BA (Hons) (Monash), PhD (Monash)

Philosophy and Religious Studies

My work in moral psychology sits at the intersection of philosophy, applied ethics, psychology and law. It focuses on the elements of moral agency, moral motivation, and moral responsibility with a particular interest in conditions – including autism, mental illness, psychopathy, addiction, and dementia - that may impact on agential capacities, and on moral and criminal responsibility. My 2001 book, Agency and Responsibility (Oxford: Clarendon Press) developed a detailed account of the elements of agency and self-control – an account largely vindicated by recent work in psychology, e.g., on self-regulation. My 2002 paper Autism, Empathy and Moral Agency, is described as ‘groundbreaking’ and has been influential in subsequent debate over the role of empathy in moral agency more generally and in autism.

Over the last 20 years, I have published a series of interdisciplinary articles examining the cognitive and affective underpinnings of moral reasoning and judgment. I have paid particular attention to the so-called ‘affective revolution’ in moral psychology in examining (i) whether moral judgments are intrinsically connected to motivation, (ii) the extent to which moral judgment, and evaluative judgment more generally, is driven by automatic processes (iii) the interaction between automatic and explicit processes. The social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has suggested that moral judgment is driven by intuition and emotion and that reason merely performs the function of post hoc rationalization. In critical articles (2009, 2011, 2012, 2016) I argued that Haidt’s evidence is compatible with a moderate rationalist position. This work has been influential in prompting the development of comprehensive empirically grounded versions of moral rationalism by a new generation of philosophers including Hanno Sauer and Josh May.

More recently I have returned to issues of responsibility and punishment and have been developing ideas from my influential 2004 paper with Fine in the light of new experimental data on motivations for punishment, and cases from the open access Australian Neurolaw Database project led by me. My work on responsibility and psychopathy has been drawn upon by the revered US philosopher Gary Watson, as well as many other contemporary philosophers and legal scholars in the development of their own theories including Stephen Morse, P.Litton, Walter Glannon, David Shoemaker, and Michael McKenna. My research on pleasure, agency, self-control, and moral identity in addiction, includes and is informed by a longitudinal qualitative study of participants with addiction. The new account of friendship and the self I developed with Cocking (Ethics 1998, J. Phil 2000) has been widely cited and responded to in subsequent accounts. The view of relationships and their role in the formation of the self that was developed there has informed much of my subsequent work on mental illness, addiction, and, more recently, on narrative agency, dementia, and the grounds of respect for persons. 


Professor of Philosophy Macquarie University

Fellow: Australian Academy of the Humanities

Fellow: Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia

Australasian Association of Philosophy: Deputy Chair of the Board

1.Kennett J & Wolfendale J Self-Control and Moral Security (2019) in D.Shoemaker (ed) Oxford Studies in Agency and Responsibility Volume 6 Oxford University Press pp 33-63 

2. Kennett J. McConnell D & Snoek A. (2018) ‘Reactive Attitudes, Relationships and Addiction’ in Hanna Pickard &Serge Ahmed (eds) The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy and Science of Addiction Routledge

3.Kennett J (2017) The Cost of Conscience: Kant on Conscience and Conscientious Objection’ Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 26 (1), 69-81

4.Baird Amee, Kennett Jeanette, & Schier Elizabeth. (2020) ‘Homicide and Dementia: An investigation of legal, ethical and clinical factors of Australian legal cases. ’ The International Journal of Law and Psychiatry Vol 71, 101578

5. Kennett J (2019) ‘Competence, Attributability, and Blame: Resolving the Responsibility of the Psychopath’ in Justin Coates and Neal Tognazzini (eds) Oxford Studies in Agency and Responsibility Volume 5 Oxford University Press