Causation and Responsibility in Moral Philosophy and Law

Workshop at the Centre for Advanced Study in Bioethics
© Stefan Klatt

The concept of causality is not only of interest in the natural sciences, but also plays a central role in the attribution of responsibility in law and ethics. A workshop on 19 and 20 April will be focusing on the manifold and complex issues arising in this context.

The workshop takes place at the Centre for Advanced Study in Bioethics / Kolleg-Forschergruppe "Theoretische Grundfragen der Normenbegründung in Medizinethik und Biopolitik". Participation is free, however, registration is required due to limited space. 

"Causation and Responsibility in Moral Philosophy & Law"

On the ‘standard account of individual responsibility’ attribution of responsibility both in moral philosophy and in law is based upon an epistemic condition and a causal requirement: We ask whether an agent has intentionally – or at least knowingly – caused wrongful harm. Both, control and causation, pose a number of problems, and in our practices of responsibility attributions we depart from these requirements in a number of ways. To capture cases in which an agent’s control is doubtful or deficient we might ask if the agent was coerced or if (s)he could and should have known the outcome of his or her deeds. As to the causal condition, some legal scholars contend that the requirement of so-called factual causation exhausts the causal aspect of the inquiry for outcome-responsibility. They argue that the further requirements for responsibility, namely the attribution of harm via “harm within the risks” analysis, foreseeability or remoteness of harm, the no-worse-off requirement etc. have nothing to do with causation but are purely normative value judgements. Others argue that normative considerations for the attribution of harm still evaluate the causal chain and are built upon a causal analysis. The factual or normative ‘nature’ of causation itself is at issue here.

Further questions arise with non-causal liabilities: Are there situations where individuals ought to be legally liable and such liability can only be justified on non-causal grounds?

These and other intriguing problems are to be addressed at this workshop. There will be contributions by distinguished academics and by junior researchers, by moral philosophers and by legal scholars from both the Common Law, namely Sandy Steel and Richard W. Wright, and the Civil Law traditions, i.a. Thomas Gutmann, Reinhard Merkel and Ingeborg Puppe.


Thursday, 19 April 2018
10:45 Welcome
Section I: Conditions of Responsibility
11:00 – 12:30 Coercion and Responsibility
Thomas Gutmann (Münster)
13:30 – 15:00 Which Ability for Responsibility?
Katja Stoppenbrink (Münster)
15:30 – 17:00 Non-causal Responsibility for Outcomes
Sandy Steel (Oxford)
17:30 – 19:00 Limitations on Legal Responsibility for Wrongfully Caused Harm
Richard Wright (Chicago)
Friday, 20 April 2018
Section II: Problems of Causation in Criminal Law
9:30 – 11:00 Criminal Responsibility Among Multiple Negligent Actors and the Problem of Counterfactual Conditionals, Illustrated by the Love Parade Case
Thomas Grosse-Wilde (Bonn)
11:30 – 13:00 Causation by Double Prevention (Abbruch rettender Kausalverläufe) and by Omission
Ingeborg Puppe (Bonn)
14:30 – 16:00 On Some Problems of Causation in Criminal Law
Reinhard Merkel (Hamburg)
16:30 – 18:00 What's Wrong with Metaphysics of Causation in the Law?
Thomas Meyer (Münster)