A Modest Historical Theory of Moral Responsibility

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13 Scopus citations


Is moral responsibility essentially historical? Consider two agents qualitatively identical with respect to all of their nonhistorical properties just prior to the act of A-ing. Is it possible that, due only to differences in their respective histories, when each A-s only one A-s freely and is morally responsible for doing so? Nonhistorical theorists say “no.” Historical theorists say “yes.” Elsewhere, I have argued on behalf of philosophers like Harry G. Frankfurt that nonhistorical theorists can resist the historical theorists’ case against them, and that, therefore, a nonhistorical thesis remains a live option. Nevertheless, I have remained officially agnostic in this debate, as I acknowledge the pull of the competing considerations speaking on behalf of each view. In what follows, I turn from defending the nonhistorical position to fashioning a new historical theory, a relatively modest one that captures what is especially gripping about the kinds of examples that seem to commend an historical conclusion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-105
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Ethics
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016


  • Alfred Mele
  • Derivatively free
  • Derivatively morally responsible
  • Directly free
  • Directly morally responsible
  • Free will
  • Harry G. Frankfurt
  • Moral responsibility
  • Negative historical theory
  • Positive historical theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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