Theses Doctoral

Agency and the Attitudes: Responsibility Through Reasoning

Heeney, Matthew

Are we morally responsible for what we believe and intend? If so, what is the nature of this responsibility, and how does it differ from our moral responsibility for our outward bodily deeds? How is our moral responsibility for belief and intention grounded in mental action? I argue that we do bear a species of moral responsibility for our beliefs and intentions. But our beliefs and intentions are nonvoluntary—we neither believe nor intend ‘at will.’ This raises a pressing question about how we can be legitimately held accountable for the attitudes. Given that we do not choose our attitudes in the same way we choose to perform ordinary intentional actions, how do we exercise agency in belief and intention? My answer is that responsibility for the attitudes is grounded in a fully intentional yet nonvoluntary form of mental action. This is a thinker’s reasoning to a conclusion in thought (or inferring). Drawing on the work of G.E.M. Anscombe, I argue that reasoning is active because it is constituted by the very species of self-conscious practical knowledge as intentional bodily action. This practical knowledge positions a thinker to answer the justificatory demands that mark our responsibility for the attitudes.


  • thumnail for Heeney_columbia_0054D_15920.pdf Heeney_columbia_0054D_15920.pdf application/pdf 1.18 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Rovane, Carol
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 22, 2020