Does Situationism Threaten Free Will and Moral Responsibility?

Michael McKenna, Brandon Warmke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The situationist movement in social psychology has caused a considerable stir in philosophy. Much of this was prompted by the work of Gilbert Harman and John Doris. Both contended that familiar philosophical assumptions about the role of character in the explanation of action were not supported by experimental results. Most of the ensuing philosophical controversy has focused upon issues related to moral psychology and ethical theory. More recently, the influence of situationism has also given rise to questions regarding free will and moral responsibility. There is cause for concern that a range of situationist findings are in tension with the reasons-responsiveness putatively required for free will and moral responsibility. We develop and defend a response to the alleged situationist threat to free will and moral responsibility that we call pessimistic realism. We conclude on an optimistic note, exploring the possibility of strengthening our agency in the face of situational influences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)698-733
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of Moral Philosophy
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2017


  • free will
  • moral responsibility
  • reasons-responsiveness
  • situationism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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