Consciousness and moral responsibility

Research output: Book/ReportBook

Abstract

Cognitive neuroscience and psychology provide a great deal of evidence that our actions are often shaped by information of which we are not conscious; some psychologists have concluded that we are actually conscious of very few of the facts we respond to. But most people seem to assume that we need to be conscious of the facts we respond to in order to be morally responsible for what we do. Some thinkers have argued that this naive assumption is wrong, and we need not be conscious of these facts to be responsible, while others think it is correct and therefore we are never responsible. This book argues both views are wrong. It sets out and defends a particular account of consciousness—the global workspace theory—and argues that this account entails that consciousness plays an especially important role in agency. We exercise sufficient control over the moral significance of our acts to be responsible for them only when we are conscious of the facts that give to our actions their moral character. Further, our actions are expressive of who we are as moral agents only when we are conscious of these same facts. There are therefore good reasons to think that the naive assumption, that consciousness is needed for moral responsibility, is in fact true. The book suggests that this entails that people are responsible less often than we might have thought, but the consciousness condition does not entail that we are never morally responsible.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford, UK
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages151
ISBN (Print)9780198704638
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

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