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WVU philosophy professor’s new book asks: How is our control over our actions influenced by luck?

Does a person’s negative circumstances – particularly those including poverty, lack of education, lack of strong parental support – affect whether they are morally responsible for their behavior?

That’s just one of the questions Matthew Talbert, associate professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy at West Virginia University, asks in his new book, “Moral Responsibility: An Introduction.”
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Published in January, the book discusses the philosophical debates surrounding moral responsibility, and is part of Polity’s ‘Key Concepts in Philosophy,’ a series of concise books introducing the core concepts in philosophy.

Moral responsibility is something that most people understand to some degree, but Talbert said that the common understanding of moral responsibility is different than that of a philosopher.

When people have conversations about moral responsibility, they often refer to the duties someone has as a parent or an employee, Talbert said. Philosophers, on the other hand, refer to moral responsibility as the relationship that a person has with their actions.

In his book, Talbert discusses moral responsibility from the philosopher’s perspective, and focuses on several criteria that have been proposed as requirements for moral responsibility. These requirements include having control over one’s actions (or having free will), and having awareness of the moral status and the consequences of one’s actions.

While most of the book is based on the main aspects of moral responsibility, Talbert also incorporates many personal beliefs into the chapters, such as the argument that control over our actions and the understanding that actions have consequences is heavily influenced by luck.

Polity is a leading international publisher in the social sciences and humanities. Their aim is to combine the publication of original, cutting-edge work of the highest quality with a systematic program of textbooks and course books for students and scholars in further and higher education. "Moral Responsibility: An Introduction," can be purchased on the publisher's website.

Talbert is currently working on another book with Jessica Wolfendale, associate professor of philosophy at WVU. “Crimes of War: Causes, Excuses and Blame,” discusses the moral psychology and responsibility of people who commit war crimes. 

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