Consciousness and Moral Responsibility




Levy, N., (2014), 'Consciousness and Moral Responsibility'. (Oxford, Oxford University Press)

Neil Levy presents an original theory of freedom and responsibility. Cognitive neuroscience and psychology provide a great deal of evidence that our actions are often shaped by information of which we are not conscious; some psychologists have concluded that we are actually conscious of very few of the facts we respond to. But most people seem to assume that we need to be conscious of the facts we respond to in order to be responsible for what we do. Some thinkers have argued that this naïve assumption is wrong, and we need not be conscious of these facts to be responsible, while others think it is correct and therefore we are never responsible. Levy argues that both views are wrong. He sets out and defends a particular account of consciousness—the global workspace view—and argues this account entails that consciousness plays an especially important role in action. We exercise sufficient control over the moral significance of our acts to be responsible for them only when we are conscious of the facts that give to our actions their moral character. Further, our actions are expressive of who we are as moral agents only when we are conscious of these same facts. There are therefore good reasons to think that the naïve assumption, that consciousness is needed for moral responsibility, is in fact true. Levy suggests that this entails that people are responsible less often than we might have thought, but the consciousness condition does not entail that we are never morally responsible.


"Levy's systematic attention to definitional and interpretive detail, extended case studies, response to critics from multiple disciplines, and fine-grained argument make this volume a potential paradigm shifter in discussions involving moral agency. Excellent bibliography. Essential." - Choice

"Neil Levy's Consciousness and Moral Responsibility is short, and itâs a quick read ... Levy displays a great deal of philosophical sophistication ... I suspect that the volume will be of significant interest to those working on issues in the philosophy of action and the philosophy of mind." - D. Justin Coates, Ethics

"thoughtful and elegantly written ... a remarkable book that brings sophisticated philosophical analysis to bear on very recent research in neuroscience and cognitive psychology. It is full of fascinating studies that explore the many ways in which we choose nonconsciously ... essential reading." - Adrian Walsh, Australian Book Review

"This highly condensed, frank, and well-argued work is a must for anyone interested in moral psychology, morality considered at the neurophysiological level, and how consciousness studies can apply to other disciplines and concerns and to our understanding of ourselves as Homo sapiens" - Lantz Miller, Journal of Consciousness Studies

"This brief book is a valuable contribution to the literature and will be fascinating to those interested in the intersection of cognitive science and moral psychology." - Travis Timmerman and Sean Clancy, The Philosophers' Magazine