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International Journal of Applied Philosophy

Volume 15, Issue 1, Spring 2001

Lloyd Fields
Pages 135-151

Coercion and Moral Blameworthiness

Some interpretations of the term “coercion” entail that a person who is coerced is morally entitled to do what she does. But there is a vague spectrum of uses of this term, in which one use shades into another. “Coercion” can legitimately be interpreted in a way according to which it is possible for a person who is coerced not to be morally entitled to do what she does and indeed to be blameworthy for her action. In order to distinguish between cases in which a coercee is not blameworthy for compliance and those in which a coercee is blameworthy, an account of moral blameworthiness is presented. The account does not deal, however, with the question of when one harm or evil outweighs another. A person is morally blameworthy if and only if she performs an action which is, on balance, morally wrong, and for which she is morally responsible. Three different standards of moral responsibility are considered. The first two are found to be susceptible to counterexamples. The third, which is claimed to be adequate, is that a moral agent is responsible for a morally wrong action if and only if, first, either she has the psychological capacity to refrain from doing what she does, or, if she lacks this capacity, she nevertheless had a Isecond-order) psychological capacity to prevent the lack of capacity in question; and, second, the moral agent knows what she is doing, under the description of her action according to which it is a wrong action. Thus, where a moral agent is coerced into doing an immoral action, and lacked the psychological capacity to refrain from performing the action, this standard of responsibility enables us to decide whether or not she is blameworthy on the basis of whether the lack of the capacity was due to ordinary human weakness or to a fault of character.

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