moral accountability argument (extended and reworked)

1. X is any instance of an agent (A) being animated that is morally relevant.*
2. X is either caused or uncaused.
3. If X is uncaused then A didn’t cause X.
4. If A didn’t cause X then A is not responsible for X.
5. If A is not responsible for X then A is not morally accountable for X.
6. From (3), (4) and (5), if X is uncaused then A is not morally accountable for X.

7. If X is caused then X is preceded by a causal chain.**
8. All causal chains are either infinite, finite, or circular.
9. From (7) and (8), if X is caused then X is preceded by either an infinite, finite, or circular causal chain.

10. If X was preceded by an infinite causal chain then the causal chain either occurred entirely within A’s agency, or extends outside of it.
11. It is impossible for there to be an infinite causal chain within A’s agency.
12. From (10) and (11), if X was preceded by an infinite causal chain then it extends outside A’s agency.
13. If X was ultimately caused by things outside of A’s agency then A is not ultimately responsible for X.
14. If A is not ultimately responsible for X then A is not morally accountable for X.
15. From (12), (13) and (14), if X was preceded by an infinite causal chain, then A is not morally accountable for X.

16. If X was preceded by a circular causal chain then X is ultimately the cause of itself.
17. It is impossible for X to be the cause of itself.
18. From (16) and (17), it is impossible for X to be preceded by a circular causal chain.

19. If X is preceded by a finite causal chain then the causal chain had a beginning.
20. All causal chains that have a beginning have a first cause.
21. From (19) and (20), if X’s preceding causal chain is finite it has a first cause.
22. If X’s preceding causal chain has a first cause, that cause is either A or not A.
23. If the first cause in X’s preceding causal chain is not A then A is not ultimately responsible for X.
24. From (14) and (23), if A is not the first cause of X then A is not morally accountable for X.
25. From (2), (6), (9), (15), (18), (21) and (24), if A is not the first cause in a causal chain preceding X, then A cannot be morally accountable for X.

26. Necessarily, the first cause in a causal chain cannot itself have a cause.
27. All contingent causes are themselves caused.
28. From (26) and (27), if A contingently causes X then A is not the first cause in the causal chain preceding X.
29. From (25) and (28), if A is not necessarily the first cause in a causal chain preceding X then A cannot be morally accountable for X.

*The language of being “animated” in “morally relevant” ways is used to refer to an agent’s action without using language that already presupposes that the agent is the responsible party. Look at the difference in language, say, between “an agent moving his hand” and “an agent’s hand moving”. The first implies that the agent is responsible, the latter leaves that open. In the same way being animated in morally relevant ways refers to an occurrence that is morally significant (say murder, or rape), without suggesting an a priori commitment to what the responsible party is, i.e. it could be an alien tapping into the agent’s brain, or indeed the agent herself.

**To some people “causal chain” might suggest that there is definitely more than one preceding cause. I don’t take that phrase to have any quantitative input in this argument (there could just be one preceding cause – it would still quality as a causal chain here).

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