A Critique of "Sanity and Responsibility" Paper by Susan Wolf

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Words: 763 |

Pages: 2|

4 min read

Published: Jul 17, 2018

Words: 763|Pages: 2|4 min read

Published: Jul 17, 2018

Sanity is the requirement of the self insofar as we afford it moral responsibility. Susan Wolf in her essay, ‘Sanity and Responsibility’ wants to appeal to our ‘pre-philosophical’ intuitions about moral responsibility by claiming that moral responsibility is not afforded to one on the basis of whether determinism is true or not, but rather whether one has a true ‘sane deep self’; that is, a self that is able to, cognitively and normatively, self correct and self revise its own conception of ‘the good’ which, to Wolf, is the crucial component of the qualification, ‘morally responsible’. The framework of her ‘sane deep self’ - the seminal object of her claim – rests upon the claims of Frankfurt, Watson and Taylor who all share a conception of the self as morally responsible, or ‘free to will’, insofar as it can reflect upon its own desires, values and ideas; the ability to remove oneself from one’s superficial self thereby creating a deeper self through this process. However, Wolf makes an alteration by adding a further qualification to this conception with the view that the Franfurtian (et al..) ‘deep self’ cannot stand on its own in indicating the presence of MR through the use of her ‘Jojo the second’ thought experiment. The settlement here is that Jojo ,and his violent depravity, is not morally culpable for his actions on the grounds that at some point, even if it appears that his deeper self condones and wants to be the self that he is, his endless iterations deeper nth order selves could not have been, in the beginning, self created and therefore full moral culpability cannot be attributed to either Jojo our ourselves at any point in time.But , not only is this true for Jojo but is also true for everyone else; This is empirical, as Wolf puts it, and implies that this conception of MR is inconsolable in the wake of deterministic features of our reality. Wolf wants to create a conception of the self that is realistically bound by determinism but only to a degree; she want to create a divide between Jojo and ourselves by adding the ‘sane deep self’ qualification to ‘the self’ as she sees it.

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Wolf claims that a morally responsible ‘self’ is not only reflective but also sane. Sanity is the inbuilt ability of some to cognitively and normatively self correct and self revise their own conception of ‘the good’ based upon a realistic understanding of the world. To Wolf, this ability is as innate as running, laughing and feeling, and, unfortunately, due to the presence of indeterminate luck, some either have it or don’t. The division here can be illustrated with the analogy of two people; someone who is a cripple versus someone who is not; in the sense that Jojo would be the former and the rest of us would be the latter. No matter how hard one tries to get the cripple to run, they will not be able to because they simply do not have the ability and therefore the cripple cannot be liable for his inability herein . Following this, to Wolf, it may be the case that all selves are initially determined by features of the world that are out of their control but what constitutes morally responsible beings is the ability to self correct or self adjust past their initially determined status and therefore determinism is not the thing that is at issue in the freewill debate, to Wolf, but rather the indeterminate endowment of some over others. Therefore Jojo is not morally accountable because he is insane and not because he was determined. One objection to this claim is that it comes with the presupposition that sanity, as a qualifier of MR, implicates that there is one right interpretation of what is ultimately ‘right’ in the world. This, in my view, is counter-intuitive as anything that relies on one sovereign interpretation, when dealing with ‘the social’, to hold itself together is out-rightly insufficient and tends recruit fascist means to keep itself from falling apart. Another objection harkens to Galen Strawsons critique of indeterminism in the sense that the luck involved in the allocation of sanity is not enough to give one moral responsibility. This is also counter intuitive and goes against our intuitions of moral responsibility. Somene cannot be said to be a morally responsible agent if what qualifies them thusly was purely a matter of luck; they had no say in this matter therefore they can’t be said to be responsible for it or the MR that it supposedly allots.

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A Critique of “Sanity and Responsibility” Paper by Susan Wolf. (2018, April 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 21, 2024, from
“A Critique of “Sanity and Responsibility” Paper by Susan Wolf.” GradesFixer, 16 Apr. 2018,
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A Critique of “Sanity and Responsibility” Paper by Susan Wolf [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Apr 16 [cited 2024 May 21]. Available from:
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