2019 Susan R. Wolf

Responsibility for Humans

Susan R. Wolf, Edna J. Koury Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Wolf has previously worked at Johns Hopkins University (1986-2002), University of Maryland (1981-1986) and Harvard University (1978-1981).

27 – 29 May 2019.

  • Aesthetic Responsibility
  • Criticizing Blame
  • Selves Like Us

Abstract for Responsibility for Humans (The Series):

A long tradition identifies our capacity to be morally responsible with what makes us distinctively human, and associates both with our abilities to reason, to use language, and to govern our actions according to our thoughts. Important as these features are, however, they are neither necessary nor sufficient for determining whether one is the sort of individual with whom we can live as members of an interpersonal community. These lectures reflect on what is missing from this familiar conception of responsibility in the hopes of recovering an appreciation of aspects of ourselves whose value has been neglected. In the process, they will offer a wider, if messier, conception of responsibility more appropriate for us humans.

Abstract for Aesthetic Responsibility (lecture 1, May 27th):

Philosophers often distinguish between causal responsibility and moral responsibility, taking the latter to be an important mark of our distinctive humanity. But focusing exclusively on the attitudes and judgments we form toward people on the basis of their moral characters and behavior leads us to overly narrow conceptions both of responsibility and of humanity.

As a corrective, this lecture considers the attitudes and judgments we make of artists on the basis of their artwork. By attending to the way in which artists may be aesthetically responsible for their creations, we can develop a richer understanding of responsibility and a more comprehensive idea of humanity.

Abstract for Criticizing Blame (lecture 2, May 28th):

Philosophers commonly distinguish between responsible and non-responsible individuals, understanding responsible agents as those individuals who are appropriate objects of punishment and reward, blame and credit, and reactive attitudes such as resentment, indignation and gratitude. Non-responsible individuals, by contrast, are never appropriate objects of these responses. The lecture will present reasons to question this distinction: By marking a difference between blame and criticism, and the different conditions under which they are justified, we can see that the concepts of responsibility and blame are not as unified as we generally take them to be. This has implications for our understanding of responsibility, blame, punishment and the problem of free will.

Abstract for Selves Like Us (lecture 3, May 29th):

Since at least the seventeenth century, philosophers have distinguished membership in the species homo sapiens from moral personhood, a category which they take to be of considerable ethical and practical significance. But there are other nonbiological features that are of ethical and practical significance as well, suggesting that there is an ethical, non-biological conception of humanity that is different from the standard philosophical understanding of moral personhood. After reflecting on the benefits and dangers of focusing attention on the idea of "the distinctively human," the lecture explores the variety of features and capacities that distinguish "selves like us" from lower animals, artificially intelligent machines, and possibly imaginary divine and extraterrestrial rational individuals.

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