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Moral Responsibility (Fall 2012)

Moral Responsibility

(Fall 2012 as PHIL 306: Contemporary Ethical Theory)


Many think that it's appropriate to punish criminals because they deserve it.  "They've got it coming to them." In contrast, we don't think that it's appropriate to retributively punish non-human animals. You don't lock a dog in a cage until it has paid for its sin.  No, you condition animals. They aren't responsible in the same way. Unlike dogs, we think that humans can be moral responsible for their actions.

In this class, we will explore the nature of moral responsibility and look at several related puzzles.  We will spend a few classes on free will. But this is not our focus. We will look at the major compatibilist contenders and how they approach questions such as the following:

1. What is moral responsibility? Is there just one kind of moral responsibility?

2. What must something have to be morally responsible? Does moral responsibility require control or the ability to do otherwise?

3. What is the significance of moral luck? (Why is an unlucky drunk driver any more responsible than a lucky drunk who makes it home safely?)

4. Does normative ignorance excuse the wrongdoer? Are we blameworthy for doing what we think is right?  (Does a dedicated, well-meaning Nazi deserve blame?)

5. Conversely, should we sometimes act against our best judgment? (Is Huck Finn praiseworthy for not turning in Jim?)

6. Are we responsible for our attitudes, emotions, and concerns?

7. What distinguishes the moral responsibility of animals from that of normal adult humans? Should we retributively punish animals? What about children?

8. Are psychopaths morally responsible for their actions?

This course presupposes no background in free will, though students will be expected to familiarize themselves with the area once the semester begins.  I recommend reading the first few chapters of Kane's short introductory book on free will before the semester begins.


First Exam

Final Exam

External Resources