Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks: Intuition, Reason, and Responsibility
Keywords:responsibility, blame, blameworthiness, intuition, reason, reasons-responsiveness, control, ecological control, moral ecology, scaffolding, moral psychology, dual process, Jonathan Haidt
According to one highly influential approach to moral responsibility, human beings are responsible (eligible to be praised or blamed) for what they do because they are responsive to reasons (Fischer & Ravizza 1998). However, this amounts to a descriptive assumption about human beings that may not be borne out by the empirical research. According to a recent trend in moral psychology (Haidt 2001), most human judgment is caused by fast, nonconscious, and intuitive processes, rather than explicit, conscious deliberation about one’s reasons. And when humans do engage in explicit deliberation, it primarily serves to provide post hoc rationalization of their intuitive judgments (confabulation). If this is correct, it is tempting to conclude that most of our judgments—and the actions we perform on their basis—are not genuine responses to reasons. The reasons-responsiveness approach would thus appear to be committed to the implausible conclusion that we are not responsible for very much after all, including, most problematically, our implicit biases. I argue that the reasons-responsiveness approach can avoid this conclusion by showing three things: (1) that affective and intuitive processes can be reasons-responsive; (2) that the responsiveness of those processes can be bolstered by the agent’s environment; and (3) that practices like blame are one of the key ways in which human beings are attuned to reasons over time. I argue that the first and second of these items, despite their initial plausibility, are insufficient on their own to explain why humans can be held accountable for things like implicit biases, and that the way forward is to appreciate what holding each other accountable does—i.e., its effects.
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