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Vargas Publishes Building Better Beings

April 08, 2013

In his new book Building Better Beings: A Theory of Moral Responsibility (Oxford University Press 2013), Professor of Philosophy and Law Manuel Vargas presents a new theory of moral responsibility.

Beginning with a discussion of ordinary convictions about responsibility and free will and their implications for a philosophical theory, Vargas argues that no theory can do justice to all the things we want from a theory of free will and moral responsibility. He goes on to show how we can nevertheless justify our responsibility practices and provide a normatively and naturalistically adequate account of responsible agency, blame, and desert.

“I had been thinking and writing about responsibility and free will for a long time, but many of the core ideas of the book came together because I started thinking about the social purposes that might be served by blame,” Vargas said. “If our blaming does things for us—individually and collectively—then we have reason to think responsibility is an important idea even if some ways of understanding it are threatened by physics, neuroscience, and psychology.”

Previously, Vargas published Four Views on Free Will (Blackwell, 2007) with John Martin Fischer, Robert Kane, and Derk Pereboom. He is editing Rational and Social Agency: Essays on the Philosophy of Michael Bratman (with Gideon Yaffe). Vargas’ research focuses on the nature of moral agency, the philosophy of law, Latin American philosophy, especially historical work on race and identity, and questions of philosophical methodology.

Vargas was a recipient of the first American Philosophical Association Prize in Latin American Thought, and his research on responsible agency has been recognized with yearlong research fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, and the Stanford Humanities Center. He has also been a visiting fellow at the McCoy Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford University, and has held visiting appointments at UC Berkeley, and the California Institute of Technology.