Moral responsibility and consciousness: two challenges, one solution

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Until recently, most philosophers seem implicitly to have assumed that consciousness is necessary for moral responsibility; this is, moreover, an assumption that seems built into the law. Under the pressure of scientific evidence and independent philosophical argument, some philosophers now reject that assumption. Against these philosophers, I argue that we need to be conscious of the facts that make our actions morally significant in order to be morally responsible for them. I present two separate defences of this claim. First, I argue that actions caused by unconscious attitudes do not express good or ill will toward others. Second, I argue that such actions do not express our evaluative agency. Finally, I turn to some alleged empirical evidence against the claim that we can be conscious of our volitions, and show how the defence offered is immune to this challenge.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNeuroscience and legal responsibility
EditorsNicole A Vincent
Place of PublicationOxford, UK
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9780199925605
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • consciousness
  • moral responsibility
  • reactive attitudes
  • Libet
  • law


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