Philosophy | Special Topics in Philosophy
P470 | 13487 | Baron

Moral Psychology, Culpability, and Excuses

At the risk of attracting the most unhappy students on campus, I’m
offering a course on regret, remorse, resentment, and culpability.
There will be some relatively happy stuff in it too: acceptance and
self-acceptance, forgiveness and apologies, excuses and
justifications. Readings will include J.L. Austin, “A Plea for
Excuses,” Cheshire Calhoun, “Changing One’s Heart,” Jean Hampton and
Jeffrey Murphy’s exchange on resentment, hatred, and forgiveness
(from their Forgiveness and Mercy), Peter Strawson, “Freedom and
Resentment,” Bernard Williams, “Moral Luck,” and some work by Harry
Frankfurt (most likely on volitional necessity) and Gary Watson
(probably “Responsibility and the Limits of Evil” and perhaps
also “Free Agency”). We’ll also see at least one film, “The
Quarrel,” which concerns acceptance and self-acceptance. The course
will link up to some extent to criminal law, to issues of
culpability, or mens rea, and excuses in criminal law. One topic
we’ll discuss is how much we should demand of each other by way of
self-control (primarily in the context of criminal law, but also
more generally). Relatedly, to what extent should we hold ourselves,
and each other, responsible for our respective characters? What
sorts of character flaws, if any, should be considered plausible
excuses? What sorts of things should (potentially) excuse? One
defense in criminal law that we will consider in connection with
these questions is the “heat of passion” defense to murder.

This course is offered with very advanced undergraduate philosophy
majors in mind, but is also open to others who have studied
philosophy at an advanced level and are eager
to grapple with (moderately) difficult texts and intriguing
questions. (So, buyer beware! Not for those who are half-hearted or
too busy with other courses and activities to throw themselves into
this.)  It will be taught at just a notch below the level of a 1st
year graduate course.