July–September 2021

An article I’ve been mulling over for a couple of years finally appeared during the summer. It is about truth and truthfulness in painting—a topic that is quite remote from Roots of Responsibility, so in present circumstances a ‘violon d’Ingres’. But it was nice to see it in print, especially as it is dedicated to a dear friend, Jacqueline Lichtenstein, formerly Professor of Aesthetics at the Sorbonne, who passed away in 2019. At the end of the summer, it was a tremendous pleasure to welcome Claire Hogg, Rachel Achs and Michael Thorne to the project—Claire and Rachel as Research Fellows and Michael with the first ERC Research Studentship (see the People section of this website for their profiles). We kicked off the year towards the end of September by meeting to discuss Pamela Hieronymi’s recent book about Peter Strawson’s classic article, ‘Freedom and Resentment. —John Hyman

Last summer I wrote a paper on the nature of honesty that is destined for the general public (a new edition of Aristote chez les Helvètes). Little did I know that this would put me on a good track to teach and study the nature of bullshit (on which I started a seminar in September). This is not a mere ‘hot topic’ that I’m working on now, far from it. If philosophy mainly concerns the love of wisdom, it is also about the dislike of bullshit. —Simon-Pierre Chevarie-Cossette

This summer I have been continuing to think through various projects: primarily, the relationship between rationality and recklessness, as well as neurodiversity and appraisal. I spent some time refining an older paper about how to accommodate neurodiversity within theories of moral blameworthiness, and I started working on some new ideas about the relationship between neurodiversity and epistemic appraisal, to appear in next year's Blackwell Companion to Epistemology.  I have also been working on a joint paper on the normativity of logic that I have been writing with my friend and colleague Bruno Jacinto. Aside from philosophy, I spent some time enjoying some trad climbing in the Peak District (see photo). —Claire Field

My paper on consent and third-party coercion is now forthcoming in The Journal of Moral Philosophy and I am very grateful for the excellent feedback on an earlier draft that I received from my colleagues at Roots of Responsibility. I also signed a book contract with Hart for my project on moral and legal responsibility, where I motivate a novel puzzle, the Lorry Driver Paradox, to explore and clarify our understanding of moral responsibility and break new ground in the ethics of AI. In July, a related paper received the CEPE IACAP Best Paper Award 2021. Finally, in August, I became a full member of the Research Ethics Committee (REC) Oxford C - South Central, where I help evaluate applications for clinical trials. Unfortunately, my time on the project has now come to an end. It was an exceptionally stimulating and rewarding time. I am happy to stay in touch with the project as an Associate Research Fellow and look forward to my time as a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Oxford. Max Kiener

For the second year in a row, I was not able to go back to Japan this summer to see friends and families (I did not make one of those Olympics bubbles, either as a journalist or as an athlete). Nonetheless, true to the Japanese counterpart of the adage ‘No rest for the wicked’, which may be roughly translated as ‘The poor never has leisure time’, I found myself having busily to scamper around running various errands, not the least among them hunting around for a new house to move to. When these tiresome tasks of life left me languishing (as they often did), I idled the time away with my landlord’s cat (see photo), and then, when I am recharged somewhat, revisited some twentieth-century classic works on the project of naturalising philosophy, from Carnap through Quine to Lewis and beyond, in preparation of a mini tutorial series I was asked to give. —Yuuki Ohta



Claire Field certainly not enacting Davidson’s famous example of the nervous climber.


Were some powerful king to ask her what she wanted, she would not even bother to ask him to move out of the way of the sun.

Past Updates

Roots of Responsibility held two workshops in the second quarter of 2021: Risk and Recklessness, which was organised by Claire Field and sponsored jointly with the AHRC project Varieties of Risk; and Responsibility and Control, which was organised by Max Kiener.  Both events attracted large international audiences and made the best use of the online format: papers were circulated in advance, presentations were relatively brief, discussion was searching and wide-ranging, and included a larger group than we could have assembled in one place.  I expect we’ll organise some hybrid events during the remaining two years of the project.  Also in May, Max was offered a highly prestigious Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at the University of Oxford, which he will take up in October.  Building on his work as an ERC Research Fellow, Max will investigate the significance of developments in AI for the theory of responsibility.  Happily, Max will remain an Associate Research Fellow on Roots of Responsibility, so the project will benefit from his continued participation. —John Hyman

Killarney, Ireland, David’s base for his summer staycation.

This term I have been considering the offence/defence distinction and the work of Luís Duarte d’Almeida in his excellent enunciation of what is termed the incorporationist challenge. I have been working on a paper which seeks to answer that challenge and defend the distinction. It was particularly pleasing to see our group grow towards the end of term with the addition of Clare and Rachel. Thankfully it was also possible to get away to beautiful Killarney in the South West of Ireland for a one week staycation after the hectic final term (see photo). I am sure I am not alone in very much looking forward to a return to normality in Autumn. —David Campbell 

This spring, I focussed most of my attention on teaching (Introduction to epistemology and a seminar on moral responsibility), with a brief interruption to give three talks. The first was on the relation between PAP (“responsibility” implies “alternatives”) and OIC (“ought” implies “can”). The other two were on responsibility historicism, the view that to be responsible for our conduct, we need to satisfy some historical requirements such as “having had a fair opportunity to reform” or “having acquired our values reflectively.” It was great to welcome Claire and Rachel to our group, and to start discussing matters of responsibility with them. —Simon-Pierre Chevarie-Cossette

Claire Field has adopted two feline research assistants.

In April I adopted two cats, and they have been enjoying participating in our Zoom meetings (see photo). One of their first academic events was the joint Roots of Responsibility-Varieties of Risk workshop on Risk and Recklessness. This was a really enjoyable workshop and my thinking on risk and recklessness really benefitted from the discussions I had there. I’m looking forward to thinking and writing about this topic more. In May, I published a piece in The Conversation on managing the risks of easing lockdown given pluralist understandings of risk.  I published a paper on neurodiversity and moral appraisal: “Moral Appraisal for Everyone: Neurodiversity, Epistemic Limitations, and Responding to the Right Reasons,” forthcoming in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. This paper benefitted enormously from discussions with the Roots of Responsibility team.   —Claire Field

I started the second quarter of 2021 by writing an article for The Conversation, in which I ask whether it is okay to manipulate people into getting vaccinated against COVID. Later, I presented my academic research at different events, including the workshop “Responsibility and Control” that I organised for RoR. Finally, I am very happy to report that I accepted a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at Oxford from October 2021 and I look forward to staying in touch with RoR as a Research Associate. Max Kiener

This was the final quarter of an extraordinary academic year coloured by the pandemic, and various sources of extra work and something like a mounting pressure for the impending lifting of lockdown measures made these three months a great challenge (somewhat as a pupil might experience terrible nervousness when, after a long absence due to illness, she must return to school). RoR—a five-year project—passed the mid-point in its life: the second half is bound to be a lot more eventful and intense, in many senses of these adjectives. Meanwhile, on my teaching front, I was pleased to see two undergraduate students I supervised this year got strong first-class marks for their dissertations. —Yuuki Ohta 

In the Spring Term, Jessica Brown gave a fascinating lecture on Group Responsibility, the fifth Special Lecture in our series.  Jessica compared reductive and non-reductive theories of group and corporate agency and responsibility, and explained the formidable difficulties both kinds of theories face.  Alexander Bird kicked off an excellent discussion, one of the lessons of which, I thought, was that a single theory is unlikely to cover every kind of supra-personal agent or collective.  Spring Term is also when the Roots of Responsibility seminar takes place, and this year I convened it jointly with Max Kiener, which was both highly instructive and good fun.  We had a couple of guest appearances, from Erasmus Mayr and Yair Levy, both of whom brought some of their students along, and made a tremendous contribution to the series.  Finally, we made three tremendous new appointments in March.  Rachel Achs and Claire Hogg will be joining Roots of Responsibility as ERC Research Fellows, and Michael Thorne has been awarded a graduate research scholarship in the Department of Philosophy at UCL.  More details about their research can be found here. —John Hyman

5km from home (by David Campbell)

Another term languishing in lockdown!! Having returned to Dublin for Christmas, I am still here. There are of course benefits to being at home (and staying strictly within 5km of home [see photo on the left, middle]) but I am very much looking forward to next academic year and returning to the normal pattern of academic life. I was once again delighted to be invited as a respondent on the Criminal Law and The Mind seminar series organised by Alexander Greenberg. This term I (finally) completed my paper on denying the existence of tort law defences, where I argue there are no defences native to tort law, only denials. In the language of criminal law theory this might be described as a claim that there is no offence/defence distinction within tort law, and if I am right about this then it may form the basis of understanding that distinction better in criminal law; the work of the next paper. —David Campbell

I started teaching in Neuchâtel and so translated more papers into French. This has been a rewarding exercise. It has made me see how many metaphors are involved in philosophical explanation and how they differ across languages. I’ve also “harvested” useful distinctions, such as the distinction between asking “how does one know?” and “what is knowledge?” This has guided my work in a piece I wrote on responsibility historicism, the view that responsibility depends on the history of the agent, e.g. whether her values result from indoctrination. —Simon-Pierre Chevarie-Cossette

I moved to Scotland in January. The change of scene has been nice, even if Scotland’s Covid regulations have geographically restricted that scene somewhat. In my research, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between recklessness and rationality, and learning more about decision theory. I also wrote a new paper on the epistemic benefits of incoherence, forthcoming in an Oxford University Press volume on Epistemic Dilemmas, and spent time planning a workshop on Risk and Recklessness, which will take place in April. Finally, I co-authored a short article on risk in the sci-fi show The Expanse for a Blackwell volume The Expanse and Philosophy. —Claire Field

I co-taught the Spring Research Seminar ‘Agency and Responsibility’ together with John and greatly enjoyed the discussions with the students from UCL and elsewhere. In terms of my research, I presented a paper on consent and coercion at the Oxford Jurisprudence Discussion Group and another paper on taking responsibility as a normative power at the Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group. Furthermore, I published a review of the book Unpacking Normativity in Jurisprudence and my paper on consent and nudging, which I presented at the RoR event ‘Recent Work on the Ethics of Consent’ in December 2020, was accepted for publication in Philosophical Studies. Finally, together with Yuuki’s support, I am finalising the organisation of our RoR workshop ‘Responsibility and Control’, which will take place as an online event in June. Max Kiener

Dana Nelkin’s Special Lecture on 27 October, Quality of Will and Control, was one of the highlights of a busy term. Dana spoke from San Diego, California, and as has commonly happened at our events during the last year, she had an international audience spanning at least eight time-zones. Dana explored the debate between those who believe that responsibility for action is a matter of the agent’s quality of will, and those who believe that it is a matter of control. Holding events of this kind online has worked well, but we are hoping to resume in-person lectures by the end of 2021. SpatialChat isn’t really a substitute for meeting in person, and you have to supply your own drinks. Apart from that, our regular meetings continued, and we concluded our series on Spinoza’s Ethics with a guest appearance by Adrian Moore. I was especially glad that Claire continued to participate as an Associate Research Fellow, following her move—via the Peak District—to Dundee. — John Hyman

This term I was delighted to chair a session for Claire Field’s workshop ‘Mistakes, Ignorance, and Blameworthiness’ and also to be a respondent to Prof Gideon Yaffe as part of Alexander Greenberg’s excellent seminar series, ‘Criminal Law and the Mind’. I was pleased to have been able to return to—at times a rather foggy (see photo on the right, second from the top)—Oxford for at least a short while in the autumn, especially now that I seem unlikely to be able to return until after Easter. I have been working on a paper around ascriptions of practical reasoning, drawing together some of my previous work into a more focused structure, and in particular dissociating responsibility from blameworthiness. — David Campbell 

Like for many people in academia (medical researchers excluded!), past few months have been slow ones for me. Thankfully, the RoR-related activities (such as Alexander Greenberg’s seminar, Max Kiener’s talk, our weekly reading group) kept me socially active! I also translated another chapter of John Hyman’s Action, Knowledge, and Will into French, and kept working on a paper on moral responsibility which is now forthcoming in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy. For my next update, I shall be reporting from Neuchâtel, Switzerland, where I am relocating for a tenure-track position. —Simon-Pierre Chevarie-Cossette

I spent these months in the Peak District (see photo on the right, second from the bottom), which meant lots of bouldering opportunities and the chance to catch up with family. I published ‘Giving Up the Enkratic Principle’ in Logos and Episteme, which argues that (surprisingly) rationality sometimes requires us to be incoherent—although I have been working on this paper for so long that I no longer find this result surprising. In December, I presented my paper on recklessness in decisions about the very far future at a GPI workshop on Longtermism, and in November I was also offered the unusual opportunity to (unconvincingly) impersonate Kant at the Philosophy Foundation's WorldPhilosophy Day online event (see photo on the right, bottom). — Claire Field

After some pandemic-related organisational challenges, Karamvir Chadha and I could finally hold the first part of our workshop ‘Recent Work on the Ethics of Consent’ in December 2020, where I also presented a paper of mine on nudging people into medical consent. I could also make further progress in organising the Roots of Responsibility workshop on moral responsibility and control, which will take place in June 2021. I am happy to announce that David Shoemaker, Antony Duff, Susan Wolf, David Enoch, Victor Tadros, Mark Coeckelbergh, Elinor Mason, Karen Yeung, Leonhard Menges, Kristine La Cour, Claire Field, and myself will participate. Finally, I published a paper entitled ‘Artificial Intelligence in Medicine and the Disclosure of Risks’ in AI&Society, and completed a review in Jurisprudence of Unpacking Normativity: Conceptual, Normative, and Descriptive Issues, an anthology edited by Kenneth Einar Himma, Miodrag Jovanović, and Bojan Spaić (Hart Publishing, 2018). —Max Kiener

At the risk of sounding smug about how much of a philosophical jack of all trades (though master of none) I am, I shall, in addition to noting that I hugely enjoyed having Adrian Moore—my DPhil supervisor and former colleague—at one of RoR's discussion group meetings towards the end of the term, discussing theistic and atheistic faces of Spinoza, the Ethics' Nietzschean/Deleuzean rejection of all passivity, and an arguably proto-Tractarian conception of the kind of sense-making (good) metaphysics pursues, merely list the topics on which five UCL philosophy undergraduates have begun writing their dissertations, under my supervision: the social or communal aspect of meaning, drawing on Wittgenstein's rule-following considerations and Davidson's account of radical interpretation; the view that emotions may exhibit a kind of rational order, which however is distinct from the rational order of beliefs and other like states; the idea that there may be cognitive norms other than the norm of truth, norms to which literary works of art are distinctively subject, and in meeting which such works may be intrinsically cognitively valuable, without imparting (important) truths; artistically significant ways in which certain distinctively filmic features and devices may be used to create and exploit a gap in perspective between the creator of a narrative film and the narrator narrating the story in which the film consists; post-humanist, Derridian, and Diamondian challenges to the traditional picture of the scope of ethics, and of how human beings relate to other animals with respect to it. — Yuuki Ohta


The lockdown and the closure of the philosophy department at UCL had the effect of blurring the distinction between term and vacation, so several Zoom groups continued through or at least deep into the summer. As well as our regular project meetings, I convened a group jointly with Hans-Johann Glock, which studied a chunk of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, and I joined another group convened by Joseph Raz, which Ulrike Heuer and Maria Alvarez, both members of RoR’s advisory board, belong to as well. Alas, the academic year began with a departure, as Claire Field left the project to return to Scotland, where she will be joining the AHRC project Varieties of Risk, based at the universities of Stirling and Edinburgh. Happily Claire will continue to participate in Roots of Responsibility as an Associate Research Fellow. She has made a tremendous contribution to RoR, most recently by planning and leading our September workshop Mistakes, Ignorance and Blameworthiness. More information about the workshop can be found here.  —John Hyman

If ever there was a year when the restorative effects of Summer were needed, this was it! The season provided a badly needed opportunity to recover from the pandemic-impacted Trinity Term as well as an opportunity to consolidate the work done from the year. It was a particular pleasure that the RoR meetings extended into the Summer and allowed us to continue to have the benefits of fellowship. As travel became easier my husband and I also took the opportunity to get away to the sun to recharge the (solar?) batteries – envy inducing photo attached (see left).  —David Campbell

After having completed and published the paper on deliberation and free will which the RoR group so kindly helped me with (open access here), I turned to a different kind of work. I started a book project with two colleagues in Canada on the intersection of value theory and epistemology. We started compiling and translating key texts into French on themes such as the value of knowledge, the variety of reasons to trust, and the power of testimony. So far, I translated three texts, including Holton’s ‘Deciding to Trust, Coming to Believe’, Hyman’s ‘Road to Larissa’, and Zagzebski’s ‘The Search for the Source of the Epistemic Good’. I also kept working on a paper about excuses and alternatives and gave a talk in September on the self-defeating character of a belief in the moral error theory. —Simon-Pierre Chevarie-Cossette

It was a strange summer of cancelled plans, but happily not our online Mistakes, Ignorance, and Blameworthiness Workshop, which you can read my longer update about here. I felt very fortunate to be able to continue doing philosophy with very minimal disruption, and now with a range of newly pressing questions (“Would it be reckless to go to the pub?”). I began working on some new thoughts about recklessness and risk aversion (which I enjoyed sharing with the rest of the RoR group in our Work in Progress group), and published some old(er) thoughts—“Anti-Exceptionalism about Requirements of Rationality”—in Acta Analytica. I argue that there is nothing particularly interesting about our normative beliefs about what rationality requires—a view that is more controversial than it sounds. Over the summer I also accepted a position as Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the AHRC-funded project Varieties of Risk, where I’ll be continuing to work on recklessness and blameworthiness. Happily, I’ll be remaining an Associate member of the Roots of Responsibility team, and I’m looking forward to enjoying the best of both projects. —Claire Field

Thanks to the growing opportunities for online interaction, I was able to present parts of my work-in-progress on consent and responsibility at the FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg, the Munich Graduate Conference in Ethics, and the 10th European Congress of Analytic Philosophy. In addition, my paper ‘Consent and Living Organ Donation’ was accepted for publication at the Journal of Medical Ethics. Finally, and most importantly, I started to organise a workshop on control and responsibility for Roots of Responsibility. So, stay tuned!  —Max Kiener

Restlessly seeking to find a new rhythm even as the pandemic seemed to sink its claws deeper into ordinary life, I belatedly revisited Camus's Le Peste. The novel's uncanny prescience and renewed relevance are well noted, but what I found most striking was its depiction of the effect of the plague on how we relate to our language: as we are confined and isolated from each other physically, the words we utter get alienated from what we (used to) utter them to mean; they become empty, abstract, losing touch with the world. Thus what we might call the duty of sincerity is articulated as the responsibility to mean what we say. It would be good to put these Wittgensteinian thoughts (with many Cavellian inflections) down in words at some point, as Dr Rieux did, to bear witness to what happens, and not to be among the silent. —Yuuki Ohta

During the last three months, all of the project’s activities have taken place online, and as everyone reading this will know, the cost of losing informal, unplanned conversations and chance meetings is huge—like visiting a city without being able to wander aimlessly, and lose one’s way. But there have been gains as well as losses. Prof. Victor Tadros (University of Warwick) gave our first guest lecture of the year, ‘Treatment and Accountability’, on 21 May. The text was pre-circulated, the presentation was relatively brief, the discussion relatively long, the audience were in half a dozen countries, and numbered a little shy of 100. Thanks to Victor’s virtuosity and stamina and the audience’s enthusiasm, it was a tremendous event. The second guest lecture of the year will be given by Anton Ford (University of Chicago) in October. At present it seems likely to be held online, but even if we are able to hold it in a lecture theatre with an audience, we shall ensure that remote participation is possible as well.  —John Hyman

This term I have been thinking about subjectivity as it relates to criminal culpability. In particular I have been considering two versions of subjectivity: epistemic and perspectival. The former is understood in terms of the facts that are known or knowable to the agent, while the latter concerns the value the subject places on those facts in their practical reasoning. I have been exploring how these concepts of knowledge and perspective relate to one another in culpability determinations. I have also completed my first year of teaching Jurisprudence and Criminal Law at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. This was an unexpectedly busy and online term due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  —David Campbell

Apart from my teaching at St John’s College (which has taken me from readings on death to classes on causation), I have focussed my attention this spring on a paper on obligations and excuses. In particular, I questioned the relation between PAP (Principle that responsibility implies Alternate Possibilities) and OIC (“Ought” Implies “Can”) in the light of the distinction between excuses and justifications. I have benefited from discussions with the other members of the project on this controversial distinction, which is drawn differently by epistemologists and legal theorists. In epistemology, justification is often seen as conformity to a primary norm: my belief is justified only if it is what I ought to believe. In the law, justification is often seen as a defence: we offer a justification when we have infringed a prima facie obligation but which we claim we were right to infringe. I suspect that whether we understand justification in the first or in the second way matters to the plausibility of PAP and OIC. I have also finalised a paper (forthcoming in the Pacific Philosophical Quarterly) on whether free will sceptics can deliberate rationally about what to do. I have, in the past year, received tremendous feedback from the RoR members on this piece.  —Simon-Pierre Chevarie-Cossette

I decided to embrace some of the benefits of online life and started planning a workshop on Mistakes, Ignorance, and Blameworthiness, which will take place entirely online in September. Although it won’t be the same as having it in person, it is nice to be able to invite people from as far away as California. In my own research I’ve been working on two papers: one on recklessness and what makes a risk reckless (that is, unjustified)—something that has been particularly on my mind in the times of COVID-19, and one on whether epistemic normative ignorance is blameworthy in the same way that moral normative ignorance is thought to be (I think, yes!). —Claire Field

Karamvir Chadha and I organised a workshop on the ethics of consent and successfully invited Mollie Gerver and Neil Manson as speakers. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 outbreak forced us to postpone the event and we are currently looking for an alternative date. Concerning my own research, I presented a paper on consent and nudging in the WEH/ETHOX Seminar Series at the University of Oxford, published an opinion piece on consent and COVID-19 challenge trials in The Conversation, and continued with my work on responsibility, answerability, and consent.  —Max Kiener

Deleuze writes: ‘Spinozism in its entirety can be seen as a movement beyond the infinitely perfect as a property, towards the absolutely infinite as Nature’. Reading Spinoza's Ethics is a dizzy and dazzling exercise in which one is invited to make sense of absolutely everything, as if by stretching one's arms around the entire universe, touching and embracing every minutest part of it. It has been a pleasure and privilege to study this text in the RoR reading group, while also teaching Nietzsche, who said he recognised himself in Spinoza's key teachings. —Yuuki Ohta

The principal event during this period was the research seminar, which I convened this year with Maria Alvarez (KCL), who has been a member of the Roots of Responsibility Advisory Panel since its inception. Graduate students from UCL and KCL participated, along with several senior colleagues from philosophy departments and law schools in and near London. The seminar certainly achieved its aim of fostering dialogue between philosophers and lawyers, and I personally learned a great deal. The complete programme of the seminar can be found here. The last two meetings were held online, because real—is that the opposite of virtual?—meetings were no longer feasible. Yuuki organised this with exceptional skill, and has ensured that the project as a whole has adapted to current circumstances with minimal disruption. All of the participants in the project are greatly indebted to him. —John Hyman

This term I continued my work on the two topics of (1) the blameworthiness of legal negligence and the (2) the role of defences—in particular justificatory defences—in tort theory. While most criminal theory on negligence focuses on whether or not negligence can be blameworthy, I have made the slightly different claim that the current legal tests are insufficient to give us such a determination but could be developed to do so. Regarding tort theory, I have been attempting to rehabilitate Gardner’s theory of justification to meet some of the challenges levelled at him in that sphere, most particularly by James Goudkamp in his influential work on tort defences. —David Campbell

I spent the first part of this year continuing some older projects and developing some new ones. I continued some work on developing an error theory for the Enkratic Principle in epistemology, and work on a symmetrical account of ignorance as an excuse—I suspect the usual distinctions made between moral and factual ignorance are undermotivated. I also began a new project on how we justify risks, and when risks are reckless. Finally, prompted by Nathan Ballantyne’s book Knowing Our Limits, I began thinking about the epistemic significance of unpossessed evidence—why should and important epistemic notion depend on what I actually believe? —Claire Field

I started 2020 by presenting revised versions of my work on coercion and deviant causal chains in our RoR group as well as at the universities in Karlsruhe, Warwick, and Oxford. Later, my paper “Fictionalising Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law” was published in a special issue of the Archive for the Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy, alongside a contribution by the late John Gardner. Finally, I wrote a new paper on how the use of un-explainable artificial intelligence in medicine affects patients’ informed consent, a topic which has now led me to focus on the relation between unexplainability and answerability more generally. —Max Kiener

Annette Baier's ‘Actions, Passions, Reasons’, in her Postures of the Mind (1985, Minnesota UP), was not the most popular reading we had for the research seminar this term. But I liked it very much. Baier does not hide her (now unfashionable) struggle with Davidson: there's something there, but also a lot that's rather wrongheaded. Meandering, tentative, uncertain, exploratory, all over the place—all her ramifying thoughts are left on the page. Most papers published today are much more polished, polite, and professional; and much of the magic has gone. —Yuuki Ohta

As I mentioned in my last update, three research fellows joined Roots of Responsibility in September: David Campbell, Claire Field and Max Kiener.  Taken together, their updates provide a clear picture  of the range of fascinating work the project is supporting, and the value of collecting it together under a single roof.  Together with our weekly meetings, the most rewarding event in this period was our December workshop, Responsibility, Knowledge, and Belief, jointly sponsored by Dr Alexander Greenberg’s Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship project, Belief in Philosophy and the Criminal Law.  The workshop brought together an extraordinary group of scholars from the UK, Europe and US, and explored the ways in which ignorance can excuse wrongdoing, wilful ignorance, responsibility for belief, the presumption of innocence, and witness testimony.  More information about it, including a link to abstracts, can be found here — John Hyman

This term I have been considering two main issues: (1) Negligence is a controversial inclusion in the mens rea schema for crime; my research has been testing the possibility of understanding negligence as a determinant of blameworthiness; (2) The distinction between denials and defences is well known in criminal theory and has recently been incorporated into tort theory; however, I have been questioning whether this criminal division and the further division between justifications and excuses can be fittingly exported to tort theory. — David Campbell

I have been developing the (surprisingly controversial!) view that moral ignorance is mundane. Just like other kinds of ignorance, it sometimes excuses. Whether it excuses, I think, depends on the agent’s epistemic capacities. So, not just what she does actually believe or know, but what she could believe or know. This determines what it is appropriate to expect of her, and so whether she should have avoided the ignorance. Of course, the relevant notion of ‘could’ is important. I have been experimenting with different understandings of this, and considering their implications for when ignorance, of all kinds, can excuse. – Claire Field

I completed an article on coercion, which I was commissioned to write for the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy and which provides an overview of the current debate. In my subsequent research, I focused on two more specific aspects about coercion. Firstly, I revised an earlier paper on the effect of coercion on a person’s consent (e.g. to a medical procedure) in cases involving a third-party, i.e. cases in which the person exerting the coercion and the person receiving consent are no longer the same. Secondly, in a separate paper, I analysed how coercion can fail to be successful in cases of deviant causal chains but still vitiate consent and avert liability for wrongdoing. —Max Kiener

The difference between believing and not believing is obviously significant. But what is, and how do we tell, the difference between having a belief that is however 'stored away' so that one needs a prompt to 'activate' it, and not having that belief but having all the doxastic wherewithal (e.g. concepts) so that one would right away form and activate the belief if only one is prompted? Epistemologists, I have learned, distinguish subtly different doxastic states; I often struggle to understand the criteria of possession or ascription of such states. —Yuuki Ohta

I attended several conferences and workshops during the summer.  First, a workshop on knowledge how in Erlangen, where I gave a paper comparing knowledge of rules with knowledge of facts; next, a workshop in Berlin, hosted by Jay Wallace, where I commented on a draft chapter by Ulrike Heuer—a member of the Roots of Responsibility advisory board—about responsibility for action that has unintended outcomes; then a large-scale conference in Oxford entitled Culture and Value after Wittgenstein—generously supported by the Czech philanthropist Luděk Sekyra—where I spoke about Wittgenstein’s Spenglerian views about culture and civilisation; and finally the annual conference of the British Society for Aesthetics, where Elisabeth Schellekens and I formally relinquished the editorship of the British Journal of Aesthetics—a hugely enjoyable collaboration for twelve years.  September was a particularly enjoyable month, because three research fellows joined the project, and our collaboration began.  More about this in the next update! — John Hyman

Summer is a season of conferences and workshops for researchers. At the beginning of July, I went to a workshop on knowledge-how in Erlangen, then another on agency and norms in Berlin. Both events were stimulating in many respects, and in the coming years we at RoR will host various academic events that we hope will be as productive and convivial as these. At the end of August there was a big international conference on Wittgenstein in Oxford, where I responded to one of the talks; I tried to connect recent debates on ‘trans’ to Wittgenstein’s discussion of aspect perception, and to the importance (I think) he places on our common struggle with language. I spent a greater bulk of September back in Japan, meeting friends and families, and working on a paper on knowledge, control and intentional action, inspired by some ideas that I had during my visit in Germany earlier. —Yuuki Ohta

The principal events during the second three months of 2019 were the appointment of three post-docs, who will be joining the project in the autumn, and two guest lectures.  Our advertisement for the post-docs attracted applications from highly talented philosophers and lawyers, and in the event, we were able to appoint three research fellows: David Campbell, Claire Field, and Max Kiener. This post in the Resource section introduces them. The guest lectures, in May and June, were given by the distinguished legal theorist Peter Cane and the leading philosopher of biology John Dupré. There are brief reports of these events in the resources section (here and here).

Shortly after I drafted this update, I learned that John Gardner, a member of the project’s Advisory Board, had died of oesophageal cancer, at the age of 54. John’s friends and colleagues had been expecting this news for a few months, but that does not lessen the shock or diminish the sadness. A touching tribute to John by Annalise Acorn can be found here. —John Hyman

It is difficult to believe that the first year of the RoR project is coming to close. We have put the project into top gear: after a long selection process, we have appointed two post-doctoral research fellows, who will begin working for the project in autumn; in May and June we had our first two invited lectures; also in June, John and I were lucky to have been invited to participate in a conference on themes from Bernard Williams. Paul Russell and András Szigeti, the organisers of this fantastic conference, are also leading a research project on responsibility at Lund and Göthenberg; there will be various exciting opportunities for us to collaborate with them, for which please watch this space! Meanwhile, for my own research, I have been trying to work on a couple of papers, on the nature of philosophical claims, on logical individuation of actions and psychological states, and on the explanatory power of explanation in terms of powers. —Yuuki Ohta

The seminar series was enjoyable and rewarding. Dennis Patterson (Rutgers and the University of Surrey) made a tremendous contribution, and several participants travelled from Oxford regularly to attend our meetings, along with UCL staff and students, and colleagues from institutions across London.  I’m greatly looking forward to the two post-docs we appointed in March joining the project—one based at UCL, the other at The Queen’s College, Oxford—and to others working at or affiliated with UCL participating as well.  News about this will follow shortly. —John Hyman

The academic highlight during this period was the project’s research seminar, consisting in ten meetings where we examined some classic and recent significant works in the philosophy of action, jurisprudence, metaethics, and metaphysics. My learning curve for topics in the philosophy of law was steep, but rewarding. The administrative highlight during this period was the advertisement and the selection of two research fellows funded by the project. I was overwhelmed by the quality of very many of the applications, and by the wide range of exciting themes across philosophy and law that the applicants proposed to work on. We had the interviews for the posts at the end of March, and will be able to announce the appointment in May. —Yuuki Ohta

A substantial part of this period was devoted to getting the project off the ground.  Yuuki Ohta was appointed to the post of Project Administrator, and once Yuuki was on board, we planned the first seminar together.  It will begin in January, and will involve several colleagues, some already involved in the project as members of the Advisory Board.  Since October, I have also attended the annual conference of the American Society for Aesthetics in Toronto, written a review of Jonathan Dancy’s new book, Practical Shape for Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, given a lecture entitled Responsibility and Liability for the Linacre Philosophy Seminars series, and given a departmental seminar on the concept of functionalism in the theory of architecture at UCL. —John Hyman

I started working as the project administrator at the beginning of November, and have been engaged with a large number of administrative and logistic tasks that the project’s take-off required since then, not the least of which is the building of this website. I have also given tutorials in Oxford on aesthetics and on a special set of topics at the intersection of ethics and philosophy of action. For my research, I have been reading on and thinking about the nature of a state of affairs—something (ens) being (esse) thus and so (essentia). —Yuuki Ohta