Consciousness and Moral Responsibility

Consciousness and Moral Responsibility

Neil Levy

Language: English

Pages: 176

ISBN: 0198704631

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Neil Levy presents an original theory of freedom and responsibility. Cognitive neuroscience and psychology provide a great deal of evidence that our actions are often shaped by information of which we are not conscious; some psychologists have concluded that we are actually conscious of very few of the facts we respond to. But most people seem to assume that we need to be conscious of the facts we respond to in order to be responsible for what we do. Some thinkers have argued that this naive assumption is wrong, and we need not be conscious of these facts to be responsible, while others think it is correct and therefore we are never responsible. Levy argues that both views are wrong. He sets out and defends a particular account of consciousness--the global workspace view--and argues this account entails that consciousness plays an especially important role in action. We exercise sufficient control over the moral significance of our acts to be responsible for them only when we are conscious of the facts that give to our actions their moral character. Further, our actions are expressive of who we are as moral agents only when we are conscious of these same facts. There are therefore good reasons to think that the naive assumption, that consciousness is needed for moral responsibility, is in fact true. Levy suggests that this entails that people are responsible less often than we might have thought, but the consciousness condition does not entail that we are never morally responsible.

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way short of perfect rationality. However, we do well enough (as the success of science attests) to make the problem a pressing one: how do we suc­ ceed in being approximately rational, even some of the time, given that approximate rationality requires holistic information processing? The problem is a pressing one because the brain does not seem well designed for domain-general information processing. Rather, the brain seems to be organized into a large set of (functionally) discrete information

executive functions (like frontal and prefrontal cortices) are engaged by conscious process­ ing than by nonconscious, and another to show that these activated areas form a GNWS whereby information is made accessible to many distinct mechanisms. The problem the GWST is supposed to solve, remember, is the problem of showing how domain-general processing is possible. It arises from the fact that there is a multiplicity of distinct and dissociable mechanisms in the brain that run in parallel; show­

as informa­ tion from widely distributed mental mechanisms is integrated into a single conscious representation (or a small number of simultaneously conscious representations), and divergence inasmuch as this state is then broadcast to (or made accessible to) a broad range of consuming systems.6 Dissenting Voices? While the integration consensus is wide and deep, there are a few voices of dissent. In this section, I will discuss two of the more plaus­ ible objections to the account. Before

attitudes seems even stronger. It is difficult to know how to demarcate classes in this terrain. But there is good reason to think that the claim that implicit attitudes belong to the class of judgment-dependent attitudes carves up the territory in such a way as to obscure central characteristics of such attitudes. These attitudes are, as we just saw, acquired in ways that bypass rational control, and they are altered in ways that resemble those in which they are acquired. Indeed, as Gendler

an ‘affordance’ is a manner of behaving associated with that object (“raising it to one’s lips” is an affordance of a cup; “pressing it” is an affordance of a button, and so on). A range of evidence sug­ gests that action scripts are triggered automatically by the perception of affordances and other cues for overlearned behaviors and that, as a consequence of such activation, the system prepares for the appropri­ ate behavior, probably in part because generating the motor represen­ tations

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