Review of Philosophy and Psychology

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 337–362 | Cite as

Emotional Awareness and Responsible Agency

  • Nathan StoutEmail author


This paper aims to further examine the relationship between self-awareness and agency by focusing on the role that emotional awareness plays in prominent conceptions of responsibility. One promising way of approaching this task is by focusing on individuals who display impairments in emotional awareness and then examining the effects (if any) that these impairments have on their apparent responsibility for the actions that they perform. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as well as other clinical groups who evince high degrees of the personality construct known as alexithymia, I will argue, do, in fact, display impairments in emotional self-awareness, and, so, may provide some insight into the relationship between this awareness and the capacity for responsible agency. More specifically, individuals with ASD may provide us with evidence that robust emotional self-awareness is not a necessary condition for responsible agency or that lacking such a capacity could undermine some otherwise plausible sufficient conditions for responsibility. The aim of the paper, then, is twofold. First, it will aim to show that ASD ought to be understood, in part, as a disorder of emotional self-awareness. Section 2 presents evidence relating to the emotional profile characteristic of individuals with ASD and argues that the most striking feature of this profile is the way in which the individual seems to be separated from his or her emotions in an important sense. Second, the paper aims to show that this distinctive feature of the emotions in ASD casts serious doubt on some prominent accounts of moral responsibility. To this end, section 3.1 presents a challenge to some widely accepted “subjective conditions” for responsibility, namely those articulated by John Martin Fischer and Ravizza (1998) and makes a case, based on the empirical data regarding autism, that these conditions actually are not necessary for one’s being a responsible agent. Section 3.2 then presents a challenge for theories of responsible agency which assign primary importance to the connection between an agent’s actions and her judgment-sensitive attitudes. I argue there that the evidence from autism suggests that these theories fail in their efforts to provide sufficient conditions for responsibility.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyTulane UniversityNew OrleansUSA

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