Moral Responsibility in an Age of Distraction

What’s the moral status of ‘thoughtlessness’? It can be invoked as a defence, used to claim that an action was less morally problematic because it expressed a lack of consideration rather than a deliberate intention. But as the wise Jim Gordon once pointed out, such actions can actually be worse in a way, reflecting a wilful thoughtlessness (that could easily have been otherwise) rather than a deficit of character (which is at least somewhat engrained):


But where I part ways with Gordon’s moralism concerns the conditions under which such thoughtlessness becomes likely. What happens to responsibility if we are becoming more socially distracted, driven by many overlapping factors in personal life and working life, such that we have less time and space to deliberate? Is it possible we are all tending to become less likely to think through the consequences of our actions, at least some of the time? If rushing is becoming an endemic social condition, albeit one not uniformly distributed, what does this mean for the possibility of responsibility? Is distraction diminishing us on a moral level?

6 responses to “Moral Responsibility in an Age of Distraction”

  1. The point is that people are just living regardless of their being called ‘distracted’ or ‘thoughtless (either willful or involuntary), or the conditions of acceleration. Responsibilities are obviously unevenly distributed, so are the prerogatives of defining conditions and ways in which people are living their respective lives. Applying your analytic frame of the evisceration, you’ll find people’s innate orientation towards being/doing good as their viscera;)

  2. As I was reading the questions you raised in the last paragraph of this post, I’ve thought of your another post ( ) .
    It’s much easier for analysts to talk about their subjects’ morality than normally assumed because morality appears to be universally shared. However, it’s not easy to treat morality as everyone’s struggles for being or doing good. Even if people appear distracted and are actually distracted, no one can assert that they are getting irresponsible or less and less concerned with morality. In my view, morality always resides at the center of everyone’s everyday concerns. This is not moralism but morality in practice. Morality is demonstrated struggles for being or doing good in social practices, rather than some unwavering criteria about good or bad. According to your idea about evisceration, we should be able to extract out morality as everyone’s struggles for being good by reference to observable attributes, but it depends upon analysts’ assumptions about what viscera might look like.

  3. I think we mean ‘morality’ in a different way. I’m happy to substitute for lay normativity, as Andrew Sayer puts it,instead of ‘morality’. I’m largely in agreement with you about ‘morality in practice’: my point could be perhaps rephrased as ‘it becomes harder for morality in practice to consistently be reflective, as opposed to habitual, under present conditions’.

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