Responsibility and the Reactive Attitudes Over Time

June 25, 2024 - June 26, 2024
Institute of Philosophy, University of Bern

Bern
Switzerland

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Sponsor(s):

  • Society of Applied Philosophy
  • The CoGS Project (funded by a SERI-funded ERC Starting Grant)

Speakers:

Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences
Arizona State University
University of Bern
University of Illinois, Chicago
Cornell University

Organisers:

University of Bern

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It’s important to us whether people are still responsible for their past actions. Consider the recent controversy surrounding Aung San Suu Kyi. She was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 “for her non‐violent struggle for democracy and human rights” (The Nobel Peace Prize 1991). She was considered “a picture of grace and moral authority” for championing democracy and opposing “the brutal military junta that long dominated Burmese politics” (Tharoor 2017). After a long period of living in house arrest, Suu Kyi eventually became Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader. However, during her time as leader, she failed to speak out against and indeed seemed to condone, if not approve of, the genocide perpetrated by her country’s army against the Rohingya people. Do her later wrongful actions undermine her earlier responsibility for her earlier exemplary actions?

It is not just praiseworthiness for past actions that is important to us. Perhaps more so, it is important whether people remain blameworthy for their past actions. There are lots of cases of people who committed or were complicit in the commission of atrocities but who have evaded justice until there in old age. Do such people remain blameworthy for what they did earlier in life? Whether these people are blamed or punished for what they did earlier in life seems to depend on whether they remain blameworthy for their past actions. Consider the case of Irmgard Furchner who at the age of 97 was convicted (in a juvenile court because her actions were committed when she was under the age of 21) of “being an accessory to murder for her role as a secretary to the SS commander of the Nazis’ Stutthof concentration camp during World War II” (The Associated Press 2022). During the trial, Furchner apologised and said she regretted her time at the camp. Given her apparent change of heart, does Furchner remain blameworthy for her complicity in Nazi crimes? Even if she remains blameworthy to some extent, or in some way, has her blameworthiness diminished at all? These are important questions because positive answers seem to suggest that someone like Furchner should not be punished, or not punished as much, for what she did earlier in life. Indeed, it is notable that most of those who are now convicted late in life of crimes during the Nazi regime may be convicted of a crime, but they do not usually serve any time in prison.

This workshop aims to bring together researchers working on an underexplored issue that spans ethics, metaphysics, moral psychology, philosophy of emotions, and social and political philosophy. Questions to be explored include:

  • Can a person cease being morally responsible for an action she was once morally responsible for?  
  • Can praiseworthiness or blameworthiness diminish over time?  
  • What is the connection, if any, between moral responsibility and personal identity? 
  • Does ceasing to be praiseworthy or blameworthy for an action imply ceasing to be morally responsible for that action?
  • Can the fittingness of reactive attitudes diminish over time? 
  • Does meeting one’s blameworthiness-incurred reparative duties lead to a diminishment of one’s blameworthiness for a past action? 
  • Can a person cease being praiseworthy or blameworthy for all types of action or just some types?
  • Is the appropriateness of forgiveness a function of diminished blameworthiness?
  • What is the role, if any, of memory in the appropriateness of forgiveness? 
  • Does the appropriateness of punishment decrease as a person’s blameworthiness diminishes?

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June 14, 2024, 9:00am CET

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