Who Knew?: Responsibility Without Awareness

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9780195389203: Who Knew?: Responsibility Without Awareness

To be responsible for their acts, agents must both perform those acts voluntarily and in some sense know what they are doing. Of these requirements, the voluntariness condition has been much discussed, but the epistemic condition has received far less attention. In Who Knew? George Sher seeks to rectify that imbalance. The book is divided in two halves, the first of which criticizes a popular but inadequate way of understanding the epistemic condition, while the second seeks to develop a more adequate alternative. It is often assumed that agents are responsible only for what they are aware of doing or bringing about--that their responsibility extends only as far as the searchlight of their consciousness. The book criticizes this "searchlight view" on two main grounds: first, that it is inconsistent with our attributions of responsibility to a broad range of agents who should but do not realize that they are acting wrongly or foolishly, and, second, that the view is not independently defensible. The book's positive view construes the crucial relation between an agent and his failure to recognize the wrongness or foolishness of what he is doing in causal terms: the agent is responsible when, and because, his failure to respond to his reasons for believing that he is acting wrongly or foolishly has its origins in the same constitutive psychology that generally does render him reason-responsive.

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About the Author:

George Sher is Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Philosophy at Rice University


"This is an excellent book: concise yet carefully argued, elegantly structured, and persuasive. Anyone interested in questions of moral responsibility will benefit from engaging with its subtle and challenging arguments." --Angela M. Smith, Social Theory and Practice

"In Who Knew Sher provides a penetrating account of the important but often taken-for-granted connection between epistemic conditions and the ascribing of moral responsibility. Using nine case studies to illustrate the complex nature of one of philosophy's most discussed relations, namely, prudence and morality, Sher sheds new light on the discussion. This work will be useful for those concerned with ethics, moral theory, and applied ethics. Recommended." --CHOICE

"In enviably lucid prose, Sher offers an indictment of our unreflective inclinations to center the epistemic condition exclusively on conscious awareness.... Sher's book is a powerful reminder that theorists of responsibility ought to be taking its epistemic dimension more seriously. It is a superb piece of writing and a significant philosophical contribution."--Neal A. Tognazzini, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

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