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Research Graduate School of Philosophy PhD ceremonies

Moral responsibility at the limits of awareness

PhD ceremony:Mr W.R. (Wessel) van Dommelen
When:November 03, 2022
Supervisors:prof. dr. F.A. (Frank) Hindriks, prof. dr. P. (Pauline) Kleingeld
Where:Academy building RUG
Moral responsibility at the limits of awareness

Moral responsibility concerns whether you are praise- or blameworthy for your actions. In order to be morally responsible, certain conditions need to be met. For instance, you need to be sufficiently sane to be morally responsible. Another condition, ‘the consciousness condition’, is that you need to be aware of the moral significance of what you do to be morally responsible for your action. If you do not know you are doing wrong, you cannot be blameworthy.

There have been a number of challenges to the consciousness condition. Findings in cognitive science challenge the causal efficacy of awareness on our actions. Furthermore, there are a number of cases at the limits of awareness in which an agent fails to meet the consciousness condition, but where that agent appears to be morally responsible. Examples come from habitual behavior, forgetting an appointment or misbehaving while drunk. 

In this dissertation I defend the consciousness condition against these challenges. I analyze the dynamics of moral responsibility across time. And I argue that, often when an agent seems to be morally responsible, this is due to a related action the agent is morally responsible for. In other cases, we have alternative explanations for why someone may appear morally responsible.