Gregg D. Caruso is Associate Professor of Philosophy at SUNY Corning and Co-Director of the Justice Without Retribution Network housed at the University of Aberdeen School of Law. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from William Paterson University and his M.Phil and Ph.D. in Philosophy from the City University of New York, Graduate Center. He is the author of Free Will and Consciousness: A Determinist Account of the Illusion of Free Will (2012), and the editor of Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Moral Responsibility (ed., 2013), Science and Religion: 5 Questions (ed., 2014), and Neuroexistentialism: Meaning, Morals, and Purpose in the Age of Neuroscience (co-ed. w/Owen Flanagan, 2017). He is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including the SUNY Chancellors Award for Excellence in Scholarship (2015) and the Regional Board of Trustees Excellence in Teaching Award (2012). He is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Science, Religion and Culture, an Associate at the Institute of Applied Ethics (IAE) at the University of Hull, and a regular contributor to Psychology Today.

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Gregg D. Caruso

Personal Research Statement

Philosopher & Author

Associate Professor of Philosophy
Gregg D. Caruso

Fossil Hunter

One of my passions is fossil hunting and collecting. (For an interview about my hobby, see here).

Dr. Caruso's research interests include free will, moral responsibility, criminal punishment, philosophy of mind, and cognitive science. His most recent work focuses on the problem of free will, non-retributive approaches to criminal behavior, moral responsibility, reference, and the phenomenology of freedom. His broader work engages issues at the intersection of the behavioral, cognitive, and neurosciences. He is especially interested in theoretical accounts of consciousness and what recent developments in the behavioral, cognitive, and neurosciences can tell us about human agency and free will. His research also explores the implications of free will skepticism for ourselves, society, morality, meaning, and the law. As an optimistic skeptic he maintains that, not only can we preserve meaning, morals, and purpose without belief in free will and desert-based moral responsibility, but that we would be better off without such beliefs. [See his TEDx talk on The Dark Side of Free Will.] He is currently working on a new book titled Unjust Deserts: Free Will, Moral Responsibility, and Criminal Punishment.    

His other interests include science and religion, neuroethics, neurolaw, social and political philosophy, and moral psychology. 

Additional activities: President of Southwestern Philosophical Society (SWPS), contributor to the blog Flickers of Freedom, Assessing Editor for The Journal of Mind and Behavior, Editorial Advisory Board for Southwest Philosophy Review, and TEDx speaker. 

My primary research interests are broad and include free will, moral responsibility, criminal punishment, philosophy of mind, cognitive science, moral psychology, and applied moral, legal, and social and political philosophy. While I have distinct research projects in each of these areas, a unifying theme that runs throughout my work is my interest in the nature of human agency. I also work on topics in neuroethics and neurolaw that deal with the social impact of neuroscience, medicine, and technology on criminal law and punishment.

In metaphysics and philosophy of action, I work on the traditional free will debate, including questions about powers, causation, and the metaphysics of mind. I am known as one of the principle defenders of free will skepticism. Free will skepticism maintains that what we do and the way we are is ultimately the result of factors beyond our control and because of this we are never morally responsible for our actions in the basic desert sense—the sense that would make us truly deserving of blame and praise in a non-consequentialist, backward-looking sense. I initially laid out my arguments for free will skepticism in Free Will and Consciousness: A Determinist Account of the Illusion of Free Will (2012) and have subsequently published extensively on the subject. I maintain that life without free will and basic desert moral responsibility does not entail nihilism. In a series of recent papers, I have argued that prospects of finding meaning in life or of sustaining good interpersonal relationships are not threatened. And although retributivism and severe punishment, such as the death penalty, would be ruled out, preventive detention and rehabilitation programs would still be justified. Building on this work, I am currently working on a new book titled Unjust Deserts: Free Will, Moral Responsibility, and Criminal Punishment, which will systematically explore the implications of free will skepticism and further develop my non-retributive alternative to criminal behavior.

In philosophy of mind and cognitive science, I am interested in theoretical accounts of consciousness, the phenomenology of agency, and recent developments in the behavioral, cognitive, and neurosciences. In Free Will and Consciousness, I explored these issues at great length and defended a variant of the higher-order thought theory of consciousness. And more recently, I published three papers on the relationship between consciousness and free will—two in the Journal of Consciousness Studies and one in the Routledge Handbook of Consciousness. I also have a forthcoming collection co-edited with Owen Flanagan on Neuroexistentialism: Meaning, Morals, and Purpose in the Age of Neuroscience (OUP), which explores the practical and existential implications of recent developments in neuroscience.

In applied moral, legal, and social and political philosophy, I am engaged in a number of research projects. These include investigating the link between public health and safety, developing a non-retributive approach to criminal behavior, and exploring the practical implications of free will skepticism for society, morality, meaning, and the law. In the new book, Unjust Deserts, I plan on defending and expanding my public health-quarantine model, which is a non-retributive alternative for addressing criminal behavior that draws on the public health framework and prioritizes prevention and social justice. In developing my account, I will explore the relationship between public health and safety, focusing on how social inequalities and systemic injustices affect health outcomes and crime rates, how poverty affects brain development, how offenders often have pre-existing medical conditions (especially mental health issues), how involvement in the criminal justice system itself can lead to or worsen health and cognitive problems, how forensic psychology and neuroscience can be ethically used to predict and prevent criminal behavior, how treatment and rehabilitation methods can best be employed to reduce recidivism and reintegrate offenders back into society, and how a public health approach could be successfully applied within the criminal justice system. My approach will draw on research from the health sciences, social sciences, public policy, law, psychiatry, medical ethics, neuroscience, and philosophy. I will conclude by introducing a capability approach to social justice, grounded in six key features of human wellbeing, and I will argue that we cannot successfully address concerns over public health and safety without simultaneously addressing issues of social justice.

In moral psychology, I also have a number of ongoing projects. First, I am co-organizing a conference entitled “Moral Psychology: From Neurons to Norms” to be held at the American University of Beirut from May 24-26, 2018. Speakers will include Daniel Dennett and Paul Bloom and it will be the first international conference on moral psychology organized in Lebanon and quite possibly the Arab Middle East. I am also working on two additional projects. The first is an attempt to counter the moral psychology of Strawsonians by combining a constructivist account of the emotions with a cross-cultural and empirically informed approach to moral psychology. The second is a series of x-phi studies on the relationship between humility and belief in free will currently being conducted with Brian Earp, Jim Everett, Azim Shariff, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, and Thomas Nadelhoffer. 

Finally, as co-director of the Justice Without Retribution Network (JWRN), I continue to seek external funding, organize conferences, and support our mission to bring together leading scholars and promising early career researchers from law, philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience to investigate whether non-retributive approaches to criminal behavior are ethically defensible and practically workable. The JWRN is a joint effort of the University of Aberdeen School of Law, Ghent University, Cornell University, and SUNY Corning—but I would bring my affiliation along with me wherever I go. The network has already organized three conferences and secured more than $60,000 in grants. We are currently pursuing much larger grants from the Wellcome Trust, Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). We recently submitted a grant proposal for the Wellcome Trust’s Collaborative Research Award for over one million dollars.