M4C Logo AHRC Logo

Sean Shields

Philosophy, University of Nottingham

Thesis title:

If we are not morally responsible, what does this mean for our public and private lives?

Say we should never be held morally responsible – in the sense that we cannot truly (or ‘basically’) deserve praise or blame for our actions. A surprisingly significant number of philosophers hold a version of this skeptical view about moral responsibility. And it’s one that I have come to hold myself – at least for now!

But what would it mean – practically speaking – to take this idea seriously? How should it shape our public policy and inform how we ought to interact with one another? My thesis focuses on these questions.

My research is at an early stage. But for now I am especially interested in exploring how our praising and rewarding practices might become more open to question and revision once we adopt the skeptical position about moral responsibility (attention so far has tended to focus more on the blaming side of things). I am also interested in how our practices of blame/censure and praise/reward in non-moral domains (for examples in response to artistic or sporting performance) may be instructive for our thinking about how we ought to revise moral praising and blaming practices.

I hope to use my research to point towards an overall account of what justified praising and blaming looks like in light of moral responsibility skepticism. At this stage I envisage this account will emphasise the important role that background conditions play in determining whether praising and blaming practices can still be warranted despite the absence of moral responsibility.

I see this as a project with much cross-disciplinary potential, with relevance to fields such as psychology, politics, law… and beyond! If any other M4C students find these ideas at all interesting, or think (however speculatively!) that issues of moral responsibility might come into your own research, it’d be great to hear from you. 

Research Area

  • Philosophy