Incentivizing Epistemic Caution
Katie Steele (Australian National University)

May 2, 2018, 4:00pm - 5:30pm
Philosophy, SHAPS, University of Melbourne

Research Lounge, 4th Floor Arts West, University of Melbourne
University of Melbourne

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities


University of Melbourne
University of Reading (PhD)


Norms concerning how to attribute responsibility for harms play at least some role in incentivising behaviour. That is, retrospective responsibility attributions do/should affect our prospective deliberations about how to act. This creates a prima facie puzzle in cases where the responsibility incentives are intuitively compelling, yet do not apparently line up with the right moral choices. Individuals are then incentivised to act wrongly! To show the plausibility of this scenario, I appeal to the ‘causal relevance condition’ for attributing responsibility for harm, and how particular versions of this condition arguably lead the individual astray in special types of decision situations—those involving ‘many hands’. A tempting response is to reform either the conditions for responsibility or else the account of right choice, so that the two are in sync. The better response, I claim, is to recognise that responsibility norms can serve as a ‘group correction’ to individual deliberations in at least two ways: i) by reconfiguring otherwise tragic collective-action problems, and ii) by imposing a policy of epistemic caution regarding the predicted consequences of one’s actions.

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