nothing to do with protecting WP from bad sourcing. Brews ohare (talk) 16:35, 26 February 2014 (UTC)

The sentence introduces a series of headings Brews. It doesn't need a reference and if it does then it needs to be one that justifies the subsequent selection. You are simply introducing material almost at random because it uses similar words. Your inability to interact with insult and your edit warring and becoming very tedious. To repeat here (as elsewhere) if you want to write essays with interesting references in them then find a publisher, its not what wikipedia is about. ----Snowded TALK 18:06, 26 February 2014 (UTC)
The section Moral responsibility#Philosophical stance contains most of the article and introduces its numerous subsections on free will with the content-free single sentence:
"Depending on how a philosopher conceives of free will, they will have different views on moral responsibility."
as laden with meaning as:
"Depending upon one's concepts of x, one will have different views of y."
Fill in anything you like for x and y: x=cats & y=dogs, say. The reference to Cane supplies some substance, and rather than removal of this citation, a better course would be to amplify what Cane (or some other source) has to say to connect x with y. Brews ohare (talk) 19:39, 26 February 2014 (UTC)
Lets sett if anyone else agrees with you, your comments indicate you are not attempting to understand the argument, as ever ----Snowded TALK 20:57, 26 February 2014 (UTC)
Snowded: Not responsive. The lead sentence of a protracted series of subsections on free will should explain its relevance to 'moral responsibility', that being the topic at hand. Cane does that. Stick to the point, eh?? Brews ohare (talk) 21:45, 26 February 2014 (UTC)
No one is expected to be responsive to an editor who is the exemplar of intransigence over multiple articles. Sorry Brews but you have used up all and any good will ----Snowded TALK 22:11, 26 February 2014 (UTC)
Snowded: Responsiveness to an editor (me) is unimportant, although it draws your ire. What matters is responsiveness to a valid concern, a matter you give no attention to. Brews ohare (talk) 07:34, 27 February 2014 (UTC)
────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────@Snowded's revert of the addition of that reference was appropriate. The reference should not have been added at this time because:
  1. The reference misrepresented the author in both the |author= parameter and the <ref name="cave"> field as "Peter Cave", not "Peter Cane". Yes, this could have been fixed by editing, but reverting was more appropriate because:
  2. The relevance of that work of the author's, and the author's level of notability in this field is currently being questioned in an RfC which you started on this talk page.
It is inappropriate to add references into the article from this work while its relevance and the author's notability in this field are under discussion here. In particular, it is inappropriate that the work be misrepresented as the work of a different author while it is under discussion here. Assuming good faith means that we assume that the misrepresentation was not intentional. However in this situation, it was an unfortunate mistake to occur at this time, particularly that it was an error in two locations. — Makyen (talk) 21:10, 26 February 2014 (UTC)
Makyen: The author's name was mistyped, as you note, as Cave instead of Cane. The elevation of a typo to a realm requiring an WP:AGF excuse is silly.
The rest of your argument is incorrect. The RfC concerns the role of a subsection on 'Legal aspects' and has nothing whatsoever to do with provision of an adequate introduction to the protracted series of subsections on free will. Brews ohare (talk) 21:38, 26 February 2014 (UTC)
Dismissing the rest of the argument implies that you have not read and understood the statements in, and implications of, the comments that have been made to your RfC.
Given that
  1. the typo was in two locations with different capitalization (i.e. could not be just a typo and then a completely unthought copy & paste of the typo)
  2. the work and author are actively being discussed in your own RfC
  3. the comments to that RfC question the relative weight given to the work and author
  4. the high level of assertiveness with which you push your own point of view
  5. you demonstrate an apparent lack of reflection on the feedback provided to you by other editors.
  6. you tend to be dismissive of the points of view expressed by other editors, even when expressed by multiple other editors
  7. you routinely edit your posts after they have been replied to without providing indication of having done so (contrary to normal Wikipedia talk page edict)
  8. a cursory inspection of your history indicated you have persistently participated here at Wikipedia in a manner which has resulted in multiple long bans and included willful, repeated violations of said bans, without bothering to participate in the discussion of those violations, which resulted in a one year complete ban from Wikipedia.
  9. I have not, and do not plan to, take the time to determine why you were topic banned from physics. That leaves open a variety of possible behaviors outside those desirable on Wikipedia.
  10. the error made it such that I did not immediately recognize the reference was to the same person and work as is being discussed in the RfC.
So, yes, with all of those informing my initial impression, it was necessary for me to step back and assume good faith regarding that edit.
Giving other editors the same level of respect and consideration which you appear to want from them will go a long way towards making your participation here at Wikipedia almost anywhere significantly less contentious. — Makyen (talk) 01:42, 27 February 2014 (UTC)
So glad you found it within you to forgive this typo. Evidently getting all this about the typo straight is worth a few pages of comment, while the content issue behind introduction of this citation is worth no attention at all. Brews ohare (talk) 07:42, 27 February 2014 (UTC)

Brews ohare, please stop editing your posts without indicating the changes[edit]

@Brews ohare: You have been routinely editing your posts after comments have been made about them by other editors without leaving clear indications of the changes. Please see WP:REDACT for recommended best practices when you want to change comments you have already posted to a talk page. Recommended practices include using <ins>...</ins> and <s>...</s> tags to indicate inserts and deletions. In addition, it is appropriate to add additional signature lines dating the changes. In many cases your comments should have multiple signatures indicating that you have edited them multiple times. Given that there are multiple days when you have made 20, or so, edits to this page, most of which are changes to your postings, this is especially important.

I bring this up here instead of your talk page because editors coming to this page should have some indication that a large quantity of edits have been made by you to your comments after people have made replies to those comments. Even with such notification, the discussions can become difficult to follow.

In addition, I would like to draw your attention to the WP:Show preview button. You routinely compose your posts, save them and then immediately make changes. The use of the Show preview button allows you to view your additions prior to saving them. This allows you to read what you have written and edit your comments prior to posting them for everyone to read.

Thank you, — Makyen (talk) 22:31, 26 February 2014 (UTC)

He does it all the time on multiple articles, its why those of us with experience of him give him little time or attention ----Snowded TALK 23:45, 26 February 2014 (UTC)
Sure. Brews ohare (talk) 07:35, 27 February 2014 (UTC)


This can't be a stub anymore, can it? Me, Myself & I (☮) (talk) 19:47, 7 May 2016 (UTC)

Any editor can re-rate it. Why don't you assess it? Dimadick (talk) 16:07, 8 May 2016 (UTC)

I have never assessed an article before. There is a very distinct possibility that my rating would be even less accurate than the current one. I will scrutinize the criteria and attempt to come to a judgement on this. I suppose if the new assessment is way off the mark, someone could come along and correct it. Me, Myself & I (☮) (talk) 04:14, 9 May 2016 (UTC)