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The Human Mind Project

School of Advanced Study, University of London

The Human Mind Project
30 MIN2016 SEP 26
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School of Advanced Study

Agency, Morals & the Mind

Morals, Culture and Society

Responsibility as a Social Construction
Catherine Wilson | Anniversary Professor of Philosophy, University of York

From an empirical perspective, it is important for an animal to distinguish between its own doings, the kinds of actions over which it exerts control, and things that 'just happen' to it. However, the distinction is not precise, and the animal is, after all, just a complicated mechanism in which and to which things happen. When we move into the realm of human agency, the distinction between doings and happenings becomes extremely vague, yet at the same time hugely important because of the ways in which we punish people for what we regard as deliberate offenses, including moral offenses and criminal actions. Metaphysicans have tried but have not succeeded in defining freewill and responsibility for us, let alone in showing that they are more than conceptual fictions linked to subjective feelings of ownership, pride, guilt, etc. In this talk, I'll argue that we can and sometimes do employ a notion of the ownership of actions based on intuitive estimates of what social learning can or can't accomplish by way of modifying attitudes and behaviour, and I'll comment on its advantages and disadvantages.

The Human Mind Project