Purdue University Graduate School
Setman - Dissertation Formatted - summer 2021 r.pdf (1.23 MB)

Learning Responsibly: Essays on Responsibility, Norm Psychology, and Personhood

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posted on 2021-07-29, 14:12 authored by Stephen A SetmanStephen A Setman

This dissertation argues for a number of theses related to responsibility, norm psychology, and personhood. Although most of the papers argue for “standalone” theses, in the sense that their truth does not depend the truth of the others, the five papers collectively illustrate a broader view of humans as (a) responsible agents who are (b) self-governing and (c) equipped with a capacity for norms, and whose agency (d) centers on dynamic responsiveness to corrective feedback. Drawing on this broader picture, the dissertation sheds light on ethical questions about our social practices and technologies, as well as descriptive questions about the nature of substance use disorder.

Most centrally, the dissertation argues that forward-looking considerations are relevant for responsibility, not merely because the consequences of our responsibility practices are desirable, but primarily because of a connection which I argue exists between relationships, norms, and learning. On the view I defend, an agent is a responsible agent only if she can learn from being held responsible, so as to regulate herself according to norms of which she presently falls short. I argue that, if it were not for the capacity of humans to learn from social corrective feedback, such as normative responses like praise and blame, humans would be unable to participate in norm-governed relationships and communities. It is in virtue of their participation in these relationships and communities that humans are subject to interpersonal norms, such that they can fulfill or violate these norms and be praiseworthy or blameworthy for doing so. So, without the kind of learning that makes participation in these relationships a possibility, humans could never be praiseworthy or blameworthy for anything that they do.

The dissertation also argues that human norm psychology has implications for how we should relate to “social robots”—artificial agents designed to participate in relationships with humans. I argue that, like humans, social robots should be equipped with a capacity to recognize and respond to normative feedback. Lastly, the dissertation resists a common narrative about addiction as being a form of akrasia in which agents act against their own better judgment. While this is certainly a central aspect of many cases of addiction, I argue that it fails to appreciate the ways in which addiction sometimes interacts with a person’s identity and goals, especially in cases where the agent believes that the things she values would not be feasible if she did not continue to engage in addictive behavior.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Philosophy

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Daniel Kelly

Additional Committee Member 2

Michael Jacovides

Additional Committee Member 3

Taylor Davis

Additional Committee Member 4

Victoria McGeer