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Moral Responsibility as Explanation

Research project The project concerns various questions relating to moral responsibility: Can we be responsibile for actions that are ultimately explained by factors outside our control? Can a group of people be responsible for an event that no individual could prevent?

The project concerns various questions relating to moral responsibility: Can we be responsibile for actions that are ultimately explained by factors outside our control? Can a group of people be responsible for an event that no individual could prevent? How is responsibility distributed in complex socio-economic systems? The key to understanding and beginning to answer these and other questions about moral responsibility is to understand how attributions of moral responsibility for various events are related to explanations of these events.

Head of project

Gunnar Björnsson
Other position
E-mail
Email

Project overview

Project period:

2016-01-23 2019-12-31

Funding

The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences, 2013-2015: SEK 3,105,000
John Templeton Foundation, 2012-2013: SEK 400,000
The Swedish Research Council: 2016-2019: SEK 2,840,000

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious studies, Faculty of Arts

Research area

Philosophy and philosophy of science

Project description

In folk morality, considerations of moral responsibility play a central role in the distribution of blame, praise, punishments and rewards. They affect our interaction with other individuals and our immediate feelings of indignation or guilt, but also the shape of public policy governing health and insurance policies as well as international treaties distributing costs for joint international enterprises and restoration of land. At the same time, ascriptions of moral responsibility raise deep problems. First, many find it hard to reconcile moral responsibility with the naturalistic idea that our actions are causally determined by genetic, environmental and contextual factors. Consequently, discussions of sceptical arguments from determinism or indeterminism constitute one major traditional field of philosophical inquiry. Second, many of the most urgent issues today concern the effects of the behaviour and decisions of a great number of people, either through environmental or economic effects or through voting and other political behaviour or lack thereof. This raises questions concerning to what extent individuals can share responsibility for outcomes over which they had no individual control, and to what extent organised collectives such as nations or corporations can be morally responsible for outcomes of their behaviour.

The project Moral Responsibility as Explanation approaches these and other problems about moral responsibility from a new angle, beginning with an empirical account of why our attributions of moral responsibility display the patterns they do. With such an account, we can understand why people are prone to scepticism when considering the possibility of determinism or thinking about external causes of actions, and why people are tempted to attribute shared moral responsibility to groups and to hold nations and corporations responsible while being worried that lack of individual control undermines responsibility. And with that understanding, we are better placed to think clearly about moral responsibility and to engage appropriately in practices of holding people responsible.

The project is conducted in close collaboration with the Moral Responsibility research initiative at the University of Gothenburg. For more information, see http://phil.gu.se/moralresponsibility/