Against Moral Responsibility
In Against Moral Responsibility, Bruce Waller launches a spirited attack on a system that is profoundly entrenched in our society and its institutions, deeply rooted in our emotions, and vigorously defended by philosophers from ancient times to the present. Waller argues that, despite the creative defenses of it by contemporary thinkers, moral responsibility cannot survive in our naturalistic-scientific system. The scientific understanding of human behavior and the causes that shape human character, he contends, leaves no room for moral responsibility.
Waller argues that moral responsibility in all its forms—including criminal justice, distributive justice, and all claims of just deserts—is fundamentally unfair and harmful and that its abolition will be liberating and beneficial. What we really want—natural human free will, moral judgments, meaningful human relationships, creative abilities—would survive and flourish without moral responsibility. In the course of his argument, Waller examines the origins of the basic belief in moral responsibility, proposes a naturalistic understanding of free will, offers a detailed argument against moral responsibility and critiques arguments in favor of it, gives a general account of what a world without moral responsibility would look like, and examines the social and psychological aspects of abolishing moral responsibility. Waller not only mounts a vigorous, and philosophically rigorous, attack on the moral responsibility system, but also celebrates the benefits that would result from its total abolition.
About the Author
Bruce N. Waller is Professor of Philosophy at Youngstown State University. He is the author of Against Moral Responsibility (MIT Press).
“Waller argues against the existence of moral responsibility, while defending the existence of free will....If true, Waller’s conclusion is enormously important.”—Metapsychology
“Waller takes an unusual position....Whether or not the argument is ultimately persuasive, the author develops it with much detail, care, and attention to empirical data.”—The Philosopher’s Magazine
“Provocative....Waller has an impressive breadth of knowledge regarding free will and moral responsibility and makes many interesting and convincing points…This book will make readers think about moral responsibility in new ways that hopefully lead to a more healthy society.”—American Journal of Bioethics
“Waller has presented us with a forceful, rich, and interesting book arguing for a highly original position. It combines compatibilism on free will with hard determinism on moral responsibility, couple with an optimistic discussion of both the possibility for and the outcome of abolishing moral responsibility. I sincerely hope that with this book his views will receive the critical attention they merit.”—Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
“An adroit survey of...analytic philosophers...[Waller] argues that...the degree of freedom that moral agents have is really far less than usually believed and is by no means equally shared. He makes a good case for this claim, and then goes on to argue for a much stronger claim, namely that we must reject...the social practice of rewarding or punishing other people for their moral or immoral behaviors.”—Journal of Moral Education
“The book presents a powerful case. Particularly refreshing and useful is Waller's connection of these philosophical debates with questions in sociology and politics. He argues persuasively that the rejection of moral responsibility shifts the focus, away from the individual and toward the social or systemic problems that cause immoral behavior....This book has an importance that extends beyond narrow philosophical debates.”—Philosophy in Review
“Waller offers a compelling argument to the effect that compatibilism does not entail moral responsibility and that systems of moral responsibility are inherently unfair....Waller's prose is easy to read, and his meticulous research runs the gamut from philosophy to neuroscience to cognitive psychology. As unorthodox as his thesis may be, Waller's argument cannot be dismissed easily and should be taken very seriously by all scholars interested in the nature of free will. Highly recommended.”—Choice
“Recalling Wolfgang Pauli's famous putdown of a fellow physicist's work as 'not even wrong,' we can appreciate the fact that a crisp, clear argument can illuminate the field by uncovering a tempting but heretofore unexamined falsehood and forthrightly asserting it. I cannot think of a better example that Waller's book, from which I have learned more than from the last dozen books and article on free will that I have read, a bounty of valuable insights all marshaled on behalf of a thesis that has never before been properly defended, and is in the end, in my opinion, indefensible—but for reasons that are instructive. Waller has opened my eyes about my own project and other competing projects in the field.”—Daniel C. Dennett, Naturalism.org
“Cogently written, scientifically informed, and compellingly argued, Bruce Waller's Against Moral Responsibility makes the case for the incompatibility of naturalism and moral responsibility. For those of us who shun miraculous intervention, Waller's message is, perhaps surprisingly, optimistic. Although we must reject the notions of justified praise and blame, we can still have our free will, moral judgments, and warm personal relationships. Waller's original monograph offers us a world absent moral responsibility, but better off for it.”
—Mark H. Bernstein, Joyce & Edward E. Brewer Chair in Applied Ethics, Purdue University
“Waller's daring proposal, that we scrap our belief in moral responsibility in light of naturalism, points the way to a more humane and effective responsibility system. Against Moral Responsibility is a must-read on the free will debate and why it matters.”
—Tom Clark, Director, Center for Naturalism