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Moral Psychology and Human AgencyPhilosophical Essays on the Science of Ethics$
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Justin D'Arms and Daniel Jacobson

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780198717812

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198717812.001.0001

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Knowing What We Are Doing

Knowing What We Are Doing

Chapter:
(p.108) 5 Knowing What We Are Doing
Source:
Moral Psychology and Human Agency
Author(s):

Heidi Maibom

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198717812.003.0005

It is tempting to flesh out the idea that responsibility presupposes a degree of knowledge in terms of conscious awareness. If an agent is unaware of what she is doing, then she cannot be held responsible for it. Typically, an agent is aware of what she is doing by being aware of her reasons for doing it, at least in part. This chapter considers whether we can hold agents responsible for acting on reasons that she is not aware of acting on. This question is particularly pertinent now that we know that nonconscious mental processes form the bulk of mental activity. The chapter looks at two types of cases where our thoughts and actions are the result of unconscious thoughts and processes: various forms of situational influences (the bystander effect, priming, etc.) and projection (classical, functional, and attributional). Neither, the chapter argues, excludes responsibility. But to explain how someone can be responsible for thoughts or actions that are based in unconscious reasons of this sort requires us to develop a somewhat different idea of what is epistemically required for responsibility. The focus is no longer on consciously accessible mental states—be they reasons, deliberations, or representations of actions under certain descriptions—or on identification or deep selves, but on our capacity for self-scrutiny.

Keywords:   responsibility, situational influences, self-reflection, neglect

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