Moral Incapacity and Huckleberry Finn



Bernard Williams distinguishes moral incapacities – incapacities that are themselves an expression of the moral life – from mere psychological ones in terms of deliberation. Against Williams I claim there are examples of such moral incapacity where no possible deliberation is involved – that an agent's incapacity may be a primitive feature or fact about their life. However Michael Clark argues that my claim here leaves the distinction between moral and psychological incapacity unexplained, and that an adequate understanding of the kind of examples I suggest must involve at least some implicit reference to deliberation. In this paper I attempt to meet Clark's objection and further clarify my account of primitive moral incapacities by considering an example from Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. What this example shows, I argue, is how our characterization of an agent's response as a moral incapacity turns not on the idea of deliberation but on the way certain primitive incapacities for action are connected to a larger pattern of response in an agent's life, a pattern of response that itself helps to constitute our conception of that agent's character and the moral life more generally.