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Direct and derivative moral responsibility : An overlooked distinction in experimental philosophy


Willemsen, Pascale (2021). Direct and derivative moral responsibility : An overlooked distinction in experimental philosophy. PsyArXiv Preprints bz38e, University of Zurich.

Abstract

Moral philosophers draw an important distinction between two kinds of moral responsibility. An agent can be directly morally responsible, or they can be derivatively morally responsible. Direct moral responsibility, so many believe, presupposes that the agent could have behaved differently. However, in some situations, we hold agents responsible even though they could not have behaved differently, such as when they recklessly cause an accident or do not take adequate precautions to avoid harmful consequences. Moral philosophers typically argue that what we ascribe in these cases is derivative moral responsibility. In this paper, I apply this conceptual distinction to the experimental debate about so-called folk-compatibilism. I argue that experimental philosophers have failed to consider this distinction when designing experiments and interpreting their results. I demonstrate that while compatibilism requires judgments of direct moral responsibility, participants in some of the most influential studies ascribed derivative moral responsibility. For this reason, these studies do not speak in favour of compatibilism at all.

Abstract

Moral philosophers draw an important distinction between two kinds of moral responsibility. An agent can be directly morally responsible, or they can be derivatively morally responsible. Direct moral responsibility, so many believe, presupposes that the agent could have behaved differently. However, in some situations, we hold agents responsible even though they could not have behaved differently, such as when they recklessly cause an accident or do not take adequate precautions to avoid harmful consequences. Moral philosophers typically argue that what we ascribe in these cases is derivative moral responsibility. In this paper, I apply this conceptual distinction to the experimental debate about so-called folk-compatibilism. I argue that experimental philosophers have failed to consider this distinction when designing experiments and interpreting their results. I demonstrate that while compatibilism requires judgments of direct moral responsibility, participants in some of the most influential studies ascribed derivative moral responsibility. For this reason, these studies do not speak in favour of compatibilism at all.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Working Paper
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Philosophy
Dewey Decimal Classification:100 Philosophy
Uncontrolled Keywords:Derivative moral responsibility; direct moral responsibility; blame; Principle of Alternative Possibilities; compatibilism
Language:English
Date:2021
Deposited On:28 Oct 2021 15:27
Last Modified:27 Jan 2022 08:26
Series Name:PsyArXiv Preprints
ISSN:0010-9452
OA Status:Green
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/bz38e
  • Content: Updated Version
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)