Bruce Waller (1946-2023)


Bruce Waller, professor emeritus of philosophy at Youngstown State University, has died.

Professor Waller was known for his work on free will and moral responsibility, authoring books such as Freedom Without Responsibility, Against Moral Responsibility, The Stubborn System of Moral Responsibility, The Injustice of Punishment, and Free Will, Moral Responsibility, and the Desire to Be a God, among others. You can learn more about his writings here and here.

Professor Waller taught at Youngstown State from 1990 until his retirement in 2019. He previously taught at Elon College (now Elon University). He earned his PhD at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in 1979.

Philosopher Gregg Caruso writes:

Bruce Waller was an innovative and inspiring philosopher who almost singlehandedly revitalized moral responsibility skepticism in the 1980s and 90s, making it a serious and attractive position for a whole new generation of philosophers. Not only did he present powerful arguments against the kind of moral responsibility needed to justify our desert-based attitudes, judgements, and treatments (such as resentment, indignation, moral anger, blame, and retributive punishment), he also developed a kind of error theory to diagnose our stubborn attachment to the moral responsibility system, which he argued is ultimately a harmful and dehumanizing set of practices and beliefs. Perhaps more than any other philosopher, Waller showed that by abandoning belief in moral responsibility and the notion of just deserts, we can look more clearly into the cause and more deeply into the systems that shape individuals and their behavior, and this will allow us to adopt more humane and effective practices and policies. Waller’s work will continue to inspire and challenge philosophers for generations to come.

He died on February 8th, 2023. There is an obituary here.

UPDATE: This post was updated with information provided by Robyn Waller, Bruce Waller’s daughter-in-law.

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Dane Leigh Gogoshin
1 year ago

I couldn’t agree more with Gregg. I am so grateful to have come across Bruce’s work when I did; it inspired my interest (and dissertation) in moral responsibility. I am also eternally grateful for his mentorship and will miss him terribly.