What would have been and what should have been: the interdependence of causation and morality

Fearnley, Laura (2023) What would have been and what should have been: the interdependence of causation and morality. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis is about morality, causation and the connection between the two. Whether there’s some causal relation between flicking the switch and turning on the light, between donating blood and saving a life, or between rain falling and puddles on the ground, is typically understood to be a mind-independent, objective, precise matter of fact. It’s no surprise given this perspective that for a long time philosophers didn’t believe something so ostensibly nebulous as morality could be a determiner of causal relations. However, recent contributions to the literature have begun to pushback against this platitude by using moral considerations, alongside a whole host of other normative notions, to determine what causal facts there are in the world. One aim of this thesis is to contribute to this recent research by arguing that an appeal to moral considerations furnishes a causal account with the resources to meet various desiderata associated with theories of causation. Insofar as this is the case, I argue that causal accounts which incorporate moral considerations are more successful than those which do not. Thus, I argue that facts about causality partly depend upon facts about morality.

Causation’s effect on morality is much less controversial. Moral philosophers agree that the truth of some moral claims partly depend upon what causal relations there are in the world. This is most noticeably true in the domain of moral responsibility. The thought is that if we are to be morally responsible for some event that is not itself an aspect for our conduct, then there must be some metaphysical relation — some metaphysical glue — that links our conduct to the event in question. As I and most others see it, there is one such relation: causation. Despite this consensus, there has been surprisingly little exploration into what kinds of causal facts determine the truth of moral assessments. I suspect this lacuna has arisen because it is tempting for those working in ethics to remain neutral on questions regarding causation, lest she have to face up to dealing with the thorny issues such questions invite. However, sometimes it is only by getting involved in such issues that progress can be made. With this in mind, the second aim of the thesis is to advance this debate by clarifying and evaluating what kind of causal facts determine moral facts. In particular, I address what kind of causal facts determine whether one is morally responsible for an outcome, and whether and to what extent one is praiseworthy for that outcome. With regards to assessments of moral responsibility, I argue that whether one can be held morally responsible for the effects of an omission depends upon the causal stability of that omission. In regards to praiseworthiness, I argue that whether and to what extent one is praiseworthy for doing the right thing depends upon how causally robust one’s motivation was for acting. Thus, I argue that facts about morality are partly determined by facts about causality.

In making these arguments, I defend the view that causal facts partly depend upon moral facts, and that moral facts partly depend upon causal facts. This lends support to a novel claim; namely, that morality and causation are interdependent.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Humanities > Philosophy
Supervisor's Name: Cowan, Dr. Robert and McDonnell, Dr. Neil
Date of Award: 2023
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2023-83564
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 04 May 2023 09:10
Last Modified: 04 May 2023 09:10
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.83564
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/83564
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