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Let a being be arbitrary, suppose that this being has the capacity to be morally responsible.

(EDIT 2) Regardless of group morality, but assume this being is in a moral environment with no moral contradictions (at least a priori).

(EDIT 3) I want to clarify that a morally responsible being is not necessarily the whole of an identifiable being (like a human body), this being can be anything to which one can assign moral responsibility, such as our individual ethics or morality (which can fill the moral of its environment), the soul, character or spirit, mind or reason, our genetic code or our functioning as an organism, etc... All these are beings that one could identify as parts of another being, and if you want you can assign them moral responsibility.

Using the principle of the excluded middle we can infer that either this being is mutable or not mutable (immutable).

(EDTT 2) immutable in the sense that at least it doesn't have the ability to change voluntarily (EDIT 5) or in the worst case that it cannot change at all and therefore remains eternal (like god, universe or nature).

(EDIT 6) In the second and worst case of the immutable being we can think of it as a universal.

If this being is immutable, then it could be identified, but how could moral responsibility work in a being that will never change?

If this being is mutable, then it could change its behavior, but how could moral responsibility work in a being that cannot be identified?

Because this being at the moment of mutating is not the same being (being the mutation as radical as you want).

I mean, how could a mutable being be if it never is?

  • I am not questioning the usefulness of moral responsibility (I believe in its usefulness).

  • I am assuming that both the mutable and the immutable being have the capacity to be morally responsible (it could be one of these contradictory or not).

  • My doubt lies in the possibility of making moral responsibility work consistently.

EDIT 1: As Mary said, a mutable being does not necessarily change after being identified, this case seems consistent with moral responsibility.

EDIT 7: I think it is consistent in that case because in simple terms moral responsibility, at least as I understand it, is about identifying a being and attributing good or bad actions to it, if a mutable being can remain unchanged for an interval of time, then it could be identified and therefore eliminate that being if necessary, an example: a child who steals a candy, we could suppose that in some interval of time that child can be identified, once identified he can be punished to correct his behavior, Once this is done, the child that was will no longer be, but moral responsibility will have fulfilled its function.

EDIT 4: I think that with that answer the consistency of moral responsibility in mutable beings is resolved, but the question still persists as to how morally responsible immutable beings could be consistent in the sense that one could not change its intrinsic properties. Or is the assumption of a morally responsible immutable being absurd?

EDIT 8: If it is absurd that an immutable being is morally responsible, it must be that only mutable beings are morally responsible. But there is still a problem to be solved, the sorites paradox about being-identity.

EDIT 9: Probably the last edition, my doubt has already been clarified and I thank everyone who contributed with their answer, I will leave useful links for those who have come up with similar doubts to mine.

sorry for so many edits


I found this SEP entry very related to this question: Personal Identity and Ethics

Useful SEP entries related to this question: Change, Temporal Parts, Identity Over Time, Personal Identity

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  • We humans are "mutable" and we are morally responsible. Dec 25, 2022 at 15:48
  • 1
    A priori arguments are useless if the conclusions do not fit with facts. Dec 25, 2022 at 15:49
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    You assume that a mutable being must change past recognition. It does not need to
    – Mary
    Dec 25, 2022 at 19:09
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    Change is the only constant ~ Hercalitus.
    – Hudjefa
    Dec 26, 2022 at 19:37
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    The wrecked Ship of Theseus rises from the depths like a ghost... It doesn't matter what the question subject is, all these whole - part / change - no change questions are the Ship of Theseus. Get a good answer to that and your question dissolves.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jan 4, 2023 at 0:17

2 Answers 2

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The issue is with this line:

If this being is mutable, then it could change its behavior, but how could moral responsibility work in a being that cannot be identified?

Moral responsibility inheres in self-identity, not other-identity. Mutable beings must have a concept of self-identity to be morally accountable. Those that do not (animals, for instance) cannot perceive themselves as 'selves' with moral agency; they merely do what they do, and never reflect on 'who' is the one 'doing'. But mutable beings with self-identity have (ipso facto) a stable reference over time to which moral accountability attaches.

In fact, I'd suggest that the real problem starts where you distinguish between 'mutable' and 'immutable' beings. I mean, what precisely does 'immutable being' refer to? I'm sure you don't mean something like a living statue that never moves at all (because movement is change, after all). Nor do I think you mean something like a protozoan, which has a small array of predefined reactions to specific stimuli (and thus never strictly changes even though it moves around). I suspect you mean a conscious, intelligent being with a sense of self-identity who is so excruciatingly dogmatic that they never choose to change their opinions, actions, or behaviors. But even that person (when confronted with a new experience) has to choose how best to apply dogma to novel contexts, which constitutes mutability. I don't see how the mutable/immutable distinction can stand up to closer observation, so the question itself seems to go sidewise.

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  • You're right, the first thing you say is something I didn't see, and it's something similar to what Mary said, and it's what makes moral responsibility consistent in a mutable being. Regarding the second thing you say, we can think of the immutable as the inability to change, and therefore, although it may be subject to change, it would not be by the will of that being (I am thinking of the code of an artificial intelligence, for example). Dec 26, 2022 at 17:42
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Firstly, let's consider your set-up. You talk about an immutable being. If a being where truly immutable it would be immobile too, like a statue, since any movement would constitute a change of shape which would be inconsistent with immutability. So your truly immutable being would be incapable of acting in any way.

However, let's suppose you didn't mean that immutable, so the being can observe, reason and reflect and perform physical actions.

An immutable being must have been created as-is, since the idea of growing is another that is ruled out by immutability. If the immutable being is capable of reasoning and reflecting, the patterns of reasoning must have been established at the outset and might have included the sort of reasoning you might equate with moral reasoning. Given that, your immutable being could be morally responsible.

Let us also consider the distinction between your immutable and mutable beings. That now seems to be a rather fuzzy distinction given that we have already had to relax the idea of immutability to allow for thought processes, perceptions and movement. Indeed, you have created your own difficulty by assuming, quite arbitrarily in my view, that 'identity' can only be possessed by the immutable, which is muddled thinking. If you define identity in that way, then you must introduce another term to mean what I and others consider to be identity- let's call that 'identityv2- and you will find that 'identityv2' is quite sufficient to allow a being to exist and act morally.

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  • Your second definition of immutable being is how I understand it, but doesn't it follow from this that its moral judgments are determined by its intrinsic properties (part of an immutable being in my opinion)? And therefore the inability of this being to change its intrinsic properties. By the way, moral responsibility can work in this case, but would it be consistent? Dec 26, 2022 at 17:22
  • Isn't immutability necessary to be identified? I mean, a mutable being could remain immutable and in that case it would be identifiable Dec 26, 2022 at 17:27

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