Veronica Rodriguez-Blanco (Surrey)

This weekend starts with the answers of Prof Veronica Rodriguez-Blanco. She is Professor in Moral and Legal Philosophy at the University of Surrey Centre for Law and Philosophy. Her work addresses questions on intentions, practical reasoning and reasons, dignity, and legal normativism. She is well known for her monograph Law and Authority under the Guise of the Good. She also co-edited with George Pavlakos Reasons and Intentions in Law and Practical Agency, and more recently Dignity in the Legal and Political Philosophy of Ronald Dworkin with Salman Kurshid and Dr Lokendra Malik.

1. What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on a monograph whose focus is a new conception of negligent acts. It is a very exciting new way of thinking about the topic as the research is located at the intersection of action theory, moral psychology, perception, and legal and moral responsibility. To summarise, the book starts with the idea that we are confronted with the puzzle that we can only be responsible for what we can control, and by acting in negligence we are not able to control the act due to our non-culpable ignorance. This standard view leads necessarily to a sceptical position. Thus, assigning responsibility for negligence necessitates establishing that an act is performed or an omission committed prior to the negligent act, which is done in culpable ignorance. However, if you do something knowing that you should not have done it, then you are acting akratically. The sceptic claims that, unfortunately, we do not sufficiently understand how weakness of the will (akrasia) really works and therefore, we cannot explain how responsibility in negligence is possible. Contra the sceptical position, I show that there is a surprising and so far unidentified deep relationship between negligence and akrasia where ignorance, imagination, perception of pleasure and a kind of control play a key role in inadvertently acting.

2. What is your 5-15 sentence account of what an action is?

Actions should be understood as a spectrum whose central or paradigmatic case is intentional action. Other types of action, e.g. compulsive, non- intentional, can be understood in relation to the paradigmatic case. We can say that an intentional action is an activity or something we produce in the world as we understand it. Following Elizabeth Anscombe, I have argued that an intentional action has four key characteristics: A) intentional action is composed of a number of stages or series of actions whose later stages swallow up former stages. B) Intentional action is something actually done, brought about according to the order conceived or imagined by the agent. C) Intentional action involves knowledge that is non-observational, but it might be aided by observation. D) In acting intentionally, we exercise our practical knowledge. We can understand practical knowledge if we understand the structure of practical reasoning.

3. In your view, what were the three most important recent developments in philosophy of action?

The work of Elizabeth Anscombe and its rediscovery and re-interpretation in the context of its historical background, the philosophies of action of Thomas Aquinas and Ludwig Wittgenstein, have shed light on new and fascinating views on intentional action. Additionally, recent work on omissions [see also our first interview with Randolph Clarke], duress, self-deception and the role of knowledge in action has contributed to enrich the landscape of legal and moral responsibility.

4. What direction would you like to see the field go in?

I would like to see further reflection on philosophy of action connected to crucial problems of substantive law and theoretical insights on the nature of legal and moral responsibility. More work on the history of ideas related to action theory stimulates our own understanding of contemporary problems and motivates new ways forward. Additionally, establishing a broad church for a conversation among philosophers with different philosophical methodologies, cognitive scientists/neuroscientists and lawyers will enrich the field of legal and moral responsibility. Finally, further dialogues between Ancient Philosophers, whose work focuses on the metaphysics of action, and action theorists would enable us to develop deeper understandings of both the idea that intentional action runs in parallel with practical reason and the view that there is an underpinning plausible metaphysics to it.

2017 March 31

Many thanks to Prof Rodriguez-Blanco!