Responsibility Either Way
Robert Kane developed the idea of dual rational control in the case of a "torn decision." In a torn decision, an agent has equally powerful reasons for choosing either way between two alternatives. Kane says the agent can choose either way at random and yet preserve the sense of moral responsibility. As long as the agent is prepared to accept responsibility either way, flipping a coin does no harm to moral responsibility. Dual rational control means the agent can go either way, which means to "do otherwise" in exactly the same circumstances. Either way the agent is making a rational decision, and Kane claims the agent is in control of the decision. Some critics deny this is real control if the decision is random. Kane distinguishes such choices from the ancient liberty of indifference (liberum arbitrium indifferentiae) in which there is no meaningful difference between the choices, such as the classic idea of Buridan's Ass. The Scholastic Jean Buridan imagined an ass placed equidistant between two identical bales of hay. Buridan used it to show a critical difference between man and animals. Most Scholastics claimed the ass would starve to death (which is nonsense), but a human in similar circumstances, with a god-given gift of free will, in this case the liberty of indifference, would deliberate and choose despite the perfect balance between identical alternatives. By contrast, Kane's "torn decisions" are often between a moral choice and an expedient choice. These are the kinds of decisions that Aristotle thought of as character building and Kane calls "Self-Forming Actions" or SFAs. Kane considers the case of a businesswoman on the way to an important meeting when she observes an assault in an alley. She has excellent (moral and humanitarian) reasons to help the victim. She has equally important (practical and self-interested) reasons to continue on and advance her career. Kane argues that whichever way the businesswoman decides, and even if the torn decision is undetermined as a result of neural noise, she has excellent reasons to take responsibility either way. Note that in a two-stage model of free will, the businesswoman might generate more alternatives before her decision. Before she decides (randomly) between the given choices, she may come up with additional alternative possibilities. She might for example continue on to her meeting but get out her cell phone to report the crime and call for assistance. On her way she might tell any passersby to go to the victim’s aid. Note that these creative new options can “come to her” up to and even beyond the moment of choice in this case (while she is on her way to the office).