Causation and Responsibility

Causation and Responsibility

 

Online Workshop, July 29 - July 30 2021

Organizers: Vera Hoffmann-Kolss and Matthias Rolffs

 

The workshop will take place via zoom. If you would like to participate, please do not hesitate to contact Nina Peier (nina.peier@philo.unibe.ch) in order to obtain the zoom-link.

 

Workshop Description

 

Causation and responsibility seem to be closely related. Prima facie, agents can be held responsible only for outcomes they caused. What is more, the degree to which agents can be held responsible for the outcomes of their actions seems to depend on how much they causally contributed to them. For instance, if two companies, A and B, jointly cause some environmental damage, their causal contributions may differ: it is possible that company A dumps more toxic waste or emits more greenhouse gases than company B. But then, it seems plausible to conclude that company A is more responsible for the damage resulting from these actions than company B.

It is vividly debated, however, how exactly this relationship is to be understood. Is causation really a necessary condition for responsibility? Is responsibility generally proportional to causal contribution? And what are the implications of this relationship for metaphysical theories of causation? The aim of this event is to discuss these issues with international experts in the field.

 

 

Speakers

 

Sara Bernstein (Notre Dame)

Mattias Gunnemyr (Lund)

Alex Kaiserman (Oxford)

David Lagnado (London)

Matthias Rolffs (Bern)

Caroline Touborg (Umeå)

Pascale Willemsen (Zürich)

 

 

The organizers of this workshop are affiliated with the project Graded Causation, which is part of the DFG-funded research group Inductive Metaphysics.

Please note: The times are in Central European Summer Time (CEST)!

 

Thursday, July 29

2pm - 3pm: Alex Kaiserman (Oxford): 'Degrees of Responsibility'

3.15pm - 4.15pm: Matthias Rolffs (Bern): 'Graded Causation and Moral Responsibility. The Case for Closeness to Sufficiency'

4.15pm - 5.15pm: Coffee Break

5.15pm - 6.15pm: Sara Bernstein (Notre Dame): 'Responsibility Without Actual Causation'

 

Friday, July 30

2pm - 3pm: Caroline Touborg (Umeå): ‘Causation, responsibility, and norms: did you cause it, or did it just happen?’

3.15pm - 4.15pm: Mattias Gunnemyr (Lund): ‘You just didn’t care enough: Quality of will, causation, and blameworthiness for actions, omissions, and outcomes’

4.15pm - 5.15pm: Coffee Break

5.15pm - 6.15pm: David Lagnado (London): 'The problem of many hands'

6.30pm - 7.30pm: Pascale Willemsen (Zürich): 'Entailment, reverse entailment, entailment-reverse, and mutual entailment – What’s up with moral responsibility and causation?'

If you would like to join the workshop or if you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to contact Nina Peier (nina.peier@philo.unibe.ch)

Sara Bernstein

Title: Responsibility Without Actual Causation

 

Mattias Gunnemyr

Title: You just didn’t care enough: Quality of will, causation, and blameworthiness for actions, omissions, and outcomes

ABSTRACT: When are you blameworthy for an action, omission or outcome? One intuitive idea says that you are blameworthy for X (an action, omission or an outcome) if and only if you intentionally caused X. We develop this idea and argue that, roughly, you are blameworthy for X iff your poor quality of will towards X caused X. Given that we understand causation in the right way, this account gives intuitively correct verdicts in a wide range of cases, such as omission cases, pre-emption cases, switching cases, and Frankfurt-style cases. Drawing on Touborg’s (2018) account, we suggest that C causes E iff (a) C is process-connected to E and (b) C makes E more secure within the relevant possibility horizon H. The resulting account can also account for our conflicting intuitions in collective harm cases. These are cases where there will be bad consequences if enough people act in a certain way, but where no particular act makes a difference for the outcome. Environmental harms make typical examples. In such cases, we might think that no particular individual is blameworthy for the harmful outcome since his/her act didn’t make any difference for the outcome. Conversely, we might think that everyone who acted in the relevant way is blameworthy for the harmful outcome since this outcome occurred as a result of what they did. We suggest that these conflicting intuitions can be explained as stemming from different choices of possibility horizons. Consider an agent A who acted in the relevant way in a collective harm case. From A’s individual perspective, it might seem that the only relevant possibilities are that (s)he acted as she did, and that she had acted otherwise. On such an outlook, it will seem that A is not blameworthy for the outcome. Harm would have occurred whether or not (s)he had acted otherwise. However, if we take a wider perspective on the situation, we might see that there is a wide range of possibilities. Any combination of involved agents might have acted otherwise, and if enough agents had acted otherwise, harm had been avoided. On such an outlook, it will seem that A is blameworthy for the outcome. What A did is a cause (one of many) of the harmful outcome. Finally, we suggest that the wider perspective often is the more accurate one.

 

Alex Kaiserman

Title: Degrees of Responsibility

ABSTRACT: The goal of this talk is to sketch the beginnings of a theory of degrees of responsibility for outcomes. I will argue (i) that 'responsible for', as it occurs in sentences like 'Jack is responsible for Julie's failure to get to school on time', has just one, univocal sense; (ii) that what it denotes in such contexts is a certain relation between agents and token actions, omissions and outcomes which, in the right conditions, grounds the aptness or permissibility of certain responses (e.g. praise, blame, demands for compensation or apology, defensive harming, etc.) rather than the other way around; and (iii) that this relation comes in degrees, along several dimensions. I will then say a few things about the least studied of these dimensions, the causal dimension. I'll end by drawing out some of the potential applications of a theory of degrees of responsibility.

 

David Lagnado

Title: The problem of many hands

ABSTRACT: How do we attribute cause and blame when different agents combine to produce a group outcome? How do we identify each agent’s causal contribution? In this talk I will argue that causal modelling is crucial to address such questions, but that we still lack a comprehensive account of causal attribution. In particular, approaches based on counterfactual necessity and sufficiency are not enough, and must be supplemented by richer models that include factors such as an agent’s intentions, knowledge, role and capability. 

 

Matthias Rolffs

Title: Graded Causation and Responsibility: The Case for Closeness to Sufficiency

ABSTRACT: Plausibly, graded causation is relevant for moral responsibility. More precisely, the degree to which agents are morally responsible for the outcomes of their actions partially depends on how much their actions causally contributed to the outcomes.

Some authors (cf. Bernstein (2017), Sartorio (2020), Demirtas (manuscript)) object that the notion of graded causation is too unclear to help determine an agent’s moral responsibility for an outcome. Sartorio (2020) distinguishes two opposing criteria that seem to be relevant for graded causation: The necessity criterion dictates that a cause’s degree of causal contribution for an effect is the higher the closer the cause is to being necessary for the effect. The sufficiency criterion, on the other hand, dictates that a cause’s degree of causal contribution is the higher the closer it is to being sufficient for the effect. Since the necessity criterion and the sufficiency criterion in many cases pull in opposing directions, it is highly problematic to determine causal contribution in such cases (cf. Sartorio 2020: 352-354 and, similarly, Bernstein 2017: 170-172).

Concerning this debate, I will argue, first, that we should clearly disambiguate the notion of graded causation into a notion that measures closeness to sufficiency and a separate notion that measures closeness to necessity. Second, I will argue that closeness to necessity does not make a difference for degrees of moral responsibility. I will present two partial arguments for this conclusion: First, cases that suggest the contrary can be better explained by a difference in the agents’ abilities rather than a difference in causal contribution. Second, the relevance of closeness to necessity commits one to what Kaiserman (2021) calls the ‘pie fallacy’ and is therefore problematic. Finally, I will argue that closeness to sufficiency is relevant for moral responsibility. The relevance of closeness to sufficiency does not suffer from any of the problems that befall the relevance of closeness to necessity. What is more, the relevance of closeness to sufficiency is needed to ground some plausible moral judgements.

 

Caroline Touborg

Title: Causation, responsibility, and norms: did you cause it, or did it just happen?

ABSTRACT: In this talk, I begin by combining two ideas. The first idea is widely held and concerns the relation between causation and responsibility: you are responsible for an outcome only if you have performed an action or an omission that is a cause of that outcome. The second idea is one I have argued for elsewhere and concerns causation itself: my proposal is that causation is a three-place relation between a cause, an effect, and a possibility horizon, where a possibility horizon is simply a class of possible worlds, containing just those possible worlds that represent relevant possibilities. Once we combine these two ideas, we face a question: what is the relevant possibility horizon for evaluating whether the causal condition for responsibility is satisfied?

My suggestion is that norms play a role in selecting the relevant possibility horizon. When we’re looking at moral responsibility, moral norms play a role in selecting the relevant possibility horizon. When we’re looking at legal responsibility, legal norms play a role in selecting the relevant possibility horizon, and so on. This yields a picture where we have a system of norms as input. This system of norms then selects the possibility horizon that we should use to assess whether the causal condition for responsibility is satisfied. And together with other conditions for responsibility, this then yields the output, which is attributions of responsibility.

This picture of the relation between norms, causation, and responsibility suggests a way to evaluate different systems of norms: when a bad outcome happens (for example, an environmental disaster), taking one system of norms as input may yield the output that no one is responsible for this outcome – it just happened. Taking a different system of norms as input may yield the output that one or more people are responsible for the outcome. In that case, I think we have a pro tanto reason to prefer the system of norms that allows us to place responsibility for the outcome.

 

Pascale Willemsen

Title: Entailment, reverse entailment, entailment-reverse, and mutual entailment – What’s up with moral responsibility and causation?

 

The event consists of three parts:

The first two days (July 26-27) will be devoted to a discussion of background texts introducing the topic. These sessions will be led by the two organizers, Matthias Rolffs and Vera Hoffmann-Kolss.

The next 1.5 days (July 28-29) will feature sessions taught by two leading experts in the field: Sara Bernstein (Notre Dame) and Alex Kaiserman (Oxford). There will also be room for student presentations.

The final event (on July 29-30) will be a 1.5 day workshop with further invited speakers.

 

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we cannot host the event in Bern. This is why the summer school will take place online via zoom.us (presentations, teaching sessions, discussions, workshop) and wonder.me (coffee breaks & socializing) 

 

The application date for the summer school has expired. However, we invite interested people to join the public workshop (July 29 - July 30).

If you would like to join the workshop or if you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to contact Nina Peier (nina.peier@philo.unibe.ch)