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Constitutive Moral Luck and Strawson's Argument for the Impossibility of Moral Responsibility


Galen Strawson's Basic Argument is that because self-creation is required to be truly morally responsible and self-creation is impossible, it is impossible to be truly morally responsible for anything. I contend that the Basic Argument is unpersuasive and unsound. First, I argue that the moral luck debate shows that the self-creation requirement appears to be contradicted and supported by various parts of our commonsense ideas about true moral responsibility, and that this ambivalence undermines the only reason that Strawson gives for the self-creation requirement. Second, I argue that the self-creation requirement is so demanding that either it is an implausible requirement for a species of true moral responsibility that we take ourselves to have or it is a plausible requirement of a species of true moral responsibility that we have never taken ourselves to have. Third, I explain that Strawson overgeneralizes from instances of constitutive luck that obviously undermine true moral responsibility to all kinds of constitutive luck.

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I am grateful to Godehard Brüntrup, Daniel Haas, Luke Henderson, Andrew Khoury, Benjamin Matheson, Sean McAleer, Al Mele, Per Milam, Christian Munthe, Justin Noia, Paul Russell, Philipp Schwind, Michael Scoville, Jeremy Skrzypek, András Szigeti, Matt Talbert, and two anonymous referees for comments or conversations about the ideas in this paper. I am especially grateful to Kristin Mickelson for many conversations about the Basic Argument. I thank audiences for questions and comments at the Practical Philosophy Seminar at the University of Gothenburg, the Munich School of Philosophy Department Colloquium, the University of Zurich Department Colloquium, and the Central Division of the American Philosophical Association.

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