Moral Responsibility and Consciousness

Journal of Moral Philosophy 9 (2):200-228 (2012)
Peter Carruthers
University of Maryland, College Park
Matt King
University of Alabama, Birmingham
Our aim in this paper is to raise a question about the relationship between theories of responsibility, on the one hand, and a commitment to conscious attitudes, on the other. Our question has rarely been raised previously. Among those who believe in the reality of human freedom, compatibilists have traditionally devoted their energies to providing an account that can avoid any commitment to the falsity of determinism while successfully accommodating a range of intuitive examples. Libertarians, in contrast, have aimed to show that either physical indeterminacy or a certain kind of agent causation can find a place in the world for what they take to be genuine freedom. Few have considered whether moral responsibility requires a commitment to conscious attitudes.2 Our question derives from a confluence of two sources. First, there is reason to think that conscious attitudes matter to theories of responsibility, either directly, as a result of the latter’s commitments, or indirectly, by virtue of the assumptions that they make about certain intuitive examples. Second, there is accumulating evidence suggesting that there aren’t any conscious mental states possessing the sorts of causal roles required of propositional attitudes. Since theorists of responsibility should in general be concerned to make their views compatible with plausible claims about the natural world, the implications of this data should be carefully considered. Our aim is therefore to motivate and begin exploring answers to the following conditional question: If it should turn out that there are no conscious attitudes, then what would be the implications of this fact (if any) for theories of responsibility? We propose that theorists who aren’t skeptics about moral responsibility should examine their accounts, asking whether their theories (or the examples that motivate them) could survive the discovery that there are no conscious judgments, decisions, or evaluations. Since we take it that moral theorizing in general should operate with the weakest possible empirical assumptions about the natural world, such theorists should consider whether their accounts could be motivated in such a way as to be free of any commitment to the existence of conscious attitudes..
Keywords psychology   consciousness   moral responsibility   Real Self views
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1163/174552412X625682
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 36,596
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Unconscious Perception Reconsidered.Ian Phillips - 2018 - Analytic Philosophy 59 (4):471-514.
Self-Expression: A Deep Self Theory of Moral Responsibility.Chandra Sripada - 2016 - Philosophical Studies 173 (5):1203-1232.
Implicit Bias, Awareness and Imperfect Cognitions.Jules Holroyd - 2015 - Consciousness and Cognition 33:511-523.

View all 9 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

A Role for Consciousness After All.Neil Levy - 2012 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 9 (2):255-264.
Control, Responsibility, and Moral Assessment.Angela M. Smith - 2008 - Philosophical Studies 138 (3):367 - 392.
About the Needlessness of the Verb “To Be”.Dan Simbotin - 2008 - Proceedings of the Xxii World Congress of Philosophy 15:231-236.
An Analysis of Semi-Compatibilism.Gan Hun Ahn - 2008 - Proceedings of the Xxii World Congress of Philosophy 15:7-12.
Misdirection on the Free Will Problem.Richard Double - 1997 - American Philosophical Quarterly 34 (3):359-68.
Responsibility and the Aims of Theory: Strawson and Revisionism.Manuel Vargas - 2004 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 85 (2):218-241.
Recent Work on Moral Responsibility.Elinor Mason - 2005 - Philosophical Books 46 (4):343-353.
Responsibility.Jonathan Glover - 1970 - New York: Humanities P..
The Revisionist's Guide to Responsibility.Manuel Vargas - 2005 - Philosophical Studies 125 (3):399-429.


Added to PP index

Total downloads
161 ( #37,873 of 2,303,825 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
8 ( #69,610 of 2,303,825 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Monthly downloads

My notes

Sign in to use this feature