The Catch-22 of Forgetfulness: Responsibility for Mental Mistakes

Australasian Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
  Copy   BIBTEX


Attribution theorists assume that character information informs judgments of blame. But there is disagreement over why. One camp holds that character information is a fundamental determinant of blame. Another camp holds that character information merely provides evidence about the mental states and processes that determine responsibility. We argue for a two-channel view, where character simultaneously has fundamental and evidential effects on blame. In two large factorial studies (n = 495), participants rate whether someone is blameworthy when he makes a mistake (burns a cake or misses a bus stop). Although mental state inferences predict blame judgments, character information does not. Using mediation analyses, we find that character information influences responsibility via two channels (Studies 3–4; n = 447), which are sensitive to different kinds of information (Study 5; n = 149). On the one hand, forgetfulness increases judgments of responsibility, because mental lapses manifest an objectionable character flaw. On the other hand, forgetfulness decreases judgments of state control, which in turn decreases responsibility judgments. These two channels cancel out, which is why we find no aggregate effect of forgetfulness on responsibility. Our results challenge several fundamental assumptions about the role of character information in moral judgment, including that good character typically mitigates blame.

Similar books and articles

Neither pardon nor blame: Reacting in the wrong way.Daniel Coren - 2020 - Analytic Philosophy 62 (2):165-183.
Minding Negligence.Craig K. Agule - 2022 - Criminal Law and Philosophy 16 (2):231-251.
Why value values?Murray Samuel - 2018 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 41.
Doing & Deserving; Essays in the Theory of Responsibility.Joel Feinberg - 1970 - Princeton, N.J.,: Princeton University Press.
Aesthetic Self-Forgetfulness.Harri Mäcklin - 2021 - British Journal of Aesthetics 61 (4):527-541.
Blame, Reproach, and Responsibility.Jeanette Kennett - 2020 - Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 27 (4):395-397.
Morse, Mind, and Mental Causation.Michael S. Pardo & Dennis Patterson - 2017 - Criminal Law and Philosophy 11 (1):111-126.
No Excuses: Performance Mistakes in Morality.Santiago Amaya & John M. Doris - 2015 - In Jens Clausen & Neil Levy (eds.), Handbook of Neuroethics. Springer. pp. 253-272.
Self-Blame and Moral Responsibility.Andreas Brekke Carlsson (ed.) - 2022 - New York, USA: Cambridge University Press.


Added to PP

220 (#74,908)

6 months
108 (#19,595)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author Profiles

Zachary C. Irving
University of Virginia
Samuel Murray
Providence College