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Workshop on Agency and Responsibility

Gothenburg, September 18-19 2015

This workshop looks at a number of foundational issues in the philosophy of moral responsibility.

Venue: Olof Wijksgatan 6, T219 (Friday morning & Saturday) & T307 (Friday afternoon)

Open for outside participants; let us know if you are interested.


Speakers:

Dana Nelkin (UC San Diego)
David Shoemaker (Tulane University)
Saul Smilansky (University of Haifa)
Manuel Vargas (University of San Francisco)
Gunnar Björnsson (Umeå University, University of Gothenburg)

(Unfortunately, Michael McKenna had to cancel his participation in the workshop.)


Commentators:

Sofia Jeppsson (Stockholm University)
Benjamin Matheson (University of Gothenburg)
Per-Erik Milam (University of Gothenburg)
Paul Russell (University of Gothenburg, UBC Vancouver)
Andras Szigeti (Linköping University)

 

Schedule:

Friday, September 18
10:00-10:15 Coffee, tea
10:15-10:30 Welcome
10:30-12:15 Manuel Vargas, “Retribution and Blame”; comments by Per-Erik Milam
12:15–14.00 Lunch
14:00-15:45 David Shoemaker, “Response-Dependent Responsibility”; comments by András Szigeti
15:45-16:15 Coffee, tea, fruit
16:15-17:15 Brainstorming session: future of the GRP
19:30 Dinner at Restaurant Mikado

Saturday, September 19
10:00-10:15 Coffee, tea
10:15-12:00 Dana Nelkin, “Accountability and Desert”; comments by Sofia Jeppsson
12:00–13.30 Lunch
13:30-15:00 Gunnar Björnsson, “Choice, Blame, and the Explanatory Condition on Responsibility”
15:00-15:30 Coffee, tea, fruit
15:30-17:15 Saul Smilansky, “Free Will, Time, and Illusion”; comments by Benjamin Matheson


Abstracts:

Dana Nelkin: Accountability and Desert

In recent decades, participants in the debate about whether we are free and responsible agents have increasingly begun their papers or books by fixing the terms “free” and “responsible” in clear ways to avoid misunderstanding. This is an admirable development, and while some misunderstandings have certainly been avoided, and positions better illuminated as a result, new and interesting questions also arise. Two ways of fixing these terms and identifying the underlying concepts have emerged as especially influential, one that takes the freedom required for responsibility to be understood in terms of accountability and the other in terms of desert. In this paper, I start by asking: are theorists talking about the same things, or are they really participating in two different debates? Are desert and accountability mutually entailing? I then tentatively conclude that they are mutually entailing. Coming to this conclusion requires making finer distinctions among various more specific and competing accounts of both accountability and desert. Whether in the end the thesis that the two notions come apart is true, exploring the more finely specified accounts can help us see in a more fine-grained way the things we care most about in the free will and responsibility debate.

 

David Shoemaker: Response-Dependent Responsibility

There are many contested features of P.F. Strawson’s “Freedom and Resentment,” but perhaps the most contested is his view about the response-dependent nature of responsibility. The basic idea is that being responsible is a function of being held responsible, that our reactive attitudes and responsibility practices actually define the nature and contours of what it means to be a responsible agent. Strawson himself, as well as sympathetic interpreters, merely states this view, and no actual argument has, to my mind, yet been presented to support it. My aim in this paper will be to provide such an argument, along with a sustained defense. I will do so by drawing on some insightful recent work in metaethics on sentimentalism about value, as well as by providing an extended analogy to humor. In Part I, I will argue for and defend a response-dependent theory of the funny. In Part II, I will show how one paradigm responsibility-response is nearly perfectly analogous to the our humor responses in a way that lends burden-shifting support to the view that the type of responsibility that that response targets is in fact response-dependent. I then defend this view from numerous possible objections.

 

Smilansky: Free Will, Time, and Illusion

Consider the following three statements:

When deciding in the present, no one can really think as a hard determinist.
In retrospect, if there is no libertarian free will, thinking (as least to some extent) as a hard determinist is very compelling.
Time cannot really matter within the free will problem.

I wish to explore the tension between these statements, and more generally to look at the role that time plays in free will and moral responsibility. I claim that the role of time brings out the strangeness of the free will problem in interesting ways, and that exploring this role makes it very difficult to stick to a monistic compatibilist or hard determinist position. Finally, I show how the strange role of time in free will and moral responsibility raises the need for illusion. Illusion saves us from getting our timing wrong; thereby risking our morality and our sense of value.

 

Manuel Vargas: Retribution and Blame

A number of philosophers have thought that blameworthiness of the sort that figures in retributive punishment is central for understanding debates about free will. However, the precise relationship between blame and retribution is unclear. Indeed, the relationship between retributive attitudes, blame, and punishment raises a number of puzzles for some familiar ways of thinking about blame and retribution. This paper is an effort to clarify the relationship between these issues, and offers a new account of the scope and limits of blame and retribution.

 

Gunnar Björnsson: Choice, Blame, and the Explanatory Condition on Responsibility

Suppose that you fail to save people that you could easily have saved, knew how to save, was uniquely placed to save, and had no strong reasons not to save. Then you would seem morally to blame for your failure to save them, and perhaps even morally to blame for their death. As I argue in this paper, however, there are such cases where you are nevertheless not responsible for the tragic outcome. In the first section, I introduce the relevant kind of case. In the second, I sketch a general account of blame—moral and non-moral—that fits with quality of will accounts of moral blame, explain how this account predicts the relevant sort of puzzle case, and show that such cases can be constructed for other kinds of blame too. In the third and main section, I explain how this diagnosis undermines George Sher’s recent account of blameworthiness, as well the claim that agent libertarianism is better suited than event libertarianism for avoiding the problem of luck.

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