Automaticity, consciousness and moral responsibility

Philosophical Psychology 20 (2):209-225 (2007)
Abstract
Cognitive scientists have long noted that automated behavior is the rule, while consciousness acts of self-regulation are the exception to the rule. On the face of it automated actions appear to be immune to moral appraisal because they are not subject to conscious control. Conventional wisdom suggests that sleepwalking exculpates, while the mere fact that a person is performing a well-versed task unthinkingly does not. However, our apparent lack of conscious control while we are undergoing automaticity challenges the idea that there is a relevant moral difference between these two forms of unconscious behavior. In both cases the agent lacks access to information that might help them guide their actions so as to avoid harms. In response it is argued that the crucial distinction between the automatic agent and the agent undergoing an automatism, such as somnambulism or petit mal epilepsy, lies in the fact that the former can preprogram the activation and interruption of automatic behavior. Given that, it is argued that there is elbowroom for attributing responsibility to automated agents based on the quality of their will
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