Conscious Will, Reason-Responsiveness, and Moral Responsibility

The Journal of Ethics 17 (3):205-232 (2013)
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Empirical evidence challenges many of the assumptions that underlie traditional philosophical and commonsense conceptions of human agency. It has been suggested that this evidence threatens also to undermine free will and moral responsibility. In this paper, I will focus on the purported threat to moral responsibility. The evidence challenges assumptions concerning the ability to exercise conscious control and to act for reasons. This raises an apparent challenge to moral responsibility as these abilities appear to be necessary for morally responsible agency. I will argue that this challenge collapses once the underlying conditions on moral responsibility are specified in sufficient detail. I will argue, in other words, that the empirical evidence does not support a challenge to the assumption that we are, in general, morally responsible agents. In the final section, I will suggest that empirical research on human agency is nevertheless relevant to various questions about moral responsibility

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