When you do things you don't mean to do
Or, the philosophy of Elul.

In this month preceding the Jewish High Holidays, when questions of responsibility and (lack of) deliberation come to the fore, a recent paper by two Australian philosophers is worth a look.

The authors attempt to justify our intuition that deliberative and non-deliberative acts should be morally evaluated in different ways. On their way there they suggest four classifications of human actions, "agency," in the language of philosophy. In deliberative agency, we reflect on what we ought to do. In conscious agency, we are aware of what we are doing, though not deliberative. Automatic agency involves a "reduction of the experience of doing," for example, as in over-learned actions like driving a car, in which one is fully conscious in general but not specifically conscious of the action itself. Automatistic agency, by contrast, involves a class of conditions in which one is not fully conscious of what one is doing, either "globally," involving the whole body, as in trance states, sleep walking, etc., or "locally," as in anarchic hand syndrome.

Is one to be held morally accountable only for deliberative acts? The answer is more complicated than a simple "yes." However, about the strong connection between accountability and deliberation that most of us intuitively know to be true, the authors say
"Even if deliberation (or the opportunity for it) were to correlate perfectly with moral accountability, we would want to know why this was so. One possibility is that deliberation is important in its own right. While this is a possible position, it seems implausible to us."

To this layperson it seems very plausible, especially this month. It is our reflective decision to act rightly which makes our right action traceable to us, our own unique moral creation.

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