Regarding the connection between consciousness and FW/MR, a good many of y’all seemed pretty happy ditching phenomenal consciousness in favour of an explicitly functionalized notion. Maybe that’s because you haven’t thought about Zom. Zom is a pretty normal dude. He wears hats backwards. He tries unsuccessfully to be like Vince Vaughn. He thinks Sean Hannity is a smart person. He has a soft spot for the music of Matchbox 20. He can’t figure out if LeBron going back to Cleveland is a cold-blooded move or a heartwarming story or neither.
A few personal facts about Zom. Physically, he’s constituted just like a human agent would be. The main difference between Zom and you is twofold. First, Zom lacks phenomenal consciousness. Second, Zom has a fascination with what normal human beings call pain. Now, given the soft spot for Matchbox 20 and the judgment about Hannity, you might think Zom is not so sharp. But that’s not true: Zom is very sharp, and he has a considerable knowledge of the functional underpinnings of and social practices surrounding pain. Zom knows how pain works, he knows that people find it unpleasant, that they tend to blame the stuffing out of people who cause others pain, and many other such facts.
Gaze upon Zom (and despair): after thinking about whether he ought to do it, he kicks his friend’s dog in order to cause it pain. Is Zom morally responsible for causing the dog pain?
Well, Zom does not know what it is like to experience pain or pleasure – what it is like for an experience to be good or bad. So, arguably, Zom lacks phenomenal knowledge relevant to our case. Perhaps – and again arguably – Zom lacks more than this. Perhaps Zom lacks a certain kind of normative knowledge: knowledge of why pain is bad (for discussion of this point, see Guy Kahane’s paper here).
Here’s a plausible principle.
Excuse. One is not morally responsible for a typically wrong or blameworthy action A if one fails to understand why A is wrong or blameworthy, and one is not culpable for the failure of understanding.
Why think Excuse is plausible? It seems to underlie judgments about other cases. A four year old fails to understand why mentioning the truth about his uncle’s weight gain is typically a blameworthy thing to do (even if the four year old understands, because his father told him so, that mentioning how fat his uncle would be wrong). The four year old is therefore not responsible for hurting his uncle’s feelings (there are other cases, but this is getting long).
If you noticed a similarity with an argument Gary Watson advances regarding psychopaths, you get a good reader smiley face sticker. Watson notes that psychopaths have notorious deficits in empathy, and that it is possible that these deficits mean that psychopaths cannot but see any putatively moral norm as a merely conventional norm. Suppose psychopaths are like this: that they “cannot regard moral demands as anything more than coercive pressures” (p. 309 of this volume). According to Watson, such agents are normatively incompetent. And given their normative incompetence, it is infelicitous to blame them or to hold them accountable.
So let’s think again about Zom, after he has kicked the dog. We’ll tell him not to do that again, and we’ll shake our heads ruefully and say, “That Zom.” Should we blame Zom? For causing the dog pain? When Zom doesn’t understand why pain is bad? When pain’s badness is nothing more than a conventional norm to Zom? When Zom is blameless for his failure of understanding why pain is bad? (Here I’m channelling a bit of Gideon Rosen, who in this paper offers an argument in the vicinity.)
So perhaps it is infelicitous to hold a blamelessly morally ignorant agent responsible, where the blameless ignorance involves an inability to see the moral force of some moral consideration. Should we apply this kind of consideration to agents without phenomenal consciousness? If so, then regarding an important class of actions, namely, intentional inflictions of pain and suffering, an agent without phenomenal consciousness will be excused in virtue of blameless moral ignorance. Phenomenal consciousness will be necessary for at least this class of morally responsible actions.
Just for the record, I think there are flaws in this argument, I’ve got some counter-arguments, and indeed I am not inclined to accept the argument (on account of the counter-arguments). But I also think the argument is interesting enough to consider, and so without tainting things by discussing my own thoughts about this argument I want to open it up to readers for discussion.