Consciousness and Moral Cognition

The Review of  Philosophy and Psychology has just released a call for papers for a special issue on Consciousness and Moral Cognition. 

In essence, the editors are interested in questions about how people’s attributions of consciousness affect their moral judgments. Do people think that they have a greater obligation to creatures that have phenomenal consciousness than they do to creatures that only have non-phenomenal mental states? 
Just in the past few years, there have been a couple of really exciting empirical papers on this topic. The psychologists Kurt Gray, Liane Young and Adam Waytz have a pretty amazing paper arguing that part of the very essence of moral judgment is an ability to see the victim as being capable of a certain kind of experience. But then again, Adam Arico, Brian Fiala, Rob Goldberg and Shaun Nichols have suggested that people ascribe consciousness using the very same process they use to ascribe any other psychological state, and Justin Sytsma and Edouard Machery have claimed that ordinary people don’t even have the notion of phenomenal consciousness. 
Regardless of whether you have read any of these earlier papers, I’m just curious to hear what you think about these issues. Do ascriptions of consciousness actually play any special role in moral judgment? What do you think?


  1. gualtiero

    interesting question. off the top of my head, without having read anything about this, i’m inclined to guess that attribution of moral responsibility to others do not require attribution of consciousness to them, but attributions of consciousness at the very least facilitate judgments that someone has been done wrong (as in, they are victims, among other reasnos, because they are in pain).

  2. Gualtiero,

    That’s a nice point. So it seems like there is an important difference between moral *agency* (being someone whose own actions have moral significance) and moral *patiency* (being someone such that actions taken toward you can have moral significance).

    For example, a newborn baby might have no moral agency but a lot of moral patiency.

    Then it might be that phenomenal consciousness doesn’t matter much for moral agency, but is still very important indeed for moral patiency.

Comments are closed.

Back to Top
%d bloggers like this: