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PHIL 380 (Topics): Responsibility and Reparation

PHIL 380: Responsibility and Reparation                                                                                                                      

Course Description:

What does it mean to be morally responsible for an action?  What does it mean to satisfy the reparative obligations generated by wrongful action?  We will explore and seek to answer these two questions over the course of the semester.  Doing so will mean working within and drawing connections between several major areas of contemporary philosophy, including action theory, metaphysics, moral psychology, and normative ethics. 

The course will be divided into three parts.  In the first part, we will study several major positions within the free will/determinism debate, explore what agency is and what powers agents possess, and consider what our attitudinal responses to the actions of others ought to be.  In the second part, we will complicate matters by studying moral luck, addiction, moral dilemmas, and structural injustice.  In the third part, we will study what reparative obligations are, how they can be discharged, and who can discharge them.  In particular, we will explore the relationship between responsibility, apology, and forgiveness.

Along the way, you will come to better understand what philosophers do, how they do it, and why.  This will entail using and perfecting your ability to effectively think, listen, argue, read, and write.  Our efforts will not be just an academic exercise in which we merely study what others have thought.  Instead, you will be joining an active and ongoing effort to better understand what moral responsibility is and how moral agents can make amends for wrongful actions.  In other words, in this course, you are going to be doing philosophy.  My primary goal for our time together this semester is to help you develop and refine your critical voice.  I believe that you have important things to say.  I want this course to help you say them.

Required Course Materials:

There are two assigned books for this course:

Agency and Responsibility – Ekstrom

Repair - Spelman

Additionally, many assigned readings as well as the syllabus will be available on the class Blackboard page, which you can access by going to blackboard.smcm.edu.  All of the additional readings will be in .pdf format.  I will send emails to the class frequently.  If you prefer that I use some email address other than your St. Mary’s address, you should let me know immediately.

Course Requirements:

Your grade will consist of a collection of points you can earn over the course of the semester.  Although your grade is out of 100 points, there are 105 possible points you can earn (although it is extremely unlikely that anyone will earn anything close to that many).  Here is the breakdown of the assignments:

First paper                                                                     25 points

Second paper                                                               25 points

Short papers                                                                 50 points (5 points each x 10 = 50 points)

Class Participation                                                       5 points


                                                                                          105 Total Possible Points                       


You must write and turn in two long papers in order to pass the class. They should be 12-15 pages in length. In writing the long papers your job will be to explain and critically engage a particular philosophical position.  Your papers must be informed by both our class discussion and relevant assigned texts.  That means, for instance, that if you raise an objection that we defeat in class or that an author considers (but that you ignore) you will not be given credit for that objection.  Your long papers should be submitted by email.

The 10 short papers should be two to three pages in length.  Your job in each will be to critically and philosophically engage the week’s readings.  The short papers are due at the beginning of class on Wednesday of each week.  There are 15 possible short papers you can write. You should pick and choose which five papers or weeks you want to take off.  You may write more than 10 short papers and I will count the 10 best grades towards your final grade.

For all of your short papers, you must turn in stapled hard copies at the beginning of class on the day they are due. 

  • I will not accept electronic versions of your short papers except in cases of emergency.  Emergencies do not include printer problems or forgetfulness. 


You are not required to talk in class, but students who are active participants will receive up to 5 extra points towards their final grade. 

  • That does not mean that if you talk a lot you will receive any participation points.  Instead, your job is to productively contribute to the class discussion, which will sometimes mean asking good questions, and other times will mean providing answers to my questions or your colleagues’ questions. 
  • All students should be respectful of each other, of the authors, and of me at all times.  Failure to do so will negatively affect your final grade.
  • If you choose to sleep, text, play on your laptop, or otherwise fail to engage with the class discussion, you should not expect to receive any participation points.


You are not required to come to class; I do not take attendance.  However, doing so will most likely dramatically improve your chances of doing well on your papers.  Since I do not take attendance you need not tell me why you have missed or will miss class (although you certainly may if you wish). 

Office Hours

I strongly encourage you to come and meet with me during my office hours or by appointment if you are having trouble with the class.  I also just simply like talking about philosophy and getting to know students, so I would be glad to have you stop by even if you feel comfortable with how you are performing in the class.  My office hours are Tuesdays from 1-4 and by appointment.  My office is Margaret Brent 204.

Students with Disabilities

If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability and anticipate needing to make use of them, please contact me early in the semester so that we can work together to help you succeed in the course.  Additionally, my office is on the second floor.  If you are unable or prefer not to climb stairs, please let me know and we will arrange to meet elsewhere.

The Writing Center

"The Writing Center, located in the Library Annex, offers free consultations for student writers at all levels and in all disciplines. No matter what you're writing and no matter where you are in the writing process (generating ideas, drafting, revising or proofreading), the peer tutors in the Writing Center can assist you.  These tutors are friendly students and also excellent writers with special training as writing consultants. They would not grade or correct your papers; instead, they'd coach you and help you become a better writer.  I encourage you to use the Writing Center as much as possible. You can make a one-time or weekly appointment with the Center by visiting their website, www.smcm.edu/writingcenter and clicking 'Schedule an Appointment.' At the same website, you can find helpful resources on many writing-related topics.”

Topic and Assignment Schedule                                                                                                                     

Week 1 - Freedom, Determinism, and Compatibalism

“The Incompatibility of Free Will and Determinism” – van Inwagen

“Are We Free to Break the Laws?” – Lewis

Week 2 – Freedom, Determinism, and Compatibalism

“A New Compatibalism” – Fischer

“Causality and Determination” – Anscombe                 

Week 3 - Agency

“Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person” – Frankfurt

“Free Agency” – Watson

“Human Freedom and the Self” – Chisholm

Week 4 – The Powers of Persons

 “The Faintest Passion” – Frankfurt [e]

“Identification, Decision, and Treating as a Reason” – Bratman

Week 5 – Frankfurt Cases

“Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility” – Frankfurt [e]

“Libertarianism and Frankfurt’s Attack on the Principle of Alternative Possibilities” – Widerker

“Rescuing Frankfurt-Style Cases” – Mele and Robb

Week 6 – Strawson and Reactive Attitudes

“Freedom and Resentment” – Strawson

“Being and Holding Responsible” – Smith [e]

Week 7 - Resentment

Selection from “Fifteen Sermons” – Butler [e]

“Forgiveness and Resentment” – Murphy [e]

“Unreasonable Resentments” – MacLachlan [e]

Week 8 – Moral Luck

“Moral Luck” – Nagel [e]

“The Moral of Moral Luck” – Wolf [e]

 “Luck and Moral Responsibility” – Zimmerman [e]

Week 9 – Addiction

“Drugs and Responsibility” – Narveson [e]

“Are Drug Addicts Unfree?” – Vihvelin [e]

“Autonomy and Addiction” – Levy [e]

                  First Long Paper Due

Week 10 - Moral Dilemmas

Selection from The Right and the Good – Ross [e]

Optional: Ross’ full chapter: “What Makes Right Acts Right” instead of the shorter selection, above

Week 11 – Moral Dilemmas’ Revenge

“Ethical Consistency” (p. 103-124, or through p. 23 of the .pdf) – Williams [e]

“Against Moral Dilemmas” – Conee [e]

Week 12 – Reparation

Repair – Chapters 1-4 – Spelman

“Restorative Justice and Reparations” – Walker [e]

Week 13 – Reparation

Repair – Chapters 5-7 – Spelman

Selection from The Atrocity Paradigm – Card [e]

Week 14 – Apology

“Apologies” – Bovens [e]

“On Apologies” – Davis [e]

“The Promise and Pitfalls of Apology” – Govier and Verwoerd [e]

“The Moral Function of an Apology” – Gill [e]

Week 15 – Forgiveness

“Changing One’s Heart” – Calhoun [e]

“Must I Be Forgiven?” – Bovens [e]

“Practicing Imperfect Forgiveness” – MacLachlan [e]

                  Second Long Paper Due