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What Is the Accordion Effect?

Author(s): Michael E. Bratman


Source: The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 10, No. 1/2 (Jan., 2006), pp. 5-19
Published by: Springer
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MICHAEL

WHAT

IS THE ACCORDION
13 September 2004; accepted

(Received

In "Action

ABSTRACT.

and Responsibility,"

idea

of

this

in his "Causing
critique,
L. A. Hart
and A. M. Honor?

is of

his

principle."
to be, on
Donald

KEY

In this essay

WORDS:

on

and
his

transitivity

Joel Feinberg

accordion

important

H.

of a much
view of
discussed
Actions,"
Voluntary
that Feinberg
labels
the "voluntary
intervention
on what
the accordion
is supposed
effect
by Feinberg
of this
idea
understanding
between
discussion
Feinberg's
the voluntary
intervention
principle.

of

and

intervention

influential
essay, "Action
a
to
natural
idea, one

there
1

in his

critique,
view of H.

labels

Joel
pp.

1970),

Doing
Prior

in G. E. M. Anscombe,
Donald
pp.

"Causing
L. A. Hart

the "voluntary

Feinberg,
119-151.

Davidson,
3-19. A focus

Essays
of this

of
ac

the

and Responsibility,"
to which
he gave

Feinberg
pointed
"the accordion
discussion
effect."1 Feinberg's
interest on its own; but it is also of interest because

discussed

that

of

principle

label

his

and

John Atwell,
Donald
effect,
agency,
action,
causation,
L. A. Hart,
A. M. Honor?,
Keith
Lehrer,
responsibility,

voluntary

Joel

with

to an im

pointed

Feinberg's
interaction

the

critique

Joel Feinberg,
of causation,

Davidson,

In an

I reflect
between

differences

Davidson,
effect
and

cordion

13 September 2004)

he gave
the label "the accordion
effect."
discussion
Feinberg's
on its own, but it is also of interest
interest
because
of its interaction

with
H.

EFFECT?

to which

idea

portant

E. BRATMAN

intervention

on Actions
earlier

literature

was

its interaction
of a much

Princeton
ideas were

(Oxford: Blackwell
and Events

of

principle."2

and Deserving
(Princeton:
to Feinberg's
related
essay

Intention

this

Actions,"
Honor?

Voluntary
and A. M.

idea

the

of

is of

that Feinberg
In the present

Press,

University
famously

Publishers,

discussed

1959), and in

Clarendon

Press,
(Oxford:
1980),
on metaphysical
issues
of the indi
concerns.
to Feinberg's

viduation
of action,
that are not central
issues
2
Joel Feinberg,
and Deserving,
H. L.
where
discusses
152-186,
pp.
Doing
Feinberg
A. Hart
and A. M. Honor?,
in the Law
Causation
Clarendon
Press,
(Oxford:
1959).
The
intervention
is characterized
of a
voluntary
by Feinberg
principle
by way
from Hart
act or omission
and Honor?:
"the free,
deliberate
and informed
quotation
to produce
intended
the consequence
is in fact
which
of a human
being,
produced,
negatives

causal

connection"

(quoted

The Journal of Ethics (2006) 10: 5-19


DOI

in Feinberg,

Doing

and

Deserving,

? Springer 2006

10.1007/sl0892-005-4589-3

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p.

153).

MICHAEL E. BRATMAN

6
I want

essay

on what

to reflect

effect

the accordion

is supposed
by
discussion

to be, and on the interaction


between
Feinberg's
Feinberg
of the voluntary
effect and his critique
of the accordion
of Donald
This will also lead to a discussion
principle.
of and use of what he
understanding
to shed some
I hope
in these ways
human

are

that

agency

at

Davidson's

to be the accordion

takes

light
intersection

the

intervention

on

a web

of

about

two wonderful

these

of

effect.

issues

essays by Feinberg.
In "Action
and Responsibility,"
is responsible
that:
"Smith
saying

notes
that sometimes
in
Feinberg
that
Xis
for X, we can mean
simply
Smith did or, in equivalent
the result of what
terms, that Smith did
and thereby caused X (the door's
(say, turned the knob)
something
to
that "Smith
did
calls
such a claim
Feinberg
opening)
happen."3
...
... and
an
to
ascription
happen"
of
thereby caused X
something
to Smith. Feinberg
then later goes on to note
causal
responsibility
to
of causal responsibility
that: "we can usually
replace any ascription
or
an
And
he
calls
this
of
agency
by
ascription
authorship."4
of causal
of an ascription
responsibility
by an
replacement

a person
form of

or authorship
"the accordion
this idea as follows:

ascription
of agency
goes on to formulate
We

can,

and more

if we

stead

caused X
thereby
of "Peter
opened
of

Ascriptions

causal

of

ascriptions

our

not

than

of

conception
language

obliges

an

to

action

one

include

He

of

its effects,

a relatively

us by providing

then

complex

Instead of saying that Peter did A (a relatively simple act)

word for the purpose.


and

our

inflate

wish,

often

effect."

in Y, we might
say something
to be
Paul
the door
causing

causal

then,

responsibility,

are

the form

of

startled,"
often

"Peter

"Peter

precisely

X-ed

startled
equivalent

Y";

in

Paul."
to

...

agency.5

as a matter
on whether,
of
an
us"
and
has
fact,
appropriate
language
"obliges
contingent
in the preceding
"startle"? The first sentence
for example,
causal verb
it is common.
may
suggest that this is not necessary,
though
quotation
Does

the

accordion

effect

depend

our

The details of this principle change a bit in the Second Edition of Causation in the
Law (1985) at p. 136 (and see note 23). These changes do not touch my present
however.

discussion,
respond

to Feinberg's

And

in this

earlier

Second

challenge.

Edition
That

Hart
said,

when

and Honor?
I refer

do

Law I will refer to the Second Edition.


3
4
5

Feinberg,

Doing

and Deserving,
and Deserving,

Feinberg,

Doing

and Deserving,

Feinberg,

Doing

130.

p.
p.

134.

p.

134.

not

to Causation

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explicitly
in the

WHAT IS THE ACCORDION EFFECT?

the underlying
in contrast,
formulates
second sentence,
principle
a
Which
in a way that assumes
is
verb.
is it?
there
such
a case Feinberg
see the point
in his
discusses
consider
To
at
Actions:"
the
end
of
Voluntary
"Causing
"Rejoinder"

The

two young boys teasing a small child by causing him to giggle

I recently observed
uncontrollably.
ter quit or we'll
be

used

not

carry

one

Finally,

with

interchangeably
such a word

to the other

turned
to death."

him

laugh

in stock,

The

"causing
there being

and

"We'd
bet
(improperly):
a transitive
that could
verb

said

wanted

boy
another

but our
laugh";
demand
for it.6
to

little

language

does

that the agent of the teasing seems to be a


is
focus is on individual
agents. What
Feinberg's
joint
to
the
relevant
here
is
that
does,
agent
Feinberg,
according
important
no
to laugh; but there is in English
the act of causing another
perform
to
in
to
the
causal
that
verb
way
laugh"
"causing
corresponds
specific
to "causing
to be startled."
that "startle"
corresponds
Iwill

put aside here


agent, whereas

the point

effect
effect or not? If the accordion
- one
a
causal
verb
in
is
fact
relevant,
specific
requires
effect (at
to "startle"
then this is not a case of the accordion
analogous
does grant that the generic
But in this case Feinberg
least in English).
Is this a case of the accordion
that

causal
Using

there

the laughter.
the agent causes
apply:
a
we
from
transition
natural
do have
this generic
causal verb
that causes X" to saying "agent causes
"agent does something
verb

"causing

saying
X." Is this transition

X"

does

an instance

one

who

Well,
philosopher
who
is Davidson,
from Feinberg
as
a mark
the accordion
effect

of the accordion
has made

or not?

effect

use

substantial

of

this

the idea that "we may

explores
of agency."7

idea
take

to
What,
according
it require
that a specific
effect? Does
is the accordion
Davidson,
the inference
from
to the case, or is it only about
causal verb apply
to the claim that that
action causes an upshot
the fact that a person's
is: the latter. On Davidson's
that upshot? The answer
caused
person
"an
the
accordion
effect
of
formulation
agent causes what his actions
case
is seen by
the agent
in Feinberg's
Since
cause."8
laughter
6
7

Feinberg,
Donald

concerns
uation
Our

is with
of actions

concerns

responsibility,
8
Davidson,

and Deserving,

Doing
Davidson,
the

Essays
connection

p. 184.
on Actions
and
of

the accordion

effect

but these are matters


(see pp. 55-59),
are with
here
the truth
of various
not

with

directly
on Actions

Essays

the underlying
and Events,

p.

of Davidson's
p. 54. One
to issues about
the individ

Events,

we

can

statements

principles
53.

of

to one

put

about
individuation.

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side
action

here.
and

MICHAEL E. BRATMAN

as causing what his actions


cause - namely,
Feinberg
case is an instance of the accordion
effect as understood

laughter

this

by Davidson,
of a specific causal verb that applies.
from Davidson
that "an agent causes
Let us call this principle
cause" -principle
identifies
this as the
what his actions
Z>, Davidson
even

in the absence

associated
with the accordion
principle
use to which Davidson
wants
to put
note

that, while
- as
and

here,
remarks

Davidson
I have

that do

indeed

Feinberg's
understanding
This is clear when we

seems
-

effect.

I will

return

Here
this principle.
to think he is following

later to the
I want

to

Feinberg
indications
in Feinberg's
this reading
this is not, in the end,
support
of the accordion
effect.

noted

there

are

look at the remarks Feinberg


goes on to make,
to the rule that
and Responsibility,"
about
"exceptions
can
to human
be
translated
into ascriptions
causal ascriptions
agency
I take it, this is the rule associated
of causal agency"9
where,
by
with the accordion
effect. Feinberg
cites two exceptions.
Here
Feinberg
in "Action

as a purely contingent
matter
in the language
that

is the first: "It may happen,


is no single
action

there

to a given
someone."

equivalent
"to laugh

the accordion

effect

causal
But

word

there is no verb
So, for example,
phrase."10
no
to
this is
the rule associated
with
exception

as understood
causal

verb

by Davidson.
in the language

The
has

specific
is couched
in terms
D, since that principle
causes
In
the
for
present case,
example,
"Agent
upshot."
cause laughter,
though we have no specific causal verb

appropriate,
principle

now

Turn
verbs

of

to Feinberg's
second exception.
are available
to tempt

action

substituted
for straightforward
sense. Substitution
commonly
one person,
whether
where
person
remark
though
[A] moved
to move'

of fact, that
is precisely

of an
absence
no impact on
of the generic
the agent does
to apply here.

In these cases

"transitive

be
us, but
they cannot
causal
idioms without
distortion
of
fails in cases of interpersonal
causation
or design,
causes
another
by accident

a
to act."11
A makes
In Feinberg's
that follows,
example
his finger. Feinberg
that causes B to wiggle
says that even
his finger, "we cannot
'A's remark causes B to move
say that

supposes

the finger himself. Here


is an instance,
then, where
'causing
In the case, then, Feinberg
is not the same as 'moving.'"12
that

9
Feinberg,
10
Feinberg,
11
Feinberg,
12
Feinberg,

Doing
Doing
Doing
Doing

and Deserving,
and Deserving,
and Deserving,
and Deserving,

p.

135.

p.

135.

p.

135.

p.

135.

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WHAT IS THE ACCORDION EFFECT?


that causes B to move
(i) A does something
and that
his finger;
(ii) A causes B to move
it
is not true that
but, nevertheless,
moves
A
B's
(iii)
finger.

his finger,

The transition from (i) to (ii) is an instance of principle D\ but it is


the failure in the transition to (iii) that is cited as a breakdown in the
it.
is understanding
effect, as Feinberg
I think it is clear,
is not understanding
then, that Feinberg
accordion
effect as the Davidsonian
idea that "an agent causes what
accordion

actions

cause." As Feinberg
understands
it, rather, the
the application
involves
of a specific causal verb. If A
that causes X, but there is no specific causal
verb
causing X, then even though A causes X, the case is an

accordion

the
his

effect

does

something
associated
with

to the
exception
in
contrast
with
And,
by Feinberg.
want
not
to
does
claim
that
the
Z>, Feinberg
principle
the accordion
effect is without
the claim is only
exceptions;

accordion

as understood

effect,

principle
underlying
that some

common
cases.
such principle
and important
captures
is the Feinbergian
here? Well,
it is pretty much
principle

What

what Feinberg

(after flirting with something closer to principle D)

it is: "Instead

of saying that Peter did A (a relatively


says
simple act)
and thereby caused X'm F, we might
of the form Teter
say something
X-Qd F;
to be
instead
of Teter
the door
Paul
causing
opened
startled Paul.'"
startled,' Teter
an agent acts and his act causes some
We can put it this way: When
a
in
is frequently
there
X,
F,
change,
something,
(though not always)
specific, transitive causal verb, Cx, associated
in F, such that it is true that the agent C^-ed
causal

verb

accordion

with

that upshot
causing
F When
there is such a

such that it is true that A C^-ed F, we have an instance of the


an agent will act in ways
effect. But sometimes
that result in

does not oblige with a specific


change X in F, and yet the language
causal verb that applies.
In these latter cases we do not have an instance
of the accordion
understands
it.
effect, as Feinberg
cases in which
F. Principle
Call
this principle
F concerns
"causal
to human agency" are "translated
into ascriptions
of causal
ascriptions
not claim there
agency" by way of a specific causal verb. Principle Fdoes
is always an appropriate
causal verb that applies;
is at
indeed, Feinberg
so.
to
a
not
insist
that
F
this
is
also
involves
pains
Principle
language
relativity

that

is absent

from principle

D.

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10

E. BRATMAN

MICHAEL

I do not

claim
is not

principle D
effect.
accordion

Z>, only that


reject principle
with his understanding
of the

that Feinberg
would
associated
the principle

is discussing
Indeed, when Feinberg
on
not
when
he
is
and
agency,
focusing
to
of
causal
agency,
ascriptions
ascriptions

to human
those

principle D for granted:


Smith did" is equivalent
I want
The point
X"13

that "Xis

recall his remark


to "Smith

of what

the result

and thereby caused


sees the accordion

did something...
is that Feinberg

to make

causal ascriptions
from
the transition
to take
he seems

a transition
effect not in terms of principle D but, rather, as involving
in terms of a specific causal verb. We
to an ascription
of causal agency
accordion
effect if we make
do not have an instance of the Feinbergian
causes
an
a transition
to
of "agent
Indeed,
upshot."
ascription
simply
as
causal
that generic
remain with
verb, we remain,
sees
to
human
in
the
domain
of
"causal
it,
agency"
ascriptions
Feinberg
of causal agency."
of "ascriptions
rather than the domain
I do not say this is the most
natural
reading of talk of "ascriptions
seem to me
It does
I find it artificial.
of causal
indeed,
agency"
so

as we

long

13
Feinberg,
X"

Feinberg
who makes
to take

caused
I take it that in saying
"thereby
in his discussion
of the person
Again,
seems
causes
to move
his finger
another
Feinberg
"Dr. Ortho,
Here
is the full passage:
by making
equivalence.
cause Humphrey
the musculature
of the forearm,
about
may

for granted
this
remarks
learned

certain

to wiggle his finger. Even though it would be correct to say that Dr.

thoughtfully
remark

Ortho's

caused

ries"
as

accept
principle
as concerned
with

Z>? On

one

the

a "harm

whether

in the Law,
Causation
Honor?,
see these as two formulations

and

A
On

say
of
fact

to be

"action
has

where

cannot

say

that Dr.

Ortho

and

"attributive
hand,
they characterize
can be attributed
to the defendant's

inqui
action

caused
it" (Hart and
be said to have
properly
seem to
Second
p. 24). And
Edition,
they here
not
it
is
clear.
the same query,
completely
though

of

they move

to the

issue

easily from the issue of identifying


"B has

of whether

caused

the harm

are

not actions.
agents,
in the 1985 Second
added

and Honor?
Hart
in remarks
Edition,
hand,
the conduct
between
indeed be established
relation
of some sort may
or means
But the
of the victim....
and the death
the advice
who
supplies

the other

that

we

1985,

the cause"

ranked

not,"

finger,

can

he

Again, on p. 74 of the Second Edition


an

his

(Feinberg, Doing and Deserving, p. 135).Would Hart and

or whether

its consequence,

to move

Humphrey

moved the finger himself


Honor?

p. 130.
X.
caused

and Deserving,
Doing
is saying
that Smith
a remark
and thereby

"a causal

the person
that what

is here

more

something

had

accomplice

tenuous
either

is not

unearthed
is marked
'caused'

the

by the fact
or
the death

but
type of causal
relationship
not happily
that we would
say that the
to kill"
the prisoner
'caused'
(Second

central

without
the corresponding
pp. 42-43;
passage,
Edition,
in the Law,
at p. 40). Here
of Causation
Edition
they seem
causes.
causes with what
So here
himself
the accomplice

these

they

is in the First

remarks,

to contrast
seem

what
to pull

the conduct
back

from

principle D. In any case, inmy discussion below I consider the possibility that one of the
insights

we

should

glean

from Hart

and Honor?

involves

a challenge

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to this principle.

WHAT IS THE ACCORDION EFFECT?


to see "Jones

natural

11

as an ascription
laughter"
verb
in the absence
of a transitive

caused

her

to Jones even
agency
I think, agree. He would,
Davidson
someone."
would,
a transition
as
a
D
that
characterizes
principle
principle

of causal
"to

laugh
see
I think,
from causal

in terms
agency
that even though
in this way
accepts principle D, he does not see this principle
Feinberg
as a principle
to an ascription
of causal agency. This
about a transition
I think
does not see a generic
is because Feinberg
idiosyncratically,
as
causes
in
the domain
of an
of
yet
"agent
upshot"
ascription
in
limitation
talk
this
of
of causal
Or anyway,
agency.
ascription
sense of what
to make
the most
of causal agency
is needed
ascriptions
to human
ascriptions
"agent
of the generic

agency
causes

to ascriptions
But
upshot"

of causal

I think

says.
Feinberg
in
what Feinberg
This also helps us understand
goes on to say when,
notes
Hart
that
and
this paper, he turns to Hart and Honor?.
Feinberg
act 'negatives'
causal connection
Honor?
argue that "a fully voluntary
some
an
This
is the idea
earlier causal factor and
between
upshot."14
labels the "voluntary
in "Causing Voluntary
that Feinberg,
Actions,"
on
in which A's remark
his
intervention
example
Reflecting
principle."
seems to cause B to move
his finger, Feinberg
says that this idea from
Hart

and Honor?

is incorrect

insofar

as it denies

that B's

action

was

I take

it, that A's


and that this is

caused

Indeed, Feinberg
thinks,
by A's remark.15
of B's finger,
(his remark) causes the movement
to Hart and Honor?'s
also says that in the
view. But Feinberg
contrary
on the part of B
act
the
intervention
of
the
voluntary
example
For
him to think this,
the
extension
of
causal
"precludes
agency."16
even though he thinks that, despite
A causes B to
that intervention,
action

move

of causal
his finger, Feinberg must be thinking of the "extension
a
as
verb
in
this
the
causal
that
case,
agency"
requiring
specific
is
Since
this
transitive
verb "to move
supposed
something"
applies.
to be an exception
to the accordion
effect he is, again, understanding
effect in terms of principle F9 and not in terms simply of
the accordion

principle

D.

Again,
"Rejoinder,"
14
15

Feinberg,
Though,

the

closely
"first cause

us understand
in his
Feinberg's
reply
helps
to
to
Keith
Actions,"
Voluntary
"Causing
appended

this

also

and Deserving,
p. 135.
Doing
at this point
what
is challenged
strictly
speaking,
in "Causing
related
idea that,
Actions,"
Voluntary
next
sentence
I note
In my
principle"
(see below).

intervention
voluntary
16
Doing
Feinberg,

principle,
strictly
and Deserving,
p.

in the discussion
labels
Feinberg
to
the challenge

speaking.
135.

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is
the
the

MICHAEL E. BRATMAN

12

on Feinberg's
original paper.
to the voluntary
intervention
involves
in his original
paper

comments

Lehrer's

counter-examples
sketches

berg

lago

tells a "coldly

One

of the purported
that Fein
principle

someone

husband"

I will

call

his wife's

about

love

jealous
to kill Horner.
thereby to get the husband
hoping
indeed
and kill
does
shoot
the husband
After
due consideration,
even
as
free
and
The husband's
is
Horner.
deliberate,
though,
killing
a
sees it, caused by Iago's action. So this is, Feinberg
alleges,
Feinberg
"lago."17
affair with

Horner,

a principle
the
that precludes
from Hart
and Honor?
a
labels
"the
of fully voluntary
action,
principle
Feinberg
that
since we "might well
first cause principle."18
Further,
judge
was
cause
to
disclosure
of
the
facts
the
of Horner's
death
the
[Iago's]
a
violation
of
this is also, at least potentially,
cuckolded
husband"19
so
Or
intervention
the voluntary
argues.
Feinberg
principle.
of

violation

causation

replies:
foreclose

"it is quite clear that


... and to no

is unconvinced:

Lehrer

"I do

the death
one

to the husband

to be attributed

see how

not

the judgment

that

the

facts

the cause

case

the

of

of Horner's

of Horner

else."20

Feinberg

would

logically

was

death

is

[Iago's]

spilling the beans or that the death is to be attributed jointly to [lago


and

the husband]."21

17

But

is in Feinberg,
Doing
example
counter
of purported
examples.
at p.
177. As
Feinberg
"Rejoinder"

and Deserving,
p.
fifth purported

The

quartet

lines

general

of

qualification
in the Law

to

the

on

goes

Feinberg

Hart

notes,

and

concede

157.

It occurs

counter

in

that

as one

of

is in the

example

two

Honor?

acknowledge
[see Hart
principle

intervention

voluntary

to

and

claims
p. 75]. However,
Feinberg
Edition),
(Second
two categories.
of these
do not fit into either
that his counter-examples
18
this principle
152. Feinberg
describes
and Deserving,
p.
by
Feinberg,
Doing
where
and Honor?
of Hart
from an earlier
essay
they say that "a [free and
quoting
as itself caused"
in
action
is never
human
appears
(this quote
regarded
deliberate]
a
in
the
is
Causation
Hart
and
and
Law,
Honor?,
p.
Deserving,
Doing
152).
Feinberg,
Causation

Honor?,

from
the earlier
in this quotation
than
nuanced
suggested
we need
But
these are not matters
in the Second
42-43
Edition).
19
and
157.
p.
Doing
Deserving,
Feinberg,
20
D.
and D.
in W.
H.
Keith
Lehrer,
"Comments,"
Capit?n

bit more
pp.

and Explanation

Metaphysics
pp.

52-53.

Feinberg
primarily

Let me

note

that one

did not do justice to the point


in attributive

causal

the point,
concedes
Feinberg
even
and Honor?'s
principles

criticisms

in his original

and Honor?

(eds.),

Press,

were

1966),

discussion

interested

statements.
in explanatory
causal
Hart
his counter
examples
challenge

not
that

claims

interpreted

is that

that Hart

statements,
but

Merrill

of Pittsburgh

(Pittsburgh: University
of Lehrer's

essay
(see e.g.,
to discuss
here.

explicitly

as

principles

about

attributive

statements.

causal
21

Feinberg,
tributive

Doing
not
reading,

and Deserving,
a shared
agency

p.

183.

reading

Feinberg
presumably
of "jointly."

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intends

a dis

WHAT IS THE ACCORDION EFFECT?


that the death might
"causal
agency,"

supposing
a claim

be attributed

of

he

is only
no
make

13

to lago he is not making


to a "causal
pointing

sense if "lago caused


the
This concession
would
citation."22
death" were a claim of "causal agency." After
all, Feinberg
explicitly
that we might
correctly
judge that "the cause of Horner's
envisages
as we have seen, Feinberg
death was [Iago's] spilling the beans." And,
does
and

accept principle
so in this case

(though not in the same spirit as Davidson),


to "lago
caused
the death."
So
the inference

the
be thinking
that a claim of causal agency
requires
a
in
this
verb
causal
case,
say,
shooting
specific
application
is noting
that he
Horner
And Feinberg
or, perhaps,
killing Horner.
causes
even if
the
death
be
about
the
that
lago
might
right
possibility
must

Feinberg

of

no

does not
lago, after all, certainly
specific causal verb applies.
to say he kills Horner.
shoot Horner,
and many will find it strained
This does not mean
that, indeed, no such specific causal verb does
to Hart
and Honor?,
it only means
that Feinberg's
challenge
apply;
such

of this issue,
is seen by him as independent
if
indeed
there
is no such
also holds
that
though
Feinberg
to the
that applies,
the case
is an exception
causal
verb
specific

and his

reply

to Lehrer,

even

effect.

accordion

us step back a bit. Feinberg's


to the voluntary
main
challenge
If we
intervention
is
of
by way
counter-examples.
principle
purported
I
and
find
that
these
work
them
agree
myself
counter-examples
we
a
must
then
conclude
that sometimes
largely
persuasive
Let

voluntary
It does

intervention
not

voluntary
the casual

follow

intervention

not negative
relevant causal attributions.
that the existence
of a
however,
this,
or help block,
does not in some cases block,

does
from

attribution.

seems unwilling
to say this, however,
himself
since he
Feinberg
offers a substitute
for the voluntary
intervention
"the more
principle:
or not, the less likely
human behavior
is, whether
expectable
voluntary
it is to 'negative causal connection."22.
But we could acknowledge
the
of expectability
without
the voluntariness
of
significance
dismissing
an
as of no
to
at
intervention
all
relevant
causal
significance
attribution.
One way to read Lehrer
is to see him as suggesting
that at
acts
least in some cases along
these lines the fact that the husband
and deliberately
the judgment
that it is the
supports
fully voluntarily
causes
not
and
who
Horner's
death.
After
husband,
all, even
lago,
22
23

Feinberg,

Doing

Feinberg,

Doing

and Deserving,
and Deserving,

p.

184.

p.

166.

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MICHAEL E. BRATMAN

14

that we will

grants
Feinberg
to the husband

and

not

sometimes

this causal

make

to

we

And

lago.24
this it can be at least

we

do
that when
suggesting
the fact that the husband's
relevant

acts

can

attribution

see

as

Lehrer

in part because
of
are voluntary
and deliberate
can reason
and the death. We

between
they intervene
Iago's acts
in this way even if we are convinced
that the voluntary
by Feinberg
a voluntary
errors
in
that
such
and
intervention
principle
supposing
the causal attribution.
intervention
deliberate
always blocks
and

Indeed,

Hart

and Honor?

point

to a very

general

for

ground

such

reasoning:

the

of

as distinct
for ourselves
and others
would
of respect
persons
as separate
not
if we could
think of ourselves
if not dissolved,
we make
to share
in the world.
If we had
the authorship
changes

sense

[Our]

weakened,

numerous
with
changes
as they did, we
acted
no longer
think
could

of whom
agents,
not have
been

prior
should
of

as

ourselves

separate

it could

be

said

had

that,

be much
authors
of

such

they

not
we

to bring
about
the change,
in the way we now do.25
authors

able

can agree with Feinberg


that his counter-examples
show that the
errs
in its generality,
while
still
intervention
voluntary
principle
a
in
Hart
and
these
remarks
from
Honor?,
potential
ground
seeing,

We

for

the

idea

the voluntariness

that

to a causal

matter

of an

can

intervention

sometimes

attribution.

of an intervention
Consider,
then, the idea that the voluntariness
can block or help block, not only the applicability
of a specific causal
himself
but also, in some cases, a
verb (which Feinberg
emphasizes),
causes upshot."
As I
of
the
causal attribution
by way
generic "Agent
criticism
with Feinberg's
have said, this is compatible
example-driven
since this criticism
is that this
of the voluntary
intervention
principle,
some
errs
extent
to
is
in
in its generality.
this idea
Indeed,
principle
causal
of the idea that certain
the spirit of Feinberg's
acceptance
are
on
that
violated
causal
verbs
conditions
process
by
impose
can
now
that
this
the
idea
is
sometimes
interventions
just
voluntary
causes upshot."
And
be true even for the generic causal verb "Agent
this

idea

principle

is also

only
accordion

Feinbergian
a specific causal

verb.

24
25

with

compatible
that
says

Doing
Feinberg,
Hart
and Honor?,

there

Feinberg's
principle
are common
cases

characterized
But

since principle

and Deserving,
Causation

p. 184.
in the Law

in terms
D

(Second

of

F,

since
involving

the application
of
and Honor?'s

is, like Hart

Edition),

that

pp.

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lxxx-lxxxi.

WHAT IS THE ACCORDION EFFECT?


a purportedly
intervention
voluntary
principle,
may be threatened
by this idea.
Consider
the following
of thoughts:
sequence
(1)

lago

(2) The

performs

(3) B

is a causal

(4) B

causes

performs

Horner's

action

voluntary

consequence

general

it

principle,

A.

action

voluntary

husband

15

B.

of A.

death.

(5) A causes Horner's death, (from (3), (4), and the transitivity of causality)
(6) lago causes Horner's death (from (1), (5), and principle D)
are

that there can


taking (1), (2), and (4) as given. If we suppose
to say that it is the husband,
be cases in which we would want
and not
causes
the death, where
should we
of
stop the chain
lago, who

We

in such

reasoning

cases?

the first cause principle would block (3); but Feinberg has

Well,

us good reason to reject that as a general principle.


we
Granted,
even
cause
to
not
the first
is
in
say that,
try
might
though
principle
true, this causal claim [namely, a version of (3)] fails whenever
general
given

we

cause the
think that the agent of the earlier act does not herself
we
a
later upshot
whenever
version
of
[that is,
reject
(6)]. But this
seems
as
a
to me
to
work
of our
unlikely
general
explanation
cases
to
that the
of voluntary
intervention,
say, in such
unwillingness
the later upshot.
It seems clear to me,
agent of the earlier act causes

not be clear to Hart


it would
and
(though
example,
probably
on
a
to
their
insist
divide
Honor?,
given
tendency
sharp
fairly
reasons and causes)
between
that Iago's remarks cause the husband's
of Horner.
What
remains
unclear
is whether
lago causes
shooting
we should say, instead,
Horner's
that the husband,
death or whether
for

and not lago, causes


the death.
the
is a fairly basic idea, one not
of causation
Again,
transitivity
be given up lightly; so there would
be a high price to pay if we were

try to stop the inference from (3) and (4) to (5). There
if we

pressure,
principle D
Davidson

do

not

want

to end

and not to accept


saw this clearly.

at

up

(6), to
form.

certainly
we
provided

Clifford's
Smith

won't
can

death'.
... could

conclude
go

from

There
be

said

that
'Jones's

is, then,
to qualify

seek

it in its present
In a footnote
he writes:

Suppose Jones intentionally causes Smith intentionally


We

to
to

Jones

shot Clifford

action

of course,
will,
to have
caused

caused
be

Clifford's

a conflict

Clifford's

to shoot Clifford
... Still

death,

if we

[principle
to
death'

deny
and at

that
the

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both
same

to death.

is correct
D]
'Jones
caused
Jones
time

and
affirm

MICHAEL E. BRATMAN

16
the
denial

We
could
of causality.
transitivity
the circumstances
that under

death

by

that

saying

under

however,
Jones

preserve
could

the circumstances

said

be

the

in the face of a
[principle
D]
to have
caused
Clifford's

transitivity

of

also

causality

breaks

down.26

So Davidson

that
suggests
nevertheless

we

the death,

if we are unwilling
defend
principle

to say that Jones

causes
on

the
up
by giving
move
a
to
and
in
that
the
causation
way
transitivity
blocking
the
of (5). But, as I have
of
version
said, abandoning
transitivity
is a high price to pay. So perhaps we should
seek a more
causation
to emphasize
D. And
the point
is that
version
of principle
qualified
of

we

could

do

this while

of

the

to these

be reason

upshot"
human

example-based

principle
of Feinberg

in the end,

do not,

require

not

to.

that Feinberg
does not consider
this possibility
because
causes
act causes upshot"
to "Agent
the move
from "Agent's
as remaining
to
within
the domain
of causal
ascription

It may
he sees

two papers

Feinberg's

and Feinberg's
principle,
F. The claims
that are most

to defend principle D in its full generality, and there may

Feinberg
well

both

intervention

voluntary
the accordion
effect,

rejection
of
version
central

onto

holding

be

to an ascription
rather than as a transition
of causal
agency,
to my mind,
feature
of
agency. This is the
idiosyncratic
Feinberg's
if we
earlier. But
take seriously
the
discussion
that I highlighted
is to ascribe causal
natural
idea that to say that lago caused
the death
does
seem, as it apparently
from the accordion
effect); and

to lago,
then principle D will
agency
to Feinberg,
trivial (though
different
from Hart

considerations
D

even

not

and Honor?

while

lead us

may

with

to seek

that

to qualify
the voluntary

Feinberg
agreeing
in its claims.
is overly general
principle
has also challenged
what
I am calling principle
John Atwell
D?1
sees that this principle
Atwell
is not the same as Feinberg's
accordion
a different
treatment
I have offered
of that accordion
effect (though
principle
intervention

effect than does Atwell).28 What


"sub-thesis,"

Feinberg's
26

27

Davidson,

28

As

I see

ficient

account

effect.

This

on Actions

Essays

John E. Atwell,
(1969), pp. 337-342.

and he argues

and Events,

"The Accordion

I call principle D Atwell


against

pp.

it by way

calls

of an example:

53-54n.

Effect Thesis," The Philosophical Quarterly

it, Atwell's

of Feinberg's
criticisms
accordion
effect
remarks
of Feinberg's
about
the exceptions
explicit
is a separate
from Atwell's
discussion
matter,
though,

called principle D.

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19

do

not

to

the accordion

of what

take

suf

I have

WHAT IS THE ACCORDION EFFECT?


"Brown

17

was

that
and had been for years. During
paralyzed,
partially
Mrs.
Brown
for
him.
with
cared
One
long trying period
faithfully
day,
a faint smile of
all the strength
he could muster,
Brown managed
was
so
have
Brown
it, Mrs.
but, as the fates would
gratitude;
and died."29
joy that she suffered a heart attack
to principle
Since the smiling caused
the death it follows,
Z),
according
that Mr.
caused Mrs.
death.
But to say this, says
Brown
Brown's
at
"a minimal
is to make
that Brown
is somehow
Atwell,
suggestion
overwhelmed

fault."30

with

is in no way
So we

Brown

Since

that Brown

the death.

caused

at fault, we should balk at saying


should not accept the "sub-thesis"

(that is, principle D).


While
whether

Atwell

credit for explicitly


the question
of
raising
counter
is true, I do not find his purported
I think we are used to saying "You caused
this

deserves

the "sub-thesis"

example
convincing.
very bad thing, but through no fault of your own, and this does not
mean
or at fault." This
can be the stuff of
you are a bad person
but tragedies happen.
tragedies;

I see it, it is when another


between
intervenes
agent voluntarily
and the upshot
that we sometimes
have the potential
for a
D
to say that the
violation
of principle
which
is not, of course,
to the
intervention
blocks
the causal
attribution
voluntary
always
As

the action

can
agent of the earlier action.31 We
Honor?
while
agreeing with Feinberg
errs
in its generality.
principle
These
to put
Davidson
For

considerations
the

wants

effect

to "take
this means

Davidson

that

this

lesson

from Hart

the voluntary

the use

interact with

accordion

learn

to which

and

intervention
Davidson

aims

he

understands
that
it). Recall
(as
as
a
effect
mark
of agency."
the accordion
D is a
that the applicability
of principle

of agency:
those "events
in the life of a person"32
whose
causal
are
so
to
to
the
attributed
and
conform
upshots
agent,
causally
are
of
actions
that
As
Davidson
the
idea
is
person.
says,
principle D,

mark

29
30

Atwell,

Atwell,
31
Atwell's

"The

Accordion

Effect

Thesis,"

"The

Accordion

Effect

Thesis,"
p. 341.
to a consideration

discussion

is

limited

p.

341.

and
"Action
Feinberg's
in
interventions
voluntary
I see it, it is in these
Actions."
As
issues
the impact
of
about
Voluntary
"Causing
to principle
interventions
that we find a more
D. This
voluntary
persuasive
challenge
a deeper
is part of my
of seeking
of the accordion
strategy
general
understanding
effect and related matters
with
interactions
the voluntary
intervention
by exploring

Responsibility."

He

does

not

address

the

discussion

of

of

and with
criticisms
of that principle.
principle
Feinberg's
32
on Actions
and Events,
Davidson,
p. 43.
Essays

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MICHAEL E. BRATMAN

18

an event

to
is a case of agency
a
to person."33 Without
asking
this
in the end, we can say that to pursue
this is going to work
whether
or
use
we
not
the
idea
of
action
had
better
idea without
very
circularity
we
to
if
substitute
for
So
tried
relevant
mark
of
in
the
agency
agency.34
that "[I]t is a way of inquiring whether
its effects
ask whether we can attribute

principle D something roughly along the lines of principle


is no

If there

D'.
what

his

actions

relevant

intervention

voluntary

a certain

of

sort,

an

agent

causes

cause,

to appeal to this substitute


not be in a position
the very
mark of agency. This is because
in
the
substitute
the appeal,
built
into
principle,
to avoid
And
it may be that a concern
intervention.

we would

a non-circular

to get
principle
idea of agency
is
to voluntary

such circularity
to defend principle D
inclination
apparent
But ifwe give
in causation.35
for intransitivities
allowing
a
a
use
D
of
this
of
for
mark
substitute
as,
agency, we are
up
principle

support
helped
even if itmeant

Davidson's

33

on Actions
and Events,
p. 54
Essays
no
but yields
is "a mark
effect
of actions
that
the
accordion
does
say
on Actions
he
and Events,
of agency"
p. 60). So perhaps
Essays
(Davidson,
analysis
not for a "mark"
arise only
for an "analysis,"
of circularity
would
say that concerns
seem
to me
that Davidson's
to me
and
it does
this seems
But
of agency.
strained,
34

Davidson,
Davidson

use of the accordion


the very
idea of agency
effect argues
invoking
against
apparent
we understand
that effect.
in terms of which
of the principle
in the content
35
to
here difficult
considered
view
I find Davidson's
because
I only
say "may,"
note. Another
issue is just
in the previous
raised
been
issue has already
One
interpret.
was
concludes
the
to this use of the accordion
effect. He
Davidson
committed
how
section

in which

this paper

of

accordion

effect

is interesting
the way we

he has

focused
it shows

because

on

the accordion

that we

treat

effect

as follows:

"The

of actions

the consequences
events....
But

as a criterion
treat the consequences
of other
from
differently
cases
as satisfactory:
can hardly
for some
it works
be counted
[the accordion
effect]
an
a
as
action
action"
course
no
to
makes
clue
what
it
and
of
primitive
only,
gives
cases Davidson
has
on Actions
and Events,
p. 55). I am unsure which
(Davidson,
Essays
seem that he is here
but it does
for some cases only,"
he says this "works
on
to
of a "primitive"
mention.
The
idea
actions
he
the
goes
"primitive"
thinking
some other action. Apparent
one performs
not by performing
action
is that of an action
has a distinctive
are moving
of course,
one's hand
Davidson,
(and thereby...).
examples
to
but we do not need
and primitive
of actions
view about
the individuation
actions,
in mind

when
of

consider

these matters

the apparent

fact

here. What

that

an agent

is puzzling
causes

what

here,

I think,

her primitive

is why
actions

Davidson
cause

thinks
cannot

why a primitive action is an action (though of course it cannot explain why


primitive). But Iwill not try to sort this out here.

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that

explain

it is

WHAT IS THE ACCORDION EFFECT?


not obliged
in this way
as we have seen,
And,
Department

to defend
there may

19

an unqualified
version of principle
be good reason not to.36

D.

of Philosophy
University

Stanford

Stanford, CA 94305
USA
E-mail:

36

bratman@csli.stanford.edu

Thanks

to Scott Shapiro for helpful conversation

and to John Martin Fischer

a Fellow
on an earlier draft. This
I was
for helpful
comments
while
essay was written
at the Center
I am grateful
for Advanced
in Behavioral
Sciences.
for financial
Study
to the
I dedicate
this essay
W. Mellon
Foundation.
support
provided
by the Andrew
memory

of

Joel

Feinberg,

teacher

and

friend.

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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions