Action Theory

By In Action Theory, Character, Ideas, Moral Responsibility Comments (21)

Manipulation Cases and Responsibility: What’s doing the work?

I’ll try to keep this brief, and so will likely run roughshod over important points. I’m curious about what’s doing the work on our intuitions in so-called manipulation cases when people deploy them to theorize about responsibility. These are cases in which someone is one way, values-wise, and then her brain is manipulated by a team of neuroscientists/god to produce within her a new set of values (or subset of values), so that she now performs some action for which she is not responsible — or at least that’s what our intuitions are supposed to be.


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By In Action Theory, Announcements, Moral Responsibility Comments Off on NOWAR 4 Program

NOWAR 4 Program

The program for the 4th biennial New Orleans Workshop on Agency and Responsibility (NOWAR 4) has been set. It is pasted below the fold. The workshop takes place in New Orleans on November 2-4, 2017, and this year it kicks off with an open discussion on the foundations of moral responsibility, with Michael McKenna, Dana Nelkin, Chandra Sripada, and David Shoemaker. The three keynote speakers this year are Jeanette Kennett, Michael S. Moore, and Angela Smith. Registration is free, and just requires an email to David Shoemaker (dshoemak AT tulane DOT edu). Information about lodging (with a reserved hotel block) to be found soon on the Murphy Institute website.


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By In Action Theory, Ideas, Metaethics, Practical Rationality, Practical reasons, Reasons and rationality, Value Theory Comments (4)

Decisive Reasons and Rational Supererogation

I have a roughly formulated and half-baked inquiry:

Suppose that rationality endorses maximizing utility, but there is room for rational supererogation, and so it is sometimes rationally permissible to drink a coffee even if doing so does not maximize utility.

Would you say that there is no decisive reason against drinking the coffee because, although drinking the coffee is rationally inferior to another available option, it is still rationally permissible?  Or would you say that, because drinking the coffee is rationally inferior to another available option, there is decisive reason against drinking the coffee even though drinking it is rationally permissible?

I am attracted to a usage of decisive reason according to which the consideration that C pinpoints a decisive reason against A’s X-ing if and only if, because C, A should not X.  Given this usage, there is no decisive reason against drinking the coffee (from the point of view of rationality) because, although drinking the coffee is rationally inferior to another available option, drinking the coffee is still rationally permissible and so it is not true that one should not drink the coffee.  I wonder if folks would balk at this implication and see usages with this implication as thereby counter-intuitive.

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By In Action Theory, Ideas, Moral Responsibility Comments (13)

Over-Incarceration, Charge-Stacking, and Mens Rea

There has come to be some consensus amongst political scientists and legal theorists that a major source of over-incarceration in the United States is (mostly county) prosecutors filing a significantly increased number of charges against individual arrestees (e.g., committing fraud means getting hit with the charges of mail fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud, computer fraud, and more). This practice is known as “charge-stacking” (see here and here, for example). The basic idea is to guarantee conviction on at least some lesser charges: Risk-averse defendants cop to a lesser plea, even if they could have defended well against the most significant charges. So most people who are prosecuted get convicted on some charges. But so what? Why is this practice bad? I’ve been thinking that the answer to this question lies primarily in the practice’s running roughshod over what we take to be some crucial features of interpersonal moral agency.


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By In Action Theory, Metaethics, News and Events, Practical Rationality Comments Off on Conference: Practical Reason and Metaethics April 21-23

Conference: Practical Reason and Metaethics April 21-23

John Brunero and I are running a conference on Practical Reason and Metaethics, here in Lincoln, Nebraska on April 21st to 23rd. Speakers include Michael Bratman (Stanford), Stephen Darwall (Yale), Jonathan Drake (Texas), Amelia Hicks (Kansas State), Chris Howard (Arizona), Sarah McGrath (Princeton), Barry Maguire (UNC), and Sigrún Svavarsdóttir (Tufts). There were over 75 submissions for the refereed program and we expect it to be a very good conference.

There will be a free conference dinner Friday night and a party Saturday, so please register if you are coming by sending an email to stating that you plan on attending. There’s no fee to attend.

The conference website is Further information and the schedule is below the fold.


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