The Modern Schoolman

Volume 88, Issue 1/2, January/April 2011

Free Will and Moral Responsibility

Rebekah L. H. Rice
Pages 123-144

What is a Causal Theorist to Do about Omissions?

Most philosophers concede that one can properly be held morally responsible for intentionally omitting to do something. If one maintains that omissions are actions (negative actions, perhaps), then assuming the requisite conditions regarding voluntariness are met, one can tell a familiar story about how/why this is. In particular, causal theorists can explain the etiology of an intentionalal omission in causal terms. However, if one denies that omissions are actions of any kind, then the familiar story is no longer available. Some have suggested that this poses a special problem for causal theorists of action. I argue that it does not and, even more interestingly, that it renders a more nuanced understanding of voluntariness (since it no longer applies strictly to actions) and moral responsibility (since you might be to blame, but not for anything you’ve done).