European Moral Psychology Research Group

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Moral Responsibility

Interdisciplinary workshop

16.12.2019 – 17.12.2019

Important: Please sign up here by December 8

Location: LMU Munich, main building, room F107

Snacks and drinks will be provided.


Little is as relevant as moral responsibility for our sense of self and the interactions with others. How and why do we hold people accountable? When is it fair to punish a wrongdoer? What are the cognitive mechanisms that drive responsibility ascriptions? What are the moral and legal implications of scepticism about responsibility? How does the presence of agency modulate our sense of responsibility? This multidisciplinary workshop on Moral Responsibility brings together philosophers, psychologists, and cognitive scientists to discuss these fundamentals of human cognition.

December 16

09.00 am                 Monika Betzler (LMU)

10.30 am                 Cory Clark (Durham University)
                               Blame motives and human moral responsibility

01.00 pm                 Lunch break

02.00 pm                 Joshua Shepherd (Carleton University & University of Barcelona)
                              Skill and the praiseworthy

03.30 pm                 Mario Gollwitzer (LMU)
                               Revenge, justice, and morality
Chair: Federica Berdini (LMU)

05.00 pm                  Coffee break

05.30 pm                  Anna Wehofsits (LMU)
                                Self-deception, wronging, and responsibility
Chair: Sander Beckers (LMU)

07.00 pm                  Reception

December 17

09.00 am                 Richard Holton (Cambridge University)
                               Taking and sharing responsibility: the case of medical decision making
Chair: Susanne Schlee (LMU)

10.30 am                 Frederike Beyer (Queen Mary University of London) 
                               Social contexts, voluntary action, and the sense of control
                               Chair: Anita Keshmirian (LMU)

01.00 pm                 Lunch break

02.00 pm                 Mario De Caro (Rome Tre University & Tufts University)
                               Responsibility, punishment, and scapegoating
Chair: Fiorella Battaglia (LMU)

03.30 pm                 Maria Mammen (LMU)
                               The two normative worlds of childhood - How preschoolers reason about morality in the
                               context of parent-child and peer interactions
Chair: Riana Betzler (Cambridge University)

05.00 pm                 Coffee break

05.30 pm                 Gregg Caruso (SUNY)
                               Moral responsibility skepticism and its implications for legal
                               punishment and criminal justice
Chair: Sofia Bonicalzi (LMU)

The workshop is organised by Nora Heinzelmann and Sofia Bonicalzi (Faculty of Philosophy, Philosophy of Science and the Study of Religion, LMU).

We thank our sponsors:

  • Cambridge/LMU Strategic Partnership Programme
  • LMU Philosophy Faculty Mentoring Programme
  • LMU Incoming Fellowship, Center for Advanced Studies



Inverse Akrasia: A Case for Reasoning about One’s Emotions

Speaker: Monika Betzler

So-called “inverse akrasia” is meant to describe cases in which an agent acts against her better judgment out of an emotion. Such cases of akrasia are “inverse” as acting according to one’s countervailing emotions proves in the end to be the right thing to do. Cases of inverse akrasia challenge the assumption that akrasia is always irrational. This insight has motivated philosophers to draw further lessons from such cases. They maintain that (i) best judgments are nothing but beliefs (Arpaly), and that (ii) emotions can track reasons equally well and lead to a particular kind of understanding (Brady).
The first view gives up on any plausible idea of agential guidance. The second view does not have the resources to distinguish between emotions that are reason-tracking and those that aren’t. So far, little work has been devoted to the question of what cases of inverse akrasia can teach us with respect to our reasoning. My aim is to examine how we can reason about our emotions so as to distinguish reason-tracking emotions from irrational emotions, and transform our best judgment on the basis of our reasoned emotions.

Revenge, Justice, and Morality

Speaker: Mario Gollwitzer

The question I will address in this talk is why people take revenge and what they hope to achieve by doing so. Outside psychology, revenge has been defined as an affect-driven, hostile, and impulsive reaction, an “instinct for retribution” (Justice P. Stewart) or a “psychological malfunction” (K. Horney). Within psychology, revenge is defined as “what individuals do with the desire to get even for a perceived harm” (Tripp & Bies, 1997). But the question is: what does “getting even” mean exactly? Under what circumstances do victims experience a sense of justice by taking revenge against the perpetrator? We explored these questions in a series of studies, which I will describe in this lecture.

In a nutshell, our findings show that revenge aims at sending a message to the perpetrator: “Don’t mess with me”, and that avengers experience a sense of justice only when this message is received and understood by the perpetrator. In more recent studies, we explored the communicative function of revenge (1) in more complex social settings (i.e., displaced revenge), (2) in the context of revenge fantasies, and (3) in relation to more benign reactions to perceived injustice (i.e., forgiveness). Together, our findings do not only contribute to a better conceptual understanding of vengeful responses to injustice; our research program has also practical implications for promoting peaceful solutions to injustice conflicts.

Social contexts, voluntary action, and the sense of control

Speaker: Frederike Beyer

Our sense of responsibility is closely linked to our sense of agency: the feeling that we are in control over our actions and that, through our actions, we can control our environment. In a series of studies, we have explored how the presence of others can reduce the individual sense of agency, as well as the monitoring of action outcomes at the neural level. Here, I will present a model of how socio-cognitive processes may interfere with action planning and execution, and thereby reduce the perceived link between our actions and their consequences. I will present findings from interactions with human and robotic agents, and discuss the role of intentionality attribution in social context effects on human cognition.

Taking and sharing responsibility: the case of medical decision making

Speaker: Richard Holton (joint work with Zoe Fritz)

Most philosophical talk about moral responsibility has focussed on the negative: responsibility is concerned with who has to answer when things go wrong. We focus on the positive: taking responsibility for something involves being in charge of it, which connects it soundly with issues of agency. We apply this to the case of uncertainty in medicine, investigating the idea that a doctor can take responsibility for the uncertainty after a differential diagnosis, leaving the patient with a more straightforward narrative, and questioning how this fits with received understandings of informed consent.

The two normative worlds of childhood - How preschoolers reason about morality in the context of parent–child and peer interactions

Speaker: Maria Mammen 

In order to successfully navigate their social interactions, children have to learn the norms and rules that govern their social groups. Children encounter these social norms in different social contexts, mostly in either the hierarchically structured interactions with their parents, in which children often remain passive receivers of knowledge and care; or in the symmetrically structured interactions with their peers, in which children can actively reason with equals (Piaget, 1965). These two fundamentally different interaction types are equally important for children’s moral development. However, so far, there has been little systematic comparison of young children’s moral reasoning across these two social contexts. In my talk, I will present recent studies investigating preschoolers’ collaborative moral reasoning in and about these two “normative worlds” of childhood. I will discuss the findings and argue that peer interactions with their equal power structure offer children a uniquely fruitful context for moral reasoning.