Bioethics Blogs

Response to Fergus Peace

Author: Neil Levy, Leverhulme Visiting Professor

Podcasts of Prof Levy’s Leverhulme Lectures can be found here:

http://media.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/uehiro/HT16_LL_LEVY1.mp3

and http://media.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/uehiro/HT16_LL_LEVY2.mp3

Fergus Peace’s responses to my lecturers are interesting and challenging. As he notes, in my lectures I focused on two questions:

(1) are we (those of us with egalitarian explicit beliefs but conflicting implicit attitudes) racist?

(2) When those attitudes cause actions which seem appropriately to be characterized as racist (sexist, homophobic…), are we morally responsible for these actions (more precisely, for the fact that they can be classified in these morally laden terms)?

He suggests that these questions simply are not important ones to ask. Getting clear on how we ought to respond to implicit biases (what steps we ought to take to mitigate their effects or to eliminate them) matters, but asking whether a certain label attaches to us does not. Nor does it matter whether we are morally responsible for the actions these attitudes cause.

The first challenge seems to me to be a good one. I will discuss that challenge after I have discussed the question concerning our moral responsibility. This challenge seems very much weaker.

How could this question not matter? The question whether we are morally responsible for actions that we perform (and can be expected to perform, repeatedly and often, in the future) is obviously important. It has direct implications for how we ought to respond to ourselves and to others. In the lecture on this topic, I set aside consequentialist considerations: the question whether we are morally responsible, in the sense at issue, is the question whether we deserve to be treated in certain ways, quite apart from whether so treating us would have good effects on our behaviour or on the behaviour of others.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.