The Montreal Neuroethics Network (MNN) is pleased to announce the upcoming “Montreal Neuroethics Conference for Young Researchers” on April 17th, 2015.
“The neurobiology of morality”
by Dr. James Blair, National Institutes of Health, Unit on Affective Cognitive Neuroscience
This one-day international conference is aimed at young researchers, trainees, and students from all fields interested in neuroethics. Attendees will have the opportunity to present their own work as well as attend panels hosted by leading researchers in the field. We will also be hosting an essay competition and winning papers will be candidates for fast-tracked publication in a special issue of the journal Neuroethics. A limited number of travel awards will be granted to successful applicants.
Information regarding essay and abstract submission will be circulated soon. Should you wish to contact us, please send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The SSPP is meeting in New Orleans this year. So, it ought to be a good time! Below you can find the CFP. Hopefully, a number of readers of this blog submit something. We could have a Flickers of Freedom night on the town! Just a thought...
I wanted to post a few comments aimed at both authors and readers of the blog.
For authors: When you post something, it is really helpful if you make sure that you select all of the categories that are relevant to your post. In the event that there isn't a salient category, you should be able to create one that it suitable. If not, let me know and I will create the new category on your behalf. By tagging posts with all of the applicable categories, it makes it easier for readers to find posts about specific topics--which is a very helpful tool (especially for students who may use this blog as a resource). Because you know the content of your posts better than anyone, it's easier for you to select the categories than it is for me since I first have to read the post and then go back and select the categories. Sometimes I remember to take the time to do this on the author's behalf, but it often slips my mind.
For readers: I run very few ads on this blog (and several of the ads that I have run I have run without charging fees--e.g., the Ergo ad). So, I am not especially worried about advertising revenue. But I am nevertheless interested in growing the readership of the blog since I humbly think this is one of the most interesting and active philosophy blogs on the web (thanks to all of the authors who post and comment). Plus, the more readers who are directed here the more exposure is given to the work of the featured authors. So, it would be really helpful if people could use the social media tools at the bottom of each post to help spread the word. Whether you use FB or Twitter, you can quickly spread the word about each post. If you'd like me to add any other quick links--e.g., Pinterest--just let me know and I can easily add new links. But given how little effort is required on your end and given how much additional traffic can be generated by quickly sharing a post, it would be greatly appreciated if more readers took the time to spread the word! I am continually trying to grow our community here at Flickers. So, anything you can do to help is welcomed!
OK, that's it for now. Thanks as always for being a member of the community here at Flickers of Freedom! If you have any other suggestions for how I can improve the blog, please let me know in the comment thread!
Alan White brought the following post over at Daily Nous to my attention--which is about a new article by Adam Feltz and Florian Cova about the studies that have been run thus far on free will beliefs. Their paper can be found here. Let me know what you think in the comment threads! I think this represents a positive development for experimental philosophy of action--although there are some problems with how they run the meta-analysis (as they note).
I want to transition now to discussing the nature of blame and blaming. To begin with, let's consider a 'puzzle' about blameworthiness. It begins with a question: When does someone stop being blameworthy (BW) for something? There are only two answers to this question. First, BW eventually runs out/dissipates/expires. We can usefully call this the expiration date view (though this is an approximation). The second possible answer is that BW never expires.
Suppose that someone acts wrongly today, and is responsible for doing so. I take it they are BW. We can use any account of BW we like. Maybe they acted on reasons-responsive mechanism, the action expressed an ill quality of will or was expressive of their whole self, or was agent-caused in the presence of robust and genuine alternatives, or came from wholeheartedly endorsed desires or other mental states for which one was ultimately responsible, etc. In short, suppose they satisfy your favorite account’s sufficient conditions on BW.
So, I take it they are BW for x. But surely they are still BW for x tomorrow. And the next day. And next week. Indeed, because what explains why they are BW for x is that they meet the sufficient conditions on BW with respect to x, they will indefinitely satisfy those very conditions with respect to x. Another way to say the same thing is that on each subsequent day, what makes it true that they are BW is the same (past) fact.
And so, it seems to me there is no expiration date on BW. Thus, the BW are interminably so. Once BW for x, one is always BW for x.
On its own, this result might not pose too much difficulty. Our pasts are littered with such facts (e.g., it will always be true of me that I was born in Virginia). But consider that the BW just are those that are worthy of blame. But if the BW are interminably BW, then they are interminably worthy of blame.
I take it that that there are independent worries about blaming another indefinitely for some transgression. Perhaps this can be justified with really serious offenses, but nothing about interminable blameworthiness has so far required the wrong to be a serious one.
So, if it is the case that, generally, one cannot blame indefinitely, but the BW are indefinitely worthy of blame, then we have a puzzle. How can it be that they are worthy of blame and yet we cannot blame them indefinitely?
I’m less interested here in my ‘solution’ to the puzzle than what others make of it. (Another instance of my favoring brevity.) Just to give the puzzle some grip, however, notice that it puts *some* pressure on accounts in which blame is a form of sanction, since sanctions are obviously objectionable if delivered indefinitely.
In thinking about what our theories of moral responsibility should be about, I’ve also been thinking about responsibility’s connection to moral theory. Here’s just one such connection that interests me.
Here’s a naïve view about the relation between blameworthiness and wrongdoing. BW = responsibility + wrongdoing. Or, less substantively, wrongdoing is required for BW. I call it naïve, not because I think it’s false, but because it is relatively simple and obvious (though not obviously true).
The naïve view is not particularly popular, though. A standard view, perhaps *the* standard view, regarding excuses characterizes them as considerations that eliminate or mitigate responsibility for wrongdoing. On the standard view, an excuse shows that, though what was done was wrong, the agent is not responsible (or not *as* responsible) for doing so (see, e.g., Austin, “A Plea for Excuses”).
But I don’t think the standard view can be right as a general account of excuses. I have, roughly, three reasons for thinking this. First, there is a range of excuses in which the standard view gets the wrong result. It says the action is wrong but it isn’t. Second, it generates very substantive, and potentially worrisome, moral commitments. Third, it fails to get something right about the connection between wrongdoing and agency. In the interests of space, I’ll only go through the first of these, but I’m happy to discuss the others in the comments.
Jason Shepard, Shane Reuter, and I have a paper that is coming out in Cognition about people's judgments about free will in scenarios describing perfect prediction based on prior neural activity (short answer: most of our participants are OK with that and think such technology is possible). I don't want to detract from Matt's discussions, and we already discussed these ideas when I was featured author, but the online version of the article is free til Oct 30, so I wanted people to have the link if they want to see it:
I said that not only did I think a theory of moral responsibility should account for both BW and PW, but I had an argument to that effect. Well, it’s time for that argument. Or, more accurately, it’s time for me to say a bit more about why I think BW and PW are importantly related, and why the responsibility relation explains that relation. But the argument also allows me to say something about why I constantly ‘equivocate’ between talk of responsibility and talk of moral responsibility. Plus, the argument *also* serves as a critique of Strawsonian approaches to responsibility, a la Wallace, who take facts about the appropriateness of holding responsible to be explanatorily prior to facts about being responsible. So you’re getting great value here.
There is a popular approach to explaining moral responsibility that begins with our practices of holding each other responsible. On this approach, our practices of holding agents responsible are explanatorily prior to the fact of their being responsible: “[i]t is not that we hold people responsible because they are responsible; rather, the idea…that we are responsible is to be understood by the practice [of holding responsible]” (Watson “Limits of Evil”, 258; his italics).
Despite all that can be said for this practice-based model, I am attracted to a different picture of responsibility. On this approach, it is the fact of being responsible which is explanatorily prior and upon which our practices of holding others responsible should depend. Call this the prior-fact model.
Here I just want to sketch an explanatory virtue of the prior-fact model. What I’ll claim is that it explains a range of cases that involve considerations that undermine blameworthiness and praiseworthiness, which the practice-based model, whatever its other merits, has difficulty in explaining.
I’m constantly struck by how often talk of moral responsibility becomes talk only of blameworthiness. I think blameworthiness (BW) and praiseworthiness (PW) are intimately related, lying on opposite ends of a spectrum, and both bearing an important relation to responsibility. It seems to me a desideratum for a theory of responsibility that it gives an account of both. When I see accounts that exclude PW (e.g., Wallace; Darwall), I think the omission counts against such theories.
Some disagree with this, for they don’t think BW and PW are closely related. If someone like me thinks responsibility must be about both and someone else thinks it should be about BW alone, then we are more likely to talk past one another. More to the point, if we can’t agree on what it is we’re trying to give accounts of, then it’s hard to see how we can compare our theories fruitfully.
All this led me to wonder whether we could agree on a set of desiderata for a theory of moral responsibility. This would seem to have lots of benefits. Evaluating theories requires having some stable points of reference. To say that Theory A is preferable to Theory B means that it does better in some respect. It might be simpler, but with the same explanatory power as its competitors. It might be broader, explaining more of the domain. But if we can’t even agree on what needs explained, we will have more and more difficulty ensuring that our competing theories are proper competitors.
So, what are the desiderata for a theory of moral responsibility? Should it capture both BW and PW? Should it justify punishment or retributive conduct? Must it reference ‘free will’? Must it require ‘control’?
In short, is there anything an account must explain in order to count as a theory of responsibility? Anything the failure of which to explain would give us grounds to reject the view?