Gunnar Björnsson is Professor of Philosophy at Umeå University, and the former coordinator of the Gothenburg Responsibility Project (GRP). After receiving his PhD from Stockholm University in 1998, he held postdoctoral and research fellowships at the University of Connecticut, Stockholm University and the University of Gothenburg, and was an Associate Professor at Linköping University, before taking up his current position.
Björnsson was the principal investigator of Moral Motivation: Evidence and Relevance, funded by the Swedish Research Council (SRC) from 2010 to 2013, and coordinated the GRP from its inception in 2011 and headed a successful application for a 10-year SRC grant to recruit Professor Paul Russell to lead the project starting 2015. He is currently the principal investigator of the Responsibility in Complex Systems project, funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, and Explanations of Responsibility, funded by the SRC, both hosted by Umeå University.
Björnsson has published several books on critical thinking and informal logic, and his research papers on moral responsibility, moral psychology, moral judgment, moral disagreement, and causal thinking have appeared in among other places Mind, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Philosophical Studies, Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Noûs, and Ethics.
Björnsson’s research interests fall into metaethics, moral psychology, philosophy of language, naturalized theories of cognition, and moral responsibility. In the area of moral responsibility, he works on unified accounts of moral responsibility and attributions of moral responsibility, with a particular interest in understanding moral responsibility skepticism and attributions of responsibility to groups and organizations. The guiding idea has been to start with an empirically adequate account of why attributions of responsibility display the patterns they do. Based on such an account, we can understand why people are prone to skepticism when considering the possibility of determinism or external causes of actions, and why people are tempted to attribute shared moral responsibility to groups and to hold nations and corporations responsible while being worried that lack of individual control undermines responsibility. With that understanding, we are then better placed to determine the correctness of compatibilist and incompatibilist intuitions and judgments and attributions of moral responsibility to groups.
In metaethics, Björnsson’s main interests have been moral disagreement and the relation between moral judgment and moral motivation, and what these tell us about the nature of moral judgment. His effort to understand moral disagreement has been largely guided by an effort to understand disagreement phenomena more generally, in particular disagreement about what seems to be relative or subjective matters of fact: taste, epistemic modalities, and certain kinds of normative judgments. Based on completely general accounts of attributions of disagreement and attributions of correctness and incorrectness, he has argued that such attributions do not lend any support to absolutist accounts of moral judgments.
His attempt to understand the relation between moral judgments and motivation has used a similar method, beginning with an attempt to understand why we classify certain states of mind as judgments of moral wrongness, and how information about an agent’s motivational states affects such attributions. Some aspects of these classifications might seem to support motivational internalism—the idea that moral judgments necessarily involve motivational states such as desires—whereas others point in the opposite direction. Motivational internalism seems to go particularly well with the idea that moral judgments are non-cognitive states while being in tension with the idea that moral judgments are beliefs in non-subjective facts. Here he has argued that the best account for classificatory intuitions falls within a broadly non-cognitivist tradition without assuming that moral judgments are necessarily motivating.
Selected recent publications
Björnsson, G. and Hess, K. M. 2016: “Corporate Crocodile Tears? On the Reactive Attitudes of Corporations”. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. doi: 10.1111/phpr.12260
Björnsson, G. 2015: “Absolutism, Disagreement, Correctness”, Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. 10, pp. 160–187.
Björnsson, G., McPherson, T. 2014: “Moral Attitudes for Non-Cognitivists: Solving the specification problem”, Mind, 124: 1–38.
Björnsson, G. 2014: “Essentially Shared Obligations”, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, vol. 38 Forward-Looking Collective Moral Responsibility, pp. 103–120.
Björnsson, G., Persson, K. 2013: “A Unified Empirical Account of Responsibility Judgments”. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 87: 611-39.
Björnsson, G., Persson, K. 2012: “The Explanatory Component of Moral Responsibility”, Noûs 46(2): 326–354.
Björnsson, G., Finlay, S. 2010: “Metaethical contextualism defended”, Ethics 121:1 pp. 7-36.