CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, July 2, 2012

Walen on Tadros on Wrongdoing and Motivation

Walen alecAlec D. Walen (Rutgers School of Law, Camden) has posted Wrongdoing Without Motives: Why Victor Tadros is Wrong About Wrongdoing and Motivation (Law and Philosophy, Forthcoming) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Victor Tadros defends a subjective, intention-focused interpretation of the means principle (MP), according to which to use another as a means is to form plans or intentions in which the other serves as a tool for advancing one’s ends. My thesis here is that Tadros’s defense of the subjective interpretation of the MP is unsuccessful. 

To make that case I argue, first, that the subjective interpretation would wrongly entail that someone who turned a trolley from five onto one, knowing that she was saving five, knowing that this act would be permissible if she were properly motivated, knowing that she is permitted not to turn the trolley if she doesn’t want to, but doing so in order to kill the one, is guilty of murder. Such loop-holing is morally odious, but it is not on a par with murder. 

Second, I argue that the cases Tadros offers to argue that the subjective interpretation of the MP must be right are better interpreted as showing that it is impermissible to act on an illicit intention, not that it is impermissible to act for an illicit reason. An illicit reason is a reason for action that flouts the limits of moral permissibility. An agent who turns a trolley aiming to kill the one on a side track acts for an illicit reason. An illicit intention, on the other hand, disposes an agent, in ways that depend on the circumstances she finds herself in, to perform impermissible actions. The same agent can act on a licit intention if she restricts her trolley turning to cases where such an act can be justified. I have to develop this doctrine of illicit intentions (DII) further than I did before to handle some new objections Tadros raised. 

Third, I agree with Tadros that an objective, causal-role-focused interpretation of the MP, according to which to use another as a means is for the other to play the causal role of means to the good which might be offered to justify the action one performs, is morally indefensible. But I argue that there is another way of defending the significance of causal roles, one that has implications that track those of the MP fairly closely. Elsewhere I argue at length for this other principle, which I call the Restricting Claims Principle. Here I simply sketch the basic idea in a way sufficient to show that one can escape the dilemma that the MP faces without grabbing either horn, and without moving into a consequentialist world in which it is permissible to punish the innocent for the sake of the general welfare.

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I could not agree Walen's critique more. This is a brilliant and penetrating critique that is exceptionally convincing and well-argued.

Posted by: Dennis J. Baker | Jul 3, 2012 2:06:02 AM

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