Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Agency Intersections Conference Report

In this post, Jessica Sutherland (University of Birmingham), Kathleen Murphy-Hollies (University of Birmingham), and Sean Shields (University of Nottingham) report on their two-day conference “Philosophy at the Intersection of Moral Responsibility, Agency, and Regulation”. This conference was held in-person (with online provisions) at the University of Birmingham on 9th-10th May 2022. The conference brought together graduate students and early-career researchers working in the areas of moral responsibility, agency and regulation of behaviour broadly construed.

Day 1

The first keynote talk of the conference was given by Dr Anneli Jefferson (Cardiff University) on “What’s the Point of Blaming the Dead?”. Jefferson offered some reflections on how current discussions of the role of blame do not seem to capture the ways in which we blame the dead. Jefferson offered a prototype theory of blame and argued that blaming the dead is not a paradigmatic case as it does not include some of the key instrumentalist features beyond a minimal moral assessment of the deceased.

Dr Anneli Jefferson

Then, Kathleen Murphy-Hollies (University of Birmingham) stepped in to give a talk after Hannah McHugh (University College London) was unable to present. Murphy-Hollies talked about the ‘know-how’ involved in consistently embodying virtue despite the prevalence of confabulation in a presentation titled “The Know-How of Virtue”. This is a tendency to construct ill-grounded reasons for one’s behaviour after the fact.

Kathleen Murphy-Hollies

Next, Baris C Kastas (Bilkent University) spoke on “Anger Towards Men and Non-Agential Collective Responsibility: A Vindication”. Kastas argued that anger towards men expressed by women and minority groups is a form of backward-looking responsibility-as-accountability aimed at a large and unorganised collective. Kastas then developed an account, drawing on Debe’s empathic sentimentalism under which responsibility practices aimed at disorganised groups makes sense.

Baris Kastas

Christiana Eltiste (Northwestern University) then gave a talk titled “Wronging the Wrongdoer: An Obligation to Hold Wrongdoers Responsible”. Eltiste argued that one’s standing towards a wrongdoer affects their obligation to hold that wrongdoer responsible, and in particular gives them a reason to hold them responsible. In these cases, one does something immoral in failing to hold that wrongdoer responsible and wrongs them.

Christiana Eltiste

The final talk of the first day was given by Thijs Heijmeskamp (Erasmus University Rotterdam) on “Virtues, Situationism, and the Moral Demands of Others”. Heijmeskamp drew on a Deweyan psychology of individuals which emphasises their embeddedness in environments to argue that virtue ought to be seen as essentially comprising our relations with others and the context of our social environment.

Thijs Heijmeskamp

Day 2

In the second keynote talk of the conference, Professor Victoria McGeer (ANU/Princeton) gave a talk on “Empathy Internalized: On the Scaffolding Power of Self-directed Emotion”. McGeer described how empathy can scaffold our own moral agency by generating self-castigating emotions of guilt, shame and remorse. She argued that this process is best facilitated by agents having an empathetic, scaffolding, developing sense of self-blame, rather than a non-empathetic, retributive, final sense of self-blame.

Prof Victoria McGeer

Next, Eric Brown (Tulane University) spoke on “The Best Apology is Changed Behavior: A Signaling Account of Apology”. Brown discussed a number of features we commonly (and not so commonly) see in apologies and argued that a signalling account of apology, which assigns apology the function of regulating our moral relations, best captures them all.

Eric Brown

Next, Dominik Boll (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) gave a talk titled “Responsible Persons, Positive Reactive Attitudes, and the Function of Taking Responsibility”. Boll discussed responsibility-taking and proposed that its function is to strengthen and/or shape norms, which in turn gives rise to positive reactive attitudes such as praise or forgiveness.

Dominik Boll

Next, Kristoffer Moody (University of Edinburgh) spoke on “The New Confabulationist Threat to Moral Responsibility”. Moody described a new confabulationist threat to moral responsibility as confabulation masks automatic social mindshaping which commonly takes place despite agents having no control over it. What agents may have to focus on instead is keeping rational control over their belief formation.

Kristoffer Moody

The final presentation of the conference was Emese Havadtői (Eötvös Loránd University) with a talk titled “Can we let go of our Regrets? Should we?”. Havadtői distinguished between constructive and non-constructive regret, arguing that we should aim to keep only the former. In this form, regret improves well-being, motivates us to repair social relationships, and contributes to moral behaviour.

Emese Havadtoi

A full list of speakers (and abstracts) can be found on the conference website.

A special thank you goes to Midlands4Cities and Mind Association for funding this conference.