Relative Justice

Relative Justice: Cultural Diversity, Free Will, and Moral Responsibility

Tamler Sommers
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 246
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  • Book Info
    Relative Justice
    Book Description:

    When can we be morally responsible for our behavior? Is it fair to blame people for actions that are determined by heredity and environment? Can we be responsible for the actions of relatives or members of our community? In this provocative book, Tamler Sommers concludes that there are no objectively correct answers to these questions. Drawing on research in anthropology, psychology, and a host of other disciplines, Sommers argues that cross-cultural variation raises serious problems for theories that propose universally applicable conditions for moral responsibility. He then develops a new way of thinking about responsibility that takes cultural diversity into account.

    Relative Justiceis a novel and accessible contribution to the ancient debate over free will and moral responsibility. Sommers provides a thorough examination of the methodology employed by contemporary philosophers in the debate and a challenge to Western assumptions about individual autonomy and its connection to moral desert.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4025-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. 1-6)

    Just after the shootings at Virginia Tech University, a reporter for the National Public Radio programDay to Dayset out to interview Koreans living in Los Angeles about the massacre. At first the reporter had trouble finding anyone who was willing to answer her questions. Some actually fled from the microphone. Finally, a Korean realtor agreed to be interviewed. He claimed to be deeply ashamed about the incident. The reporter was incredulous: “Why?” she asked him. “You had nothing to do with it!” The man replied, “I know, but he was a fellow Korean.”¹

    In the same week Rev....

  5. Part I Metaskepticism about Moral Responsibility
    • CHAPTER ONE The Appeal to Intuition
      (pp. 9-32)

      When describing the thesis of this book, I occasionally hear a version of the following complaint:

      “Who cares about people’s intuitions about free will and moral responsibility? I’m interested in thetruthabout free will and moral responsibility. Your project doesn’t tell me anything about that!”

      This kind of objection has a sensible ring. In debates over, say, group selection in evolutionary theory, we do not examine folk intuitions about how Darwinian natural selection might work. We consider these intuitions to be largely irrelevant in our theorizing. Why shouldn’t level-headed philosophers regard free will and moral responsibility the same way?...

    • CHAPTER TWO Moral Responsibility and the Culture of Honor
      (pp. 33-62)

      Anthony James has occupied some of the toughest corners of Northeast Washington, D.C. He is also the author of seven books, and has dreams of becoming a full-time author and getting out of “the game” (drug-dealing, violence, prison-time).Washington Postwriter Kevin Merida says the following about James:

      Every time his mind inches toward embracing the legitimate world’s notion of fairness and justice, something happens that shakes him up. And then his mind is back in the streets. On Dec. 2, his half brother, 43-year-old Tracy U. Richardson, was stabbed to death in a fight behind a liquor store in...

    • CHAPTER THREE Shame Cultures, Collectivist Societies, Original Sin, And Pharaoh’s Hardened Heart
      (pp. 63-83)

      In 1944, the U.S. Office of War Information commissioned anthropologist Ruth Benedict to write an analysis of Japanese culture to aid in the war effort. Two years later she published her bookThe Chrysanthemum and the Swordand introduced the controversial distinction between shame cultures and guilt cultures. According to Benedict, in cultures where shame is the dominant emotion, the norms are essentially tied to the perception of one’s behavior, character traits, and appearance (just as they are in honor cultures).¹ Guilt cultures, by contrast, focus on the act from the individual’s perspective:

      True shame cultures rely on external sanctions...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Can the Variation Be Explained Away?
      (pp. 84-108)

      In the last two chapters I have tried to demonstrate that there are wide-ranging differences in perspectives about moral responsibility—in particular, variations in intuitions about the conditions for fair or just assignments of blame, praise, punishment, and reward. In chapter 1, I raised objections to the views of those philosophers who claim not to care about people’sintuitionsbut instead to focus only on thetruthabout moral responsibility. Variation across cultures does not bother them; they find it to be, at most, a matter of sociological interest. Yet these same philosophers continue to appeal to intuitions in their...

  6. Part II The Implications of Metaskepticism
    • CHAPTER FIVE Where Do We Go from Here?
      (pp. 111-132)

      Part One of this book argued for metaskepticism about moral responsibility. The remainder of the book will be devoted to examining the implications of this position. My goal in this chapter is to identify where metaskepticism fits within the philosophical landscape and to outline a framework for how we might proceed if the theory is true. First I will explore the similarities and differences between metaskepticism and other nontraditional and skeptical positions about moral responsibility, focusing especially on the fascinating work of Richard Double. Next, I will consider some social and political implications of metaskepticism. Finally, I will lay out...

    • CHAPTER SIX A Metaskeptical Analysis of Libertarianism and Compatibilism
      (pp. 133-172)

      Like Shaun Nichols, I have always found the arguments for nihilism or skepticism compelling. The TNR principle, which is at the heart of these arguments, seems to me to reflect a basic principle of fairness. Yet like Nichols I hold myself morally responsible all the time. I feel that I deserve blame for my bad actions and praise for good actions and accomplishments. I also commonly hold other people morally responsible—my family, friends, criminals, and (perhaps especially) athletes who are connected in any way to Boston sports.¹ At the gut level, then, I find the belief that people can...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN A Very Tentative Metaskeptical Endorsement of Eliminativism about Moral Responsibility
      (pp. 173-202)

      Thomas Nagel captures the intuitive appeal of eliminativism about responsibility perfectly when he writes:

      Something in the idea of agency is incompatible with actions being events, and people being things. But as the external determinants of what someone has done are gradually exposed, in their effect on consequences, character, and choice itself, it becomes gradually clear that actions are events and people things. Eventually nothing remains that can be ascribed to a responsible self, and we are left with nothing but a portion of the larger sequence of events, which can be deplored or celebrated, but not blamed or praised.¹...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 203-212)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 213-222)
  9. Index
    (pp. 223-230)