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Wolf- Sanity and Metaphysics 1.pdf

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Peter King

CONTEMPORARY PHILOSOPHY: WOLF (I) [1] Susan Wolf (born 1952), taught at Harvard, University of Maryland, and John Hopkins University; currently teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Known for her work in ethics and philosophy of mind/action. Her strategy in “Sanity and the Metaphysics of Responsibility” is to address some metaphysical concerns about moral responsibility, of the sort we have seen in Aristotle and Hume, but to do so by reflecting on the conditions that non-philosophers require for moral responsibility, and in particular the condition of sanity. [2] Wolf begins by noticing a trend in the work of recent moral philosophers (Frankfurt, Wat- son, Taylor), namely that free and responsible agency depends on having control not only of our actions but also in some sense of our very selves. The view, she holds, squares with our collective sense that while some people are not in charge of their actions (e.g. addicts and kleptomaniacs), most of us are, because we take our freedom to consist in the fact that our actions stem from ourselves—a modern update of Aristotle’s view that action has its source in the agent in a firm character. Wolf dubs this the deep-self view. [3] Despite its attractions, the deep-self view doesn’t put to rest worries about determinism, since it might seem that for our actions to be determined by our deep selves is just another way for our actions to be determined, and if the fear is that such determination is freedom-cancelling, then there is no escape here. Recall Kant’s view that our actions have to be ultimately determined by our wills acting freely, with no prior determining causes whatsoever. To which Wolf poses “a rhetorical question: If you are free to control your actions by your desires, and free to control your desires by your deeper desires, and free to control those desires by still deeper desires, what further kind of freedom can you want?” [4] To this rhetorical challenge Wolf replies that we should consider how in ordinary life we decide whether to hold somebody responsible or not. In relevant cases, the condition of sanity is invoked and, in the legal environment, this condition i
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