I thought Gardeners might have fun grappling with a recent paper by Christopher Suhler and Patricia Churchland, "Control: conscious and otherwise," published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(8), 341-347, available here (by permission). They argue against what they call the "Frail Control" hypothesis advanced by philosophers such as John Doris, which has it that people are far less in control than they suppose, given the influence of unconscious situational factors (lots of experimental data on this). Instead, Suhler and Churchland say that we should expand our notion of responsibility-conferring control to include unconscious and automatic processes, which they point out are robust, ubiquitous, "smart," and essential for effective behavior. Conscious control is all well and good, but not the sine qua non of responsible agency. In which case, they say, people can't appeal to unconscious influences as a new class of excuses, as the Frail Control hypothesis might suggest they could.
They say "most of the patterns of behavior described in the social psychology literature [on the effects of unconscious influences] do not fall outside the realm of control." (p. 346) Might this demotion of consciousness as the criterion of control open the door to a sort of strict liability policy, in which agents can be held responsible for behavior which had significant unconscious precursors, behavior that perhaps they wouldn't consciously endorse? Eddy Nahmias has often suggested here and in his papers that it's "bypassing" of conscious processes and the threat of mechanistic reductionism, not determinism, which pose the real threats to control and responsibility. But such bypassing seems not to worry S&C, who suggest that there are neurobiological criteria for being in control that cut across the conscious/unconscious distinction. So long as the neural mechanisms are in good working order, they say, the agent is presumptively in control, so reductionism is no worry for them either. Are they going too far in demoting consciousness, and elevating the role of unconscious mechanisms, in their conception of responsible agency, and what considerations would count against their proposal? Or for it? Enjoy!