Nicola Lacey, ‘Responsibility without Consciousness’

Abstract:
This paper addresses the relationship between responsibility and consciousness, in the light of both HLA Hart’s and subsequent philosophical analysis. First, is consciousness necessary to responsibility-attribution? If so, how demanding a requirement is this? And does it make sense to pose these questions in the abstract? Second, when we move from the realm of moral argumentation to that of law, are there additional factors – institutional, functional, practical or otherwise – which alter the weight or implications of the argument? Third, conversely, what can moral philosophers learn from the way in which the issue of consciousness is dealt with in legal mechanisms of responsibility-attribution? The paper concludes that, in both law and morality, the conditions of responsibility are standards which are constructed and deployed within particular social practices and institutions for certain purposes. Hence the dominant issues underlying questions ostensibly about consciousness are evaluative questions about appropriate standards in particular contexts, in the light of the social functions and meaning of criminalisation; of a finding of responsibility in civil law; or of moral responsibility-attribution.

Nicola Lacey, Responsibility without Consciousness. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies (Summer 2016) 36(2): 219-241, doi: 10.1093/ojls/gqv032.

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