Personal Identity and Manipulation Arguments

  • Benjamin Matheson

Student thesis: Phd


In this thesis, I defend compatibilism from all manipulation arguments. Manipulation arguments are supported by control cases. These cases purport to be counter-examples to all plausible current compatibilist conditions on moral responsibility. Some compatibilists - historicists - have argued that manipulation arguments can be undermined by endorsing the view that an individual's moral responsibility for her actions is, in some sense, sensitive to her history. In Part One, I first argue that historicism is without motivation and is untenable. I then sketch a form of compatibilism - the structural-narrative view. This view differs from standard compatibilist accounts because it not only makes clear the synchronic 'ownership' (the free will or control condition), but also the diachronic 'ownership' conditions (normally taken to be personal identity) on moral responsibility. Both conditions have a narrative component, which I draw from narrative views of personal identity. These conditions insulate my structural-narrative from the manipulation arguments that motivate historicism, thereby providing compatibilists with a tenable alternative to historicism.In Part Two, I argue that the remaining manipulation arguments do not show that compatibilism is false. I first clarify the structure of manipulation arguments. In particular I argue that compatibilists ought to focus their efforts on showing that the control cases that support manipulation arguments are not in fact counter-examples to the compatibilist conditions on moral responsibility. I then distinguish two types of control case: threatening and unthreatening. I argue that the remaining threatening control cases only seem to be counter-examples because of ambiguities in their descriptions that result in us misidentifying the locus of moral responsibility in those cases; once these ambiguities are clarified, the non-responsibility judgement elicited by those cases soon dissipates. I then present three related to arguments to support the claim that unthreatening cases are not counter-examples the compatibilist conditions on moral responsibility; hence I conclude that manipulation arguments do not show that compatibilism is false.
Date of Award1 Aug 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorHelen Beebee (Supervisor) & Ann Whittle (Supervisor)


  • moral responsibility
  • manipulation
  • personal identity
  • compatibilism

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