Date of Award

August 2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

William Bristow

Committee Members

William Bristow, Joshua Spencer, Stan Husi


Aristotle, bad characters, mental illness, moral badness, Reason View, virtue ethics


This paper presents Susan Wolf’s theories on freedom and responsibility. It places special emphasis on her Reason View as presented in her book, Freedom Within Reason. I analyze three types of bad characters, where a “bad character” is defined as someone with a stable and pervasive pattern of acting badly. I argue that Wolf’s Reason View entails that bad characters are psychologically incapable of doing the right thing for the right reasons. Therefore, according to the demands of Wolf’s Reason View, we cannot hold them responsible for their actions. This spells trouble: aren’t bad characters precisely the type of people that we should feel empowered to hold responsible? Wolf’s view accurately predicts that bad characters should not be held responsible for the fact that they lack a psychological ability to do the right thing for the right reasons. However, Wolf’s Reason View fails in its insistence that this ability is what moral responsibility requires. I argue that moral responsibility requires an ability to take responsibility for one’s own health. I provide a re-conceptualization of moral badness as mental illness. Understanding bad characters as mentally ill allows us to hold them responsible for their own health. This vision of responsibility, however, must be partly constituted by the convictions of one’s society.

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