ERC Roots of Responsibility will sponsor a workshop on The Reach of Responsibility, to be held on Sunday 26–Tuesday 28 March 2023, in person at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University, Israel. This conference is organised in collaboration with David Enoch (HUJI) and Yair Levy (TAU).


About the workshop

Are we responsible only for what they do voluntarily, or what is controlled by our wills? Attention to responsibility for beliefs, attitudes, emotions and even character, in recent years has encouraged philosophers to believe that the answer is no, and that responsibility should be associated with responsiveness to reasons or with agency (perhaps in a somewhat specialised sense of the term) instead. What is the state of play in this debate, and in which directions should it be moving? Presentations to be given at this conference approach all aspects of the broad theme of the reach of responsibility.

Schedule (provisional)

The first half of the conference (Sunday 26–Monday 27 March) will take place at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the second half (Tuesday 28) will take place at Tel Aviv University.

Sunday 26 March (HUJI)


Yair Levy (Tel Aviv), "Between Inner and Outer Speech: Continuity and its Limits"

Respondent: Lucy O'Brien (UCL)


Paulina Sliwa (Vienna), "The trouble with apologies"

Respondent: Arnon Keren (Haifa)



Daniel Telech (Lund), "Praiseworthy Negligence (or Praiseworthiness and Unwitting Omissions)"

Respondent: Oded Na'aman (HUJI)


Saul Smilansky (Haifa), "Determinism and the Problem of the Division of Responsibility"

Respondent: David Enoch (HUJI)


Conference dinner

Monday 27 March (HUJI)


Leora Dahan Katz (HUJI), "Excuse and Impaired Moral Competence"

Respondent: Assaf Sharon (Tel Aviv)


Kirstine La Cour (UCL), "Why should self-respecting people protest?"

Respondent: Shlomit Wygoda Cohen (Polonsky)


Excursion + Move to Tel Aviv

Tuesday 28 March (Tel Aviv)


John Schwenkler (Florida State), "Voluntariness and Responsibility"

Respondent: John Hyman (UCL)


Maria Alvarez (KCL), "Agency and Responsibility – the Significance of Alternatives"

Respondent: Yuuki Ohta (UCL)



Hagit Benbaji (Ben-Gurion), "How can we be responsible for recalcitrant emotions?"

Respondent: Assaf Weksler (Haifa)


Erasmus Mayr (Erlangen), "Moral Responsibility, Quality of Will, and Normative Error"

Respondent: Rachel Achs (Queen's, Oxford)

End of conference


Presenters, Titles, & Abstracts

Maria Alvarez (KCL) - Agency and Responsibility—the Significance of Alternatives

Abstract.In this paper, I try to explain why alternatives are significant when assessing a person’s moral responsibility. I first try to motivate the idea that alternatives are important by suggesting that responsibility requires control and that control requires certain agential abilities – “two-way” abilities, which are abilities whose exercise is under our control. I then suggest that the significance of alternatives is that lack of alternatives can exculpate for (apparent) wrongdoing. To develop this idea, I argue that the lack of alternatives can exculpate in different ways. First, an exculpation can exempt someone from responsibility for something they did, or failed to do, or any consequences, by showing that the agent lacked the requisite control. Second, an exculpation can work by accepting that the agent is responsible for what they did or failed to do but then either (a) justify it  so there is no wrongdoing; or (b) excuse, partially or totally, the wrongdoing.

Hagit Benbaji (Ben-Gurion) - How can we be responsible for recalcitrant emotions?

Abstract. It is quite common to hear others telling us how to feel: “You should be ashamed of yourself”; “Do you not feel sorry for what you did?”; “Stop envying your sister”; “Isn’t it about time you abandoned your resentment toward your father?”. The criticism does not stop at home: we blame ourselves for our emotions. I feel guilty for remaining cold when hearing news about the war in Ukraine; Peter is ashamed for feeling relief at the death of his boyfriend’s ex. I reproach myself for not feeling cheerful about my health. Self-blame is part and parcel of the practice of taking responsibility for our emotions.

Self-blame about emotions is essentially interlinked with recalcitrant emotions. An emotion is recalcitrant if it conflicts with an evaluative judgment. When I reproach myself for feeling anger toward my mother, say, I judge that she does not deserve anger, that she did not offend me in any way. Thus, if I morally reprimand myself for having an emotion, the emotion must be recalcitrant; I feel it despite judging that it is not appropriate. Were my emotions in line with my judgments, I would not be blaming myself for feeling them.

I focus on the practice of blaming ourselves for how we feel. Recalcitrant emotions, I argue, best manifest the practice of taking responsibility for emotions per se, because in their case, we cannot trace our responsibility to any of our other states, e.g., judgments or actions. Precisely because of that, recalcitrant emotions present a challenge to existing theories of responsibility. I show that such theories cannot adequately explain what it is in virtue of which we are responsible for our recalcitrant emotions. I then suggest that to account for our responsibility for emotions we must accept that emotions are states involving responsive awareness to values. Lastly, I utilize my account of emotions as responsive awareness of values to explain why cases of inverse akrasia deserve praise.

Leora Dahan Katz (HUJI) - Excuse and Impaired Moral Competence

Abstract. When should a person who has committed a legal wrong be excused from criminal liability? On perhaps the common conception of excuse, one ought to be excused where it is unfair to expect that the agent comply with the relevant norm or avoid the relevant wrong. Here fairness seems to be the key to understanding the domain of excuse. Yet fairness is not the only register in which excuses are sounded. Often excuses are understood in terms of cases in which it is unreasonable to expect agents to comply or in which the agent is understood to be blameless. In the legal literature these are often confounded and used interchangeably, though each presumably invokes a different standard of evaluation. Are the standards of fairness, reasonableness and blamelessness in this context distinct or aligned, and what are the relations between them? Hart, for example, introduced fairness as an alternative to blamelessness (to avoid the threat that determinism might introduce to the legitimacy of criminal responsibility), while Brink and Nelkin have recently proposed a fairness conception of responsibility that align the two.

In this paper, I turn to philosophical inquiry into excuse in the context of moral relations to make progress with respect to the question of exculpatory excuses in criminal law. I examine the test case of impaired moral competence – for example, one’s impaired capacity to recognize relevant moral reasons due to history or culture and the question of whether this should mitigate (as suggested by a focus on the reduced quality of opportunity to recognize reasons in such cases) or aggravate (as is sometimes the case in law, and which may be the upshot of some quality of will views) –  to refine the basis of excuse, using moral excuse to illuminate the question of excuse from criminal liability.

Kirstine La Cour (UCL) - Standing up for yourself – Protest as Self-Creation and Self- Revelation

Abstract. According to Bernard Boxill, a victim of injustice should protest her unjust treatment in order to show and know her self-respect. My objective in this paper is to vindicate this proposal. To do so, I first consider two contrasting views of the basis of a person’s worth; the Dignity View and the Honour View. On the Dignity View, the basis of a person’s self-respect is, or ought to be, her inherent nature, while on the Honour View, it is, or ought to be, the social standing conferred on her by other people.

I argue that neither of these views can explain the role for protest Boxill sets out. This is because they make the connection between a person’s worth and her knowledge of it either too tight or too tenuous. Instead, I aim to develop and defend an alternative. Taking as my starting point the idea that a person’s worth can be ‘up to her’, I draw on David Enoch’s account of a phenomenon he terms taking responsibility. I propose that, in addition to actions and their consequences, it is also possible to take responsibility for oneself – for the person one is or is becoming. Doing so, however, requires not just an act of will, but an act of public commitment; a person can stand up for herself by standing up before others. In this manner, protest can be a form of self-creation. I then considering whether an act of commitment can also be genuinely self-revelatory. Its apparently self-fulfilling character might seem to preclude that it can, but I suggest that this conclusion can be avoided; a person can find that her own attempt to protest leaves her cold, or that it resonates and rings true. If so, protest can be a form of self-discovery as well.

Yair Levy (Tel Aviv) - Between Inner and Outer Speech: Continuity and its Limits

Abstract. My topic here will be inner speech, or "the little voice inside the head". Philosophers from Plato to Ryle have traditionally held that inner speech episodes (ISEs) are a form of thought. In the first part of the paper I shall argue, against this view, that ISEs are more plausibly understood as instances of (truncated, inhibited) overt speech. Then, in the second part, I shall go on to resist a particular way of developing the ISEs-as-speech view which lends itself to Neo-Rylean conceptions of self knowledge. (Some) Neo-Ryleans suppose that ISEs are our primary means of finding out the contents of our own thoughts. But I shall draw out what I take to be problematic implications of this position, and defend an alternative picture of the functions of ISEs.

Erasmus Mayr (Erlangen) - Moral Responsibility, Quality of Will, and Normative Error

Abstract. According to ‘quality of will’ accounts of moral responsibility, blame-and praiseworthiness presuppose that the person's relevant action, omission or attitude manifest underlying objectionable or recommendable attitudes on the agent's part. In my talk I will look into the question of how to best understand the ‘quality of will’ relevant for moral responsibility, and will do so by focussing, in particular, on cases of normative errors. These cases, I will argue, show us that the relevant ‘quality of will’ should not primarily be understood in terms of concern for individual persons or for specific reason-providing features of the action-situation. Rather, moral blameworthiness and praiseworthiness presuppose that the action, omission, or attitude in question manifest insufficient or more-than-sufficient regard for morality's central and general norms or values. While the resulting view allows that normative errors about what is morally required sometimes exculpate the agent, it only does so within rather narrow limits, in particular when it comes to fundamental moral errors. While these limits may appear prima facie implausible, I will argue that they can be defended.

John Schwenkler (Florida State) - Voluntariness and Responsibility

Abstract. In Action, Knowledge, and Will, John Hyman argues in detail that "voluntariness is at root an ethical concept" and that its "basic function ... is to inform the appraisal of individual conduct and in particular the assessment of innocence and guilt". According to Hyman, "the concept of voluntariness is formed by negation ... by excluding factors that exculpate, in other words, factors that exclude guilt". Among the exculpating factors that Hyman argues are excluded by the concept of voluntariness is that of coercion, so that an action performed under duress is not voluntary according to this account.

I hope to address in my talk three questions about Hyman's account of voluntariness. The first question is whether there is, in addition to the "ethical" concept of voluntariness for which Hyman makes his case, an ordinary notion of voluntary action that is purely psychological or physiological, and whose role is merely in the description of human and animal behavior. About this, I am confident that the answer is yes. The second question is whether there is anything gained, in our assessment of the innocence and guilt of human agents, by employing Hyman's ethical concept of the voluntary in addition to or instead of this more minimal one. And the third is whether, given that we do seem to use the word "voluntary" and its cognates in both of these ways, what the relation is between these uses. I'm not yet sure what my answer to the second and third questions will be.

Paulina Sliwa (Vienna) - The trouble with apologies

Abstract. When writing about apologies, moral philosophers have tended to focus on apologies for grave and serious wrongdoing. Such apologies, it is supposed, aim at forgiveness. But we go through our daily lives apologising often and often for small things that barely register on the moral scale: for an inconvenience, and interruption, an unfortunate turn of phrase. It seems implausible that in doing so, we aim at being forgiven. But then what is their point? I suggest that these apologies communicate one's knowledge that a norm - moral or social – has been violated. I argue that this communicative role sheds light on the constructive power of apologies. Apologies can play an important role in sustaining social norms, including norms that are gendered and unjust.

Saul Smilansky (Haifa) - Determinism and the Problem of the Division of Responsibility

Abstract. When wrongdoing occurs, to whom do we attribute responsibility, and who do we blame? An intuitive answer is the agent, at least if he or she is held to be sufficiently free. Sometimes we may also attribute responsibility to the agent's parents, schooling or more broadly the social environment, for their failures in adequately "forming" the agent. I will argue that this way of seeing things is not obvious: in cases of various types of failure to discourage wrongdoing, the responsibility and blame may not (or at least not solely) lie with the agent, or with those who helped form him. The responsibility and blame may reach outside, to those who could have prevented the agent's wrongdoing by (say) deterrence. There is here a problem with the individuation and division of responsibility and blameworthiness, which potentially leads to absurdity and paradox. I will explore this neglected issue, and claim that it poses a difficulty for all positions on the free will problem, but a particularly difficult one for compatibilism.

Daniel Telech (Lund) - Praiseworthy Negligence (or Praiseworthiness and Unwitting Omissions)

Abstract. Quality of will theorists of moral responsibility are well positioned to account for the intuition that agents can be directly blameworthy for unwitting omissions, at least to the extent that they take blameworthiness to be a function of an agent’s either a) manifesting poor (or insufficiently good) quality of will or b) failing to manifest sufficiently good will. For, one’s failure to manifest sufficiently good quality might well be an unwitting omission, e.g. a failure of due care. Praiseworthiness, by contrast, is typically understood by quality of will theorists as a function of an agent’s manifesting good quality of will, where to manifest good will, whatever else it involves, is to express a mental state (e.g. a benevolent intention, compassion). Against this background, it is unsurprising that when responsibility theorists discuss responsibility for what fails to occur to one (including responsibility for forgetting), their discussion is limited to blameworthiness (A. Smith, 2005). For, while quality of will theorists (at least those who do not include a further volitional control condition on moral responsibility (e.g. McKenna, 2012)) can grant that the objects of direct responsibility are not restricted to that over which we exercise voluntary control, when it comes to praiseworthiness, it would seem that the objects of responsibility are limited to actions and expressions (of attitudes) that presuppose some praiseworthiness-grounding mental state—the state expressed in the praiseworthy manifestation of good will. Reflection on our responsibility practices, however, suggests that we sometimes praise persons (and intuitively fittingly so) for unwitting failures to attend to (/remember) certain matters, particularly matters that they are warranted in attending to, and where so attending is in their interest. More specifically, there are cases in which some agent A has a right to some good of B’s, which it would be reasonable for A to exact, where it’s failing to occur to A to exact that good from B can, under the right conditions, be something for which A is praiseworthy. At least, this is something quality of will theorists ought to accept. That is, quality of will theorists should accept that just as one can be blameworthy for failing to manifest an expected degree of good will, so too, one can be praiseworthy for failing to manifest an expected degree of ill will. Understanding ‘negligent’ in the sense of ‘inattentive’ (and so, not as implying one’s having fallen below some standard of reasonable care), the quality of will theorist, then, should countenance the phenomenon of praiseworthy negligence. In the debate between volitionalists and anti-volitionalists, the importance of the philosophically overlooked phenomenon of praiseworthy negligence arguably constitutes a strike against the volitionalist view.

Respondents (alphabetical order by surname)

  • Rachel Achs (Queen's, Oxford)
  • David Enoch (HUJI)
  • John Hyman (UCL)
  • Arnon Keren (Haifa)
  • Oded Na’aman (HUJI)
  • Lucy O'Brien (UCL)
  • Yuuki Ohta (UCL)
  • Assaf Sharon (TAU)
  • Assaf Weksler (Haifa)
  • Shlomit Wygoda Cohen (Polansky)

Participating in the workshop

We encourage colleagues and especially postgraduate students to attend. Please spread the word. This event is open to all, and attendance is free. A poster for the event is shown below; it can be downloaded from here

Enquiries about the workshop can be submitted via the message form on this website.

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