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Responsibility

Status: 
Current

The responsibility stream focuses on the preconditions for responsibility. Responsibility, broadly understood, is the capacity to exercise willpower, self-control, rationality, moral agency, and resilience. These capabilities enable us to pursue our goals, contribute to our communities, and be effective global citizens. We therefore have an interest in pursuing and promoting them. 

How do we promote responsibility? This is a question that can be approached from multiple disciplinary perspectives, including cognitive neuroscience, moral psychology, and social epistemology. Researchers are converging in thinking that deficits in responsibility are often due to the role of system-1 processes (which are relatively fast, automatic, and unconscious) in human cognition. These processes can compel us to act against our rational self-interest. For example, we might want to act in the interest of the climate, but ignore relevant information about climate change because of implicit positive associations with carbon products.[1] Knowing this might help us craft strategies to reduce this implicit bias.

How do we minimise the role of cognitive biases so as to achieve our goals? Researchers find that collaborating with others enhances rationality and objectivity (by reducing biases), but only if certain background conditions are in place. These conditions include incorporating diverse group members, together with fostering cooperation and an appreciation for diversity. These group dynamics can foster responsibility by allowing us to cooperate effectively with others in pursuit of our joint rational aims.   

Governments can also facilitate responsibility in citizens by regulating manipulation practices used by corporations to exploit people’s system-1 processes in ways that undermine their self-control, and by providing sufficient material resources for the exercise of responsibility. Researchers find that everyday financial demands trigger persistent and distracting concerns in the poor (but not the rich), and these concerns can undermine cognitive capacity.[2] Governments can intervene to alleviate some of this pressure on the least well-off.

The principal focus of the responsibility stream is to identify the source of impairments to responsibility, and then find solutions that can be introduced on an individual and a governmental level, with the main goal being to achieve a fair distribution of responsible agency.  




[1] Beattie & McGuire (2012)

[2] Schillback, Schofield & Mullainathan (2016)

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