Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Culpability. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Culpability. Show all posts

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Four Responsibility Gaps with Artificial Intelligence: Why they Matter and How to Address them

Santoni de Sio, F., Mecacci, G. 
Philos. Technol. 34, 1057–1084 (2021). 


The notion of “responsibility gap” with artificial intelligence (AI) was originally introduced in the philosophical debate to indicate the concern that “learning automata” may make more difficult or impossible to attribute moral culpability to persons for untoward events. Building on literature in moral and legal philosophy, and ethics of technology, the paper proposes a broader and more comprehensive analysis of the responsibility gap. The responsibility gap, it is argued, is not one problem but a set of at least four interconnected problems – gaps in culpability, moral and public accountability, active responsibility—caused by different sources, some technical, other organisational, legal, ethical, and societal. Responsibility gaps may also happen with non-learning systems. The paper clarifies which aspect of AI may cause which gap in which form of responsibility, and why each of these gaps matter. It proposes a critical review of partial and non-satisfactory attempts to address the responsibility gap: those which present it as a new and intractable problem (“fatalism”), those which dismiss it as a false problem (“deflationism”), and those which reduce it to only one of its dimensions or sources and/or present it as a problem that can be solved by simply introducing new technical and/or legal tools (“solutionism”). The paper also outlines a more comprehensive approach to address the responsibility gaps with AI in their entirety, based on the idea of designing socio-technical systems for “meaningful human control", that is systems aligned with the relevant human reasons and capacities.


The Tracing Conditions and its Payoffs for Responsibility

Unlike proposals based on new forms of legal liability, MHC (Meaningful Human Control) proposes that socio-technical systems are also systematically designed to avoid gaps in moral culpability, accountability, and active responsibility. The “tracing condition” proposes that a system can remain under MHC only in the presence of a solid alignment between the system and the technical, motivational, moral capacities of the relevant agents involved, with different roles, in the design, control, and use of the system. The direct goal of this condition is promoting a fair distribution of moral culpability, thereby avoiding two undesired results: first, scapegoating, i.e. agents being held culpable without having a fair capacity to avoid wrongdoing (Elish, 2019): in the example of the automated driving systems above, for instance, the drivers’ relevant technical and motivational capacities not being sufficiently studied and trained. Second, impunity for avoidable accidents, i.e. culpability gaps: the impossibility to legitimately blame anybody as no individual agent possesses all the relevant capacities, e.g. the managers/designers having the technical capacity but not the moral motivation to avoid accidents and the drivers having the motivation but not the skills. The tracing condition also helps addressing accountability and active responsibility gaps. If a person or organisation should be morally or publicly accountable, then they must also possess the specific capacity to discharge this duty: according to another example discussed above, if a doctor has to remain accountable to their patients for her decisions, then she should maintain the capacity and motivation to understand the functioning of the AI system she uses and to explain her decision to the patients.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

A Theory of Moral Praise

Anderson, R. A, Crockett, M. J., & Pizarro, D.
Trends in Cognitive Sciences
Volume 24, Issue 9, September 2020, 
Pages 694-703


How do people judge whether someone deserves moral praise for their actions?  In contrast to the large literature on moral blame, work on how people attribute praise has, until recently, been scarce. However, there is a growing body of recent work from a variety of subfields in psychology (including social, cognitive, developmental, and consumer) suggesting that moral praise is a fundamentally unique form of moral attribution and not simply the positive moral analogue of
blame attributions. A functional perspective helps explain asymmetries in blame and praise: we propose that while blame is primarily for punishment and signaling one’s moral character, praise is primarily for relationship building.

Concluding Remarks

Moral praise, we have argued, is a psychological response that, like other forms of moral judgment,
serves a particular functional role in establishing social bonds, encouraging cooperative alliances,
and promoting good behavior. Through this lens, seemingly perplexing asymmetries between
judgments of blame for immoral acts and judgments of praise for moral acts can be understood
as consistent with the relative roles, and associated costs, played by these two kinds of moral
judgments. While both blame and praise judgments require that an agent played some causal
and intentional role in the act being judged, praise appears to be less sensitive to these features
and more sensitive to more general features about an individual’s stable, underlying character
traits. In other words, we believe that the growth of studies on moral praise in the past few years
demonstrate that, when deciding whether or not doling out praise is justified, individuals seem to
care less on how the action was performed and far more about what kind of person performed
the action. We suggest that future research on moral attribution should seek to complement
the rich literature examining moral blame by examining potentially unique processes engaged in
moral praise, guided by an understanding of their differing costs and benefits, as well as their
potentially distinct functional roles in social life.

The article is here.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Neuroscience and mental state issues in forensic assessment

David Freedman and Simona Zaami
International Journal of Law and Psychiatry
Available online 2 April 2019


Neuroscience has already changed how the law understands an individual's cognitive processes, how those processes shape behavior, and how bio-psychosocial history and neurodevelopmental approaches provide information, which is critical to understanding mental states underlying behavior, including criminal behavior. In this paper, we briefly review the state of forensic assessment of mental conditions in the relative culpability of criminal defendants, focused primarily on the weaknesses of current approaches. We then turn to focus on neuroscience approaches and how they have the potential to improve assessment, but with significant risks and limitations.

From the Conclusion:

This approach is not a cure-all. Understanding and explaining specific behaviors is a difficult undertaking, and explaining the mental condition of the person engaged in those behaviors at the time the behaviors took place is even more difficult. Yet, the law requires some degree of reliability and rigorous, honest presentation of the strengths and weaknesses of the science being relied upon to form opinions.  Despite the dramatic advances understanding the neural bases of cognition and functioning, neuroscience does not yet reliably describe how those processes emerge in a specific environmental context (Poldrack et al., 2018), nor what an individual was thinking, feeling, experiencing, understanding, or intending at a particular moment in time (Freedman & Woods, 2018; Greely & Farahany, 2019).

The info is here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Will These 2 Court Cases Finally Hold Our Torturers Accountable?

By David Cole
The Nation
Originally posted May 9, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, by contrast, are not committed to the political branches’ discretion. As the district court in Washington recognized, the very fact that Congress has made torture a crime and, under the Torture Victim Protection Act, grounds for a civil action for damages, refutes the notion that it is an inappropriate subject for courts. The fact that at the margins it may be difficult to decide whether particular actions constitute torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment does not make them “political questions.” Courts every day must decide whether particular conduct meets statutory definitions; that is what they do.

The district court in the CACI case ruled that because the military supervised the contractors at Abu Ghraib, the case must be dismissed as political because it would necessitate judicial intrusion on sensitive military judgments. But in doing so, it relied on cases that alleged only negligent action by contractors engaged in otherwise lawful and authorized military operations.

The article is here.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Neuroscience is changing the debate over what role age should play in the courts

By Tim Requarth
Originally posted April 18, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

The Supreme Court has increasingly called upon new findings in neuroscience and psychology in a series of rulings over the past decade (Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana) that prohibited harsh punishments—such as the death penalty and mandatory life without parole—for offenders under 18. Due to their immaturity, the argument goes, they are less culpable and so deserve less punishment than those 18 or older. In addition, because their wrongdoing is often the product of immaturity, younger criminals may have a greater potential for reform. Now people are questioning whether the age of 18 has any scientific meaning.

“People are not magically different on their 18th birthday,” says Elizabeth Scott, a professor of law at Columbia University whose work was cited in the seminal Roper case. “Their brains are still maturing, and the criminal justice system should find a way to take that into account.”

The article is here.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

When Self-Report Trumps Science: Confessions, DNA, & Prosecutorial Theories on Perceptions of Guilt

Sara Appleby and Saul Kassin
Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Mar 10 , 2016


For many wrongfully convicted individuals, DNA testing presents a new and invaluable
means of exoneration. In several recently documented cases, however, innocent confessors were
tried and convicted despite DNA evidence that excluded them. In each of these cases, the
prosecutor proposed a speculative theory to explain away the mismatched confession and
exculpatory DNA. Three studies were conducted that pitted confessions against DNA test
results. Study 1 showed that people in general trust DNA evidence far more than self-report,
including a defendant’s confession. Using student and adult community samples, Studies 2 and 3
showed that in cases in which the defendant had confessed to police but was later exculpated by
DNA, prosecutorial theories spun to reconcile the contradiction attenuated the power of
exculpatory DNA, significantly increasing perceptions of the defendant's culpability, the rate of
conviction, and the self-reported influence of the confession. Implications and suggestions for
reform are discussed.

The cited article is here.

Access to the article is here.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Less Blame, Less Crime? The Practical Implications of Moral Responsibility Skepticism

By Neil Levy
Journal of Practical Ethics
Volume 3 Issue 2. December 2015


Most philosophers believe that wrongdoers sometimes deserve to be punished by long prison sentences. They also believe that such punishments are justified by their consequences: they deter crime and incapacitate potential offenders. In this article, I argue that both these claims are false. No one deserves to be punished, I argue, because our actions are shot through with direct or indirect luck. I also argue that there are good reasons to think that punishing fewer people and much less harshly will have better social consequences, at a reduced overall cost, then the long prison sentences that are usually seen as required for social protection.

The article is here.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Does Disbelief in Free Will Increase Anti-Social Behavior?

By Gregg Caruso
Psychology Today Blog
Originally published October 16, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Rather than defend free will skepticism, however, I would like to examine an important practical question: What if we came to disbelieve in free will and basic desert moral responsibility? What would this mean for our interpersonal relationships, society, morality, meaning, and the law? What would it do to our standing as human beings? Would it cause nihilism and despair as some maintain? Or perhaps increase anti-social behavior as some recent studies have suggested (more of this in a moment)? Or would it rather have a humanizing effect on our practices and policies, freeing us from the negative effects of free will belief? These questions are of profound pragmatic importance and should be of interest independent of the metaphysical debate over free will. As public proclamations of skepticism continue to rise, and as the media continues to run headlines proclaiming that free will is an illusion, we need to ask what effects this will have on the general public and what the responsibility is of professionals.

In recent years a small industry has actually grown up around precisely these questions. In the skeptical community, for example, a number of different positions have been developed and advanced—including Saul Smilansky’s illusionism, Thomas Nadelhoffer’s disillusionism, Shaun Nichols’ anti-revolution, and the optimistic skepticism of Derk Pereboom, Bruce Waller, and myself.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Illusion of Choice: Free Will and Determinism

By Vexen Crabtree
Science and Truth Versus Mass Confusion

1. Nothing Escapes the Laws of Physics

Free will is an illusion. Our amazingly, wonderfully complex brains are comprised of various cognitive systems cycling amongst themselves and generating our thoughts, consciousness, choices and behaviour. These systems and their effects all result from the mechanical, inorganic laws of physics, over which we have no control.

Consciousness is presented to us as a result of our neurons, our brains, our senses. When we lose these, we lose consciousness. These systems are governed and controlled by neurochemicals, hormones, ionisation, impulses: in short, by biochemistry. Biochemistry is in turn merely a type of chemistry, and when we look at the molecules and atoms that make up our chemistry, they obey the laws of physics.

Balls bouncing around a pool table have no free will. The basic chemicals that make up our bodies and minds have no free will. Neurons fire when they should fire, according to their electrochemical properties. They don't randomly fire: They fire when they're stimulated to fire by other neurons or by environmental inputs. Stimulation results from a constant biochemical cycle. These natural cycles determine our states of mind and our choices. Through a long and complicated series of cause and effect, our choices are made. As such, all our 'choices' are ultimately the result of impersonal and mechanical forces. There is no "free will force" that causes neurons to fire some times and not at others. They fire in accordance with the rules of physics, firmly beyond our control but not beyond our appreciation. These facts are proclaimed also by none other than the foremost physicist Albert Einstein:
“I do not at all believe in human freedom in the philosophical sense. Everybody acts not only under external compulsion but also in accordance with inner necessity.”
Albert Einstein (1954)
Sociologists and psychologists have studied the subliminal, subconscious and external factors that affect our behaviour, and a vast number of studies that have found that our behaviour is determined by outside agency but that we always think it is caused by our own will.

The entire blog entry is here.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Microaggression, macro harm

By Regina Rini
The Los Angeles Times
Originally published on October 15, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

There is a serious problem with Campbell and Manning's moral history, and exposing it helps us see that the culture of victimhood label is misleading. Their history is a history of the dominant moral culture: It describes the mores of those social groups with the greatest access to power. Think about the culture of honor and notice how limited it must have been. If you were a woman in medieval Europe, you were not expected or permitted to respond to insults with aggression. Even if you were a lower-class man, you certainly would not have drawn your sword in response to an insult from a superior.

Now think about the culture of dignity, which Campbell and Manning claim “existed perhaps in its purest form among respectable people in the homogenous towns of mid-20th century America.” Another thing that existed among the “respectable people” in those towns was approval of racial segregation; “homogenous towns” did not arise by accident.

People of color, women, gay people, immigrants: none could rely on the authorities to respond fairly to reports of mistreatment.

The cultures of honor and dignity left many types of people with no recognized way of responding to moral mistreatment.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Blaming Mental Illness for Gun Violence

BY Alex Yablon
The Trace
Originally posted September 1, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Add it all up, and the “mental health” post-shooting playbook looks as calculated to ensure political inaction as it is the appearance of sensitivity. The general public would hardly disagree with statements by Trump, Bush, and others that the severely mentally ill pose a danger; in fact, surveys show that more Americans blame failures of the mental health system for mass shootings than any other factor. Meanwhile the Republican base — not to mention mental health professionals — would hardly countenance any action to expand the reach of background checks to block gun purchases by people with personality disorders or other mental health issues that are not quite so debilitating as conditions that require hospitalization, like schizophrenia or psychosis. So politicians can make statements like “The common thread we see in many of these cases is a failure in the system to help someone who is suffering from mental illness” (Scott Walker, the day after the WDBJ shooting), knowing full well they will not result in any action that could anger their pro-gun supporters.

In fact, framing incidents of gun violence as the product of unsettled perpetrators, versus firearms risks, may influence support for given solutions among the general public. An NPR article published on August 31 describes a psychiatric study in which two groups of subjects were given hypothetical news articles about a mass shooting, slightly altered to emphasize different underlying causes. Readers of the version emphasizing the need to “keep dangerous guns off our streets” were more likely to support limits on gun magazine capacity.

The irony of the psychiatric turn in debate on new gun law is that, for the most part, a body of research shows the severely mentally ill are among the least of our worries when it comes to violent crime, especially when compared to other risk factors. Alcohol, for example, is a factor in 40 percent of all violent acts committed in the United States today, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

The entire article is here.

The full title is: The Political Strategy Behind the GOP’s Post-Shooting ‘Mental Health’ Playbook

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Banality of Ethics in the Anthropocene, Pt 1

By Clive Hamilton
The Conversation
Originally posted July 12, 2015

Among the great crimes of the 20th century the most enduring will surely prove to be human disruption of the Earth’s climate. The effects of human-induced climate change are apparent now and will become severe this century, but the warming is expected to last thousands of years. That is so because extra carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere for a very long time, but also because changes in the climate are triggering changes in the Earth System as a whole, changes that cannot be undone.

If it is a crime to transform the Earth into a hot and less habitable place what are the offences committed by those responsible? A panel of eminent jurists this year published some principles to guide us. The Oslo Principles note that “all States and enterprises have an immediate moral and legal duty to prevent the deleterious effects of climate change”.

Corporations causing harm to people through their emission of greenhouse gases may be subject to tort law and may be sued for damages. The Principles observe that States are obliged to protect human life and the integrity of the biosphere through an existing network of national and international obligations.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Remembering a Just World: Motivated Recall of Victim Culpability

Sahil Sharma
New York University

Research over the last 30 years has demonstrated that individuals will often blame the victim for his or her misfortune. Just World Theory (Lerner, 1980) argues that individuals do so because they are
motivated to perceive their world as fair and just. Gender seems to moderate the effect of Belief in a Just World (BJW) on victim blame. Conflicting evidence suggests that this motivation affects women in different ways from men—she either blames the victim more (Janoff-Bulman, 1980) when there is a threat to the just world or less (Foley & Pigot, 2000) regardless of threat. It is less clear whether just world concerns impact recall of actual victim culpability. In this paper, we investigate whether individuals misremember information about victim responsibility for a sexual assault in order to satisfy the goal to believe that the world is just. We hypothesize that individuals whose just world motive has been experimentally heightened will be more likely to misremember details of a sexual assault in a way that confers responsibility on the victim. Results showed that memory mediates victim-blame. Men, when faced with a high threat to their belief in a just world, blamed the victim more than did women and misremembered the victimization of a female to inculcate greater blame.

The entire paper is here.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Mind Over Masters: The Question of Free Will

World Science Festival
Originally streamed May 30, 2015

Do we make conscious decisions? Or, as many scientists and philosophers argue, are all of our actions predetermined? And if they are predetermined—if we don't have free will—are we responsible for what we do? These are questions that have been debated for centuries, but now neurotechnology is allowing scientists to study brain activity neuron by neuron to try to determine how and when our brains decide to act. With neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers we’ll use the latest findings to explore the question of just how much agency we have in the world, and how the answer impacts our ethics, our behavior, and our society.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Being true to your true self

By David Shoemaker
Originally published May 24, 2015

Here is an excerpt

Philosophers who work on the nature of responsibility very often insist that ignorance of the moral status of one’s action is sufficient to excuse — or at least mitigate — one from responsibility. If you didn’t know that what you were doing was wrong, after all, how could it be appropriate to hold you responsible for not refraining from doing it?  This view is thought to hold symmetrically across negative and positive cases: not only does ignorance excuse (or mitigate) one from blame for bad actions, it also excuses (or mitigates) one from praise for good actions to the same extent.

This is not, however, how ordinary people view the matter. My colleague David Faraci and I have investigated the matter several times, and each time we get the same results. When asked about JoJo, people overwhelmingly think that his moral ignorance does mitigate his blameworthiness, albeit only a little bit (versus someone like him without that background). However, when people are asked about a case like Huck’s, they respond that his moral ignorance doesn’t mitigate his praiseworthiness at all; indeed, in some studies, we have found that people think his moral ignorance actually makes him more praiseworthy for what he did than a morally undeprived counterpart.

The entire blog post is here.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Stubborn System of Moral Responsibility

Bruce N. Waller, The Stubborn System of Moral Responsibility, MIT Press, 2015, 294pp.
ISBN 9780262028165.

Reviewed by Seth Shabo, University of Delaware

This book is a spirited and engaging broadside against ordinary belief in moral responsibility. Specifically, Bruce Waller challenges the entrenched belief that people bear the kind of moral responsibility for their conduct that would justify punishing them on the grounds that they deserve it. What needs explaining, in Waller's view, is why so many philosophers continue to defend this orthodoxy in the face of such powerful counterevidence. His proposed explanation encompasses a range of psychological and social factors that powerfully reinforce this belief. These include the animal impulse to strike back when harmed, an impulse that often inhibits deeper reflection into the causes of the offender's conduct; the desire to justify expressions of this strike-back impulse; the broader belief in a just universe in which wrongdoers have retribution coming to them; a heuristic tendency to substitute simpler problems for hard ones (in this case, the question of how we can correctly attribute bad qualities to people with the intractable problem of how people can truly deserve punishment); and the ascendancy of an individualistic, neoliberal political culture that downplays the role of societal conditions in shaping how people turn out.

The entire book review is here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hannah Arendt: thinking versus evil

By Jon Nixon
The Times of Higher Education
Originally posted February 26, 2015

Here are two excerpts:

That is why the notion of “thinking” played such an important part in Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism, from her 1951 The Origins of Totalitarianism to her highly controversial coverage of the Adolf Eichmann trial, the latter culminating in her 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem. In this, she famously employed the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe what she saw as Eichmann’s unquestioning adherence to the norms of the Nazi regime. In concluding from the occasional lies and inconsistencies in his courtroom testimony that Eichmann was a liar, the prosecution had missed the moral and legal challenge of the case: “Their case rested on the assumption that the defendant, like all ‘normal persons’, must have been aware of the criminal nature of his acts” – but, she added, Eichmann was normal only in so far as he was “no exception within the Nazi regime”. The prosecution had, according to Arendt’s analysis, failed to grasp the moral and political significance of Eichmann’s “abnormality”: namely, his adherence to the norms of the regime he had served and therefore his lack of awareness of the criminal nature of his acts.


In Arendt’s view, Eichmann’s “banality” left him no less culpable – and rendered the death sentence no less justifiable – but it shifted the basis of the argument against him: if he was a monster, then his monstrosity arose from an all too human propensity towards thoughtlessness. If Heidegger had represented the unworldliness of “pure thought”, then Eichmann represented the unworldliness of “thoughtlessness”. Neither connected with the plurality of the world as Arendt understood it. A world devoid of thinking, willing and judging would, she argued, be a world inhabited by automatons such as Eichmann who lacked freedom of will and any capacity for independent judgement.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

My brain made me do it, but does that matter?

By Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
The Conversation
Originally published December 12, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

These extreme cases are easy. Despite some rhetoric, almost nobody really believes that the fact that your brain made you do it is by itself enough to excuse you from moral responsibility. On the other side, almost everybody agrees that some brain states, such as seizures, do remove moral responsibility. The real issues lie in the middle.

What about mental illnesses? Addictions? Compulsions? Brainwashing? Hypnosis? Tumors? Coercion? Alien hand syndrome? Multiple personality disorder? These cases are all tricky, so philosophers disagree about which people in these conditions are responsible — and why. Nonetheless, these difficult cases do not show that there is no difference between seizures and normal desires, just as twilight does not show that there is no difference between night and day. It is hard to draw a line, but that does not mean that there is no line.

The entire article is here.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Belgian rapist Frank Van Den Bleeken 'to be euthanised' in prison this week

By Roisin O'Connor
The Independent
Originally posted January 5, 2015

A convicted murderer and rapist who won the right to end his life rather than endure 'unbearable suffering' in prison will be euthanised on 11 January.

Granted the right to die under Belgium’s liberal euthanasia laws in September, Frank Van Den Bleeken claimed he could not face the rest of his life in jail and argued that he would never be able to overcome his violent sexual impulses.

The entire article is here.

Friday, January 16, 2015

My brain made me do it, but does that matter?

By Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
The Conversation
Originally published December 12, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Despite some rhetoric, almost nobody really believes that the fact that your brain made you do it is by itself enough to excuse you from moral responsibility. On the other side, almost everybody agrees that some brain states, such as seizures, do remove moral responsibility. The real issues lie in the middle.

What about mental illnesses? Addictions? Compulsions? Brainwashing? Hypnosis? Tumors? Coercion? Alien hand syndrome? Multiple personality disorder? These cases are all tricky, so philosophers disagree about which people in these conditions are responsible — and why. Nonetheless, these difficult cases do not show that there is no difference between seizures and normal desires, just as twilight does not show that there is no difference between night and day. It is hard to draw a line, but that does not mean that there is no line.

The entire article is here.