Moral Responsibility

Hero of War – Rise Against

Fischer assumes that our deliberative capacity is what keeps us morally responsible, whether one is a causal determinist or free will theorist (Fischer 336). He goes on to say that we are held morally responsibly because we have a “moral ledger” of good and bad, or that we must explain and justify our behaviour to another, or we become the targets of reactive attitudes (333-4). Using these principles, it is interesting to look at the soldier’s reasons for joining the army. We can see the soldier’s moral ledger and what he considers “good” when he is offered and accepts a career, an opportunity to travel, and a chance to prove his patriotism by defence of his country. All of these are either instrumental or intrinsic “goods” for him. For example, his behaviour may be explained or justified by the positive reactive attitudes of (American) society towards a soldier who fights for his or her country as a “hero of war” since patriotism is considered an intrinsic good.

While the soldier does mention the fame and honour he will receive at home, he never explicitly mentions his reasons for signing up in the first verse. Fischer would argue that all the above “reasons” were more than enough to causally determine the drafting of the soldier. That is, there was no other choice but the army for him based on the chain of previous events or influences. In fact, he might even go so far as to say that the soldier was causally determined to carry a gun, and therefore, to use it. In response, I find it very hard to believe that the life of a soldier is the only career that includes patriotism, fame, and travel. Can our soldier not also choose or be causally determined to become a politician, a diplomat, or even part of a UN peacekeeping mission if he is “destined to shoot”? There was no coercive pressure in the draft offer either to force the soldier’s answer one way or another. We must assume that the agent has taken up the greater moral responsibility of saving or taking lives upon himself freely, because to our knowledge, he has no previous experience of the army and he has decided that this career’s “good” is greater than that of the other careers mentioned. As well, how the gun is used is crucial to our understanding of the “destined to shoot” idea, which seems to imply that the gun would always be used to take lives. This may not always be the case, as even police officers and peacekeepers carry arms. However, is the soldier causally determined to use the gun one way and not another? This brings us to the other moral dilemmas of the song.

Fischer’s use of the Frankfurt example to demonstrate that John Smith would have voted Democrat anyway despite deliberation (336) runs parallel to the situation of the soldier joining his comrades in torture or shooting the woman with the white flag. The soldier is bound by military duty, patriotism, and associative duties to his fellow soldiers to enforce, defend, or guard his country’s and countrymen’s interests and security. Using the idea of satisficing, it could be argued that the soldier could not act optimally because the haze would prevent him from seeing the white flag and the woman’s continual advance might mean that she is  armed and dangerous for all the soldier may know (ex: a suicide bomber). Given the circumstances, Fischer would argue that the soldier was causally determined to shoot in that particular situation, whether under orders or out of self-defence. However, when the soldier protests the abuse of the prisoner or begs the woman to stop her advance, it would seem the soldier’s deliberative action at T1 starkly contrasts his action at T2, probably due to conflicting influences (values) instilled in him at T0. If the soldier is causally determined according to Fischer, which of these two conflicting pasts (T0 army and T0 pre-army) has influenced our soldier? Why is he less likely to be determined by the values of his pre-army past which allowed him to speak up, since a longer causal chain exists there? Even if we supposed multiple causal chains in his determined nature, the soldier still appears to have a choice when it comes to the influence of one or more of the causal chains because there are such conflicts. Therefore, he must be held morally accountable for his actions.

Fischer’s search for moral responsibility in causal determinism is problematic when we are presented with a story like “Hero of War”. While it is true that many trained in the army are brainwashed to a certain degree, McIlrath succeeds in bringing out the humanity at the heart of a soldier: the individual who is capable of free moral choice in extraordinary circumstances.

Works Cited

Fischer, John Martin. “Free Will and Moral Responsibility.” The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory. Ed. David Copp. New York : Oxford University Press, 2005. 321-356. Electronic Resource.

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