Morality, Agents, and Action
1 June 2019
Renmin University of China
500 Renwen Building
Shaun Nichols (keynote): University of Arizona
Ding Lu (comments): Capital Normal University
“Agent-Regret and Accidental Agency”
There are two puzzles regarding our emotional reactions to “accidental agents” like Williams’ lorry driver, who accidentally and faultlessly hits a child. First, why do such agents feel guilt, when they could hardly be blamed for what happened? Second, why do observers judge both that agents should not feel guilty and that if they do not feel guilty, they are deficient in some way? To answer these questions, we distinguish between the proper and actual domain of guilt. A familiar illustration of the proper/actual distinction comes from insect-eating birds. Such birds often have a mechanism for detecting wasps – wasps are in the proper domain of the mechanism; however, insects that look like wasps are false positives in the actual domain of the wasp-detection mechanism. We argue that in the case of guilt, accidental agents’ guilt feeling is a false positive in the actual domain. Moreover, we argue that observers can use these false-positive responses as evidence of the agent’s emotional character; e.g., if an accidental agent fails to show guilt for the unlucky outcome, this is evidence that he won’t show guilt in the proper domain either. This is not specific to guilt, but is rather a general point about the evidential value of false-positive responses. Insofar as an agent fails to exhibit emotional reactions in the false positive margin of the actual domain – whether it be for guilt, shame, gratitude, or fear – that is evidence that they will fail to exhibit the functional emotional response in the proper domain. Thus, it is appropriate for observers to be keenly sensitive to whether an accidental agent exhibits the typical – if irrational – response to false positives.
Call for Papers
We invite graduate students and young faculty to submit papers in any area of analytic philosophy, but preference will be given to papers regarding experimental philosophy, free will, agency, and ethics. Papers can be written in English or Chinese.
The deadline for submitting papers is: 1 May 2019. Papers should be suitable for 20-25 minute presentations (3,000-4,000 words) and made ready for blind review. Submissions should also include a cover letter with the following information: (i) author name, (ii) email, (iii) institution, (iv) paper topic, (v) word count, and (vi) an abstract (150 words).
** 1,000 RMB prize for best student paper and a 500 RMB prize for the runner-up.
** There are a limited number of travel/accommodations grants available for students in China outside Beijing, if interested please specify this in your email.
Submissions should be emailed to:
Be sure to attach your paper and cover letter as .doc(x) or .pdf files. Notices of acceptance will be sent by 15 May 2019.