Thursday, 3 August 2017

Moral Responsibility - Hard Cases



Sometimes, agents should not be held responsible for what they have done, for example because they lacked relevant information when acting, their reasoning was impaired or because they had insufficient control over their actions. However, it is controversial under which conditions we should refrain from attributing full responsibility.

On May 18, we looked at some such hard cases in a one day workshop. In the morning, speakers focused on non-clinical cases, in the afternoon, the focus was on impaired responsibility in individuals suffering from mental disorders.

In the first talk of the day, Philip Robichaud asked whether the presence of behavioural nudges make the nudged agent less praise- or blameworthy for what she has done under the influence of nudging. He argued that the extent to which agents' decisions are influenced does not differ fundamentally from other familiar cases where situational factors affect agents’ decisions.  The main problem Philip identified for being responsible for nudged actions lies in the fact that the changes in behaviour are the foreseen results of the interventions of another agent.

Lisa Bortolotti looked at the phenomenon of choice blindness and considered the extent to which we are responsible for choices which we make without being aware that we in fact made this choice. She argued that while we are frequently unaware of why we make a certain choice and may even be unaware of what choice we have made in certain experimental setups, we can still be responsible for our choices in as far as we endorse them and give reasons for them, thereby showing our commitment to them. This may even be the case when the choice we are endorsing is not in fact our original choice but a choice that we mistakenly take to be ours on the basis of experimental manipulation.


In his talk ‘Moral Responsibility and Unreasonable People’ James Lenman addressed the question whether psychopaths are morally responsible for their actions. He considered Stephen Morse’s and others claim that psychopaths might be exempted from moral responsibility because they do not care about morality and are, in Stephen Morse’s terms ‘morally colour blind’. James argued from a contractualist perspective that because psychopaths have reasons to sign up to a social contract of moral and legal rules and practices, they are legitimately held to its terms. For this reason, psychopaths' amoralism in itself does not exempt from moral responsibility, though other facets of psychopaths' impairments might still justify exemption. 

Marion Godman explored the notion of social environments sharing some of the responsibility for agents’ problematic behaviour and asked whether casinos enable gambling addicts and corporations enable psychopaths. She argued that casinos bear some of the responsibility for gambling addictions and may therefore be liable for damages to gambling addicts and their families. In contrast, while some corporations may foster psychopathic behaviour in their employees at the expense of society or clients, this makes them complicit with psychopathic behaviour rather than generating a responsibility towards psychopaths.

In the final talk of the day, Thomas Schramme introduced a research project which aims to explain moral agency and moral capacity by looking at cases where there are impairments in moral psychology and behaviour. He showed how a detailed empirically informed analysis of the deficits individuals with autism exhibit can inform both our understanding of the extent of their moral capacity as well as what is needed for moral capacity more generally. 

This very successful and thought-provoking workshop was made possible by the generous funding of the Leverhulme Trust as part of the project Mental Disorders, Brain Disorders and Moral Responsibility.

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