When are people responsible for their actions? According to Simon Blackburn’s theory of “Soft Determinism” people are responsible for their actions as long as true and available information is possessed. Blackburn’s short story revises the compatibilist definition several times. The revised revised definition reads as follows: The subject acted freely if she could have done otherwise in the right sense. This means that she would have done otherwise if she had chosen differently and, under the impact of other true and available thoughts or considerations, she would have chosen differently. True and available thoughts and considerations are those that represent her situation accurately, and are ones that she could reasonably be expected to have taken account; . . . (Blackburn 150) This definition on compatabibilism states that once one is aware of all of the true and available information they are responsible for their choices.
Using Blackburn’s theory of compatabilism and comparing it to the characters in Flannery O’Conner’s short story “A Good man is hard to find” one notices that one can never tell what their choices may bring. Blackburn writes about the most ridiculous human decisions and relishes the choices that are made. Blackburn would like the grandmother in the O’Conner story and her demeanor. For instance he would have liked how the Grandmother manipulates the following situations. When she remarks to her son Bailey that she would not take her own children to a state that an escaped convict (the misfit) was headed for on vacation. She changes the trip to suit her needs by manipulating her son, and she decides to secretly take her cat. The grandmother should have thought about the consequences and taken into consideration the fact that the cat could get squeamish in the car. Also after the accident, that is caused by the loose cat in the car, jumping on her son Bailey’s neck. The misfit stops with his accomplices to help the family that is stranded off the side of the road.
While the misfit is assessing the situation, the grandmother blurts out “You’re the Misfit! I recognized you at once”(O’Conner 1208). She should have considered what would happen before she spoke. This may have saved her family from what was about to happen. The grandmother then tries to recover her mistake be saying “I know you’re a good man. You don’t look a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people.” (O’Conner 1208). By this time the grandmother is desperate, she seems to be saying these things only to fool herself, and her family is assassinated one by one. According to the revised revised definition the grandmother could have made a different choice with the true and available information that is provided to her by the misfit. A different choice may have led to a different outcome. Although she was not responsible for the murder of her family, her choices are the reason the family was on that particular road at that particular time.
On the other hand Bailey knew his mother is pushy and manipulative. Bailey gives into his mother and his children by conceding to stop at the plantation at his mother’s request saying “All right, but get this. This is the only time we are going to stop for anything like this. This is the one and only time” (O’Conner 1206). Bailey had the choice, he obviously didn’t want to take the detour, yet he complied with the help of his mother’s manipulation. According to Blackburn’s theory, Bailey is responsible once he has true and available information. Blackburn response to Bailey might be that because he had true and available information about his mother that he should have made different decisions; especially since he was the one driving, you can’t get more control than that. Once the Misfit and his accomplices decide to murder the family, Bailey is aware of what is going to happen and he says” Listen we’re in a terrible predicament! Nobody realizes what this is”(O’Conner 1209).
Although there is no right or wrong decision there are beneficial and nonbeneficial decisions. Bailey chose to do nothing, that decision was nonbeneficial to his whole family. Bailey could have chosen differently in every step along the way. The thoughts and consideration differ from person to person as do motives. Bailey wanted to take his family on a vacation. The grandmother wants to visit her friends in a different state. Who is to say who was right and wrong, it is more about the decisions one makes that shape who they are. Bailey is an angry pushover and the grandmother is manipulative and conniving towards her son and his family. I’m sure if the grandmother knew she would run into the Misfit, she wouldn’t have asked the family to take that route. Similarly Bailey would not have gone down that road at his mother’s request if he any inkling of the coming events. The point is our decisions are our responsibility. These decisions help to make Blackburn’s point that people can make different choices with all of the true and available information.
•O’Conner, Flannery, “A Good Man is hard to find”, The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Bausch, Richard and Cassill R.V., Seventh Edition, W.W. Norton and Company Inc.,2006 • Blackburn, Simon, “Soft Determinism”, Ethics for Modern Life Abelson, Raziel and Friquegnon, Marie-Louise, Sixth Edition Boston, Bedford/St. Martin’s,2003