Attributability, Accountability, and Implicit Bias

In Implicit Bias and Philosophy: Volume 2, Moral Responsibility, Structural Injustice, and Ethics, Jennifer Saul and Michael Brownstein (eds.) New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. 62-89.

This chapter distinguishes between two concepts of moral responsibility. We are responsible for our actions in the first sense only when those actions reflect our identities as moral agents, i.e. when they are attributable to us. We are responsible in the second sense when it is appropriate for others to enforce certain expectations and demands on those actions, i.e. to hold us accountable for them. This distinction allows for an account of moral responsibility for implicit bias, defended here, on which people may lack attributability for actions caused by implicit bias but are still accountable for them. What this amounts to is leaving aside appraisal-based forms of moral criticism such as blame and punishment in favor of non-appraising forms of accountability. This account not only does more justice to our moral experience and agency, but will also lead to more effective practices for combating the harms of implicit bias.

Full text available at Oxford Scholarship Online here.

Expanding the Moral Repertoire: Oughts, Ideals, and Appraisals

Presented at the Moral Responsibility and Self-Knowledge Workshop at Nanyang Technological University, 2016 Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society & Mind Society, 2016 SSPP, 2016 Central APA, the Conference on Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Moral Responsibility at Utah Valley University, and the Universities of Michigan, Cambridge, Leeds, Depauw, Carnegie Mellon, and Kentucky.

Philosophers have overwhelmingly focused on blame, resentment (along with other reactive attitudes), and punishment. However, I argue for the existence of other important forms of moral criticism that have hitherto gone overlooked. I introduce a new category of what I call “non-appraising responses” as opposed to “appraisal-based” responses like blame and resentment, and provide both moral-theoretical and psychological arguments for this distinction. I argue that two distinct domains of morality (Ought vs. Ideal), along with two distinct psychological systems of motivation (Approach vs. Avoidance), call for these different types of moral criticism. Non-appraising responses set aside the appraisal function of blame in favor of its communicative and exhortative functions. This makes them appropriate responses to an agent’s failing on a particular occasion to carry out some action that would contribute to carrying out an imperfect duty, unlike blame, which is only appropriate for wholesale violations of imperfect and perfect duties.

For a full draft, please email me at robin.zheng(at)

Responsibility, Causality, and Social Inequality

Presented at the 2016 BSPS, Workshop on Poverty and Philosophy at the University of Salzburg,  Ethics and Explanation Conference at the University of Nottingham, 2014 Eastern APA, 2014 PSA, the Social Equality Conference at the University of Cape Town, 2014 FEMMSS/SWIP Canada, and the Social Impact of Philosophy Conference at the Universidad Iberoamericana.

People disagree strongly over the causes of social inequalities, e.g. whether poverty is caused by irresponsible individual behaviors or by wider structural forces. It is typically thought that philosophers, who are not trained as empirical scientists, do not have anything useful to say about which of these causal explanations to adopt. In this paper, however, I show that if (as others have argued) causal explanations actually depend on broadly practical or normative commitments, then it follows that philosophers play an important albeit often invisible role in determining those causal explanations. I demonstrate this claim by drawing together several disparate lines of thought from feminist epistemology, philosophy of science, and moral and political philosophy, along with evidence from social psychology and economics, and bringing them to bear on the case study of poverty. The upshot is that philosophers who work to reshape our normative expectations, also work to restructure acceptable causal explanations – and hence solutions – for social inequality.

For a full draft, please email me at robin.zheng(at)