The “Consciousness Thesis” and Moral Responsibility in Neil Levy’s Research

19 January, 2021

Volkov D.
First pub. in: Логос. 2016. Т. 26. № 5. С. 213—226.

This paper presents an analysis of the “consciousness thesis” by Neil Levy and the argument in support of it. The “consciousness thesis” is a claim that consciousness is a necessary condition for moral responsibility. The author of the argument uses to word “consciousness” to refer to the information process in the brain that affects the behavior of the agent, and the contents of which can be reported verbally by him or her. The opponents of this thesis include philosophers-expressivists like Nomi Arpaly, Angela Smith, George Sher. Levy’s argument is built on the Global Workspace Model of consciousness. Levy believes that only consciousness as a global workspace can provide integration of information on the personal level. Automatisms and behavior not guided by conscious understanding of moral aspects of actions are not integrated on the personal level. This integration, however, supports the flexibility and which is necessary for moral responsibility according to two dominant theories: Real Self theory and control theory. Therefore, the consciousness thesis is proved.

The author of this paper suggests that the weak point of Levy’s argument is his definition of consciousness. The consciousness thesis is most likely to be refuted by the proponents of two main theories of consciousness: qualophiles and illusionists. Qualophiles claim that the semantic content is based on the qualitatively phenomenal states, and integration of information by itself is not enough to form beliefs on the personal level. Therefore, consciousness as defined by Levy is not relevant for forming personal-level beliefs. Therefore it is not necessary for moral responsibility. Illusionists claim that beliefs are ascribed to the agents from the outside when their behavior is being interpreted. So even those processes that cannot easily be verbally reported still represent personal beliefs. From this we can conclude that consciousness as defined by Levy is not a necessary a condition for moral responsibility.

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