Judgments of moral responsibility – a unified account

Recent work in experimental philosophy shows that folk intuitions about moral responsibility are sensitive to a surprising variety of factors. Whether people take agents to be responsible for their actions in deterministic scenarios depends on whether the deterministic laws are couched in neurological or psychological terms (Nahmias et. al. 2007), on whether actions are described abstractly or concretely, and on how serious moral transgression they seem to represent (Nichols & Knobe 2007). Finally, people are more inclined to hold an agent responsible for bringing about bad than for bringing about good side effects that the agent is indifferent about (Knobe 2003). Elsewhere, we have presented an analysis of the everyday concept of moral responsibility that provides a unified explanation of paradigmatic cases of moral responsibility, and accounts for the force of both typical excuses and the most influential skeptical arguments against moral responsibility or for incompatibilism. In this article, we suggest that it also explains the divergent and apparently incoherent set of intuitions revealed by these new studies. If our hypothesis is correct, the surprising variety of judgments stems from a unified concept of moral responsibility. -Knobe, J. (2003) Intentional Action and Side Effects in Ordinary Language. Analysis 63, pp.190–93. -Nahmias, E.; Coates, J.; Kvaran. T. (2007) Free will, moral responsibility, and mechanism: experiments on folk intuitions. Midwest studies in Philosophy XXXI -Nichols, S.; Knobe, J. (2007) Moral responsibility and determinism: the cognitive science of folk intuitions, Noûs 41:4, 663-685.
Keywords Moral responsibility  folk judgments  compatibilism  incompatibilism  Joshua Knobe  Shaun Nichols  Eddy Nahmias
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DOI 10.1111/j.1468-0068.2010.00813.x
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