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Please note: this event has passed

The Yeoh Tiong Lay Centre for Politics, Philosophy and Law will welcome Prof. Paul Russell (Lund) to King's next month to deliver the closing lecture of the 2022/23 Series in Practical Agency.



'Morality' and Responsibility Skepticism



This paper considers the relationship between two important developments in the contemporary discussion of moral responsibility. The first concerns Bernard Williams critique of “Morality” and its "peculiar" conception of moral responsibility (along with "the blame system" that is associated with it). The second concerns two particularly influential arguments that have been advanced in support of skepticism about moral responsibility: Galen Strawson’s “Basic Argument” and Derk Pereboom’s “Hard Incompatibilism”.

The question we begin with is how are these various skeptical arguments or views related to each other? On the face of it, they converge on the same skeptical conclusion about moral responsibility. There are, however, important points of disagreement and divergence. Although Williams rejects “Morality” and its particular understanding of moral responsibility, he nevertheless rejects global or unqualified skepticism about moral responsibility. In fact, Williams takes global skepticism about moral responsibility to be a product of “Morality’s” illusory and false understanding of our human ethical predicament.

In contrast with this, both the “Basic Argument” and “Hard Incompatibilism” endorse global or unqualified skepticism about moral responsibility - the claim that there is no “true” or “genuine” moral responsibility. The source of this (unqualified) skepticism, it is argued, is their shared commitment to “the morality system”. Read this way, the skeptical arguments that Galen Strawson and Derk Pereboom have advanced, while they appear to reject “Morality”, actually rest upon its assumptions and aspirations. In rejecting “Morality”, therefore, we reject the very basis of these highly influential and current statements of responsibility skepticism.


Speaker bio:

Paul Russell is Professor of Philosophy at Lund University, where he also serves as Director of the Lund|Gothenburg Responsibility Project (LGRP). Prior to this he has held positions at the University of British Columbia and Gothenburg University, as well as visiting appointments in philosophy at Virginia, Stanford, Pittsburgh and North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

His interests cover the areas of free will and moral responsibility, along with topics in early modern philosophy, where he has a special interest in the philosophy of David Hume. Within the area of free will and moral responsibility he is especially interested in the challenge of scepticism and theories of responsibility that appeal to reactive attitudes or moral sentiments.

Paul Russell is the author of four books, including The Limits of Free Will: Selected Essays (Oxford University Press, 2017) and Freedom and Moral Sentiment: Hume's Way of Naturalizing Responsibility (Oxford University Press, 1995).

At this event

Massimo Renzo

Professor of Politics, Philosophy & Law

Event details

SW1.17 (Ante Room), The Dickson Poon School of Law, First Floor, Somerset House East Wing, Strand Campus, Kings College London, Strand WC2R 2LS
Strand Campus
Strand, London, WC2R 2LS