Enhancing responsibility: Directions for an interdisciplinary investigation

Dissertation, Universidade Federal de Santa Maria (2018)
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[Note: articles 1-5 are in English; Intro, Discussion, and Conclusion are in Portuguese.] Responsibility practices that are part of our daily lives involve, among other things, standards about how one should praise, blame, or punish people for their actions, as well as particular acts that follow those standards to a greater or lesser extent. A classical question in philosophy asks whether human beings can actually be morally responsible for what they do. This dissertation argues that addressing this classical question is insufficient if one wants the investigation of moral responsibility to serve the goal of improving ordinary responsibility practices. As an alternative, I offer directions for an interdisciplinary investigation that I take to be in a better position to promote that goal. My argument is developed in five articles and a discussion section. The first four articles describe limitations of skeptical views, which deny the existence of moral responsibility. The first article assesses a skeptical argument based on results from neuroscience that intends to show that there is no free will. I argue that a premise in the argument—which says that choices are determined by events in the brain—is not supported by the available results. The second article argues that, despite the fact that existent results do not show that choices are determined by brain events, further studies in neuroscience could in principle do that. The third article begins the discussion of limitations that concern the implementability of some of the changes in responsibility practices recommended in skeptical approaches. Specifically, I describe challenges that attempts to reduce the severity of legal punishment are likely to face due to psychological facts about belief in free will and desire to punish. The forth article presents results from an original experiment that sought to test a hypothesis about the workings of belief in free will and the desire to punish, namely the hypothesis that the desire to punish causally affects beliefs about free will. Results failed to support the hypothesis. Finally, the fifth article presents what I call the enhancement model, i.e., a proposal about how to structure an interdisciplinary investigation that can promote the enhancement of ordinary responsibility practices. The final discussion section shows how the enhancement model overcomes some of the limitations of recent discussions about the existence of moral responsibility, which includes not just the skeptical views considered in earlier articles, but also views that affirm the existence of moral responsibility and free will. The central claim of this dissertation, therefore, is that the investigation of moral responsibility can be rearranged so as to further the goal of improving ordinary responsibility practices.

Author's Profile

Marcelo Fischborn
Instituto Federal Farroupilha


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