Taking the Straight Path. P.F. Strawson's Later Work on Freedom and Responsibility

Philosophers' Imprint 22 (12):1-17 (2022)
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Abstract

I highlight three features of P.F. Strawson’s later, neglected work on freedom and responsibility. First, in response to a criticism by Rajendra Prasad, Strawson explicitly rejects an argument put forward in ‘Freedom and Resentment’ against the relevance of determinism to moral responsibility. Second, his remarkable acceptance of Prasad’s criticism motivates him to take the ‘straight path’, that is, to be straightforward about the relation between determinism, freedom, the ability to do otherwise and the conditions of responsibility. He claims that the ability to do otherwise is a necessary condition of responsibility and provides a list of additional conditions, including a knowledge condition. Third, he clarifies the relation between responsibility, quality of will and the reactive attitudes. The latter do not figure essentially in his answer to the question, ‘What are the conditions of responsibility?’, but they do play an essential role in his answer to the question, ‘Why do we have the concept of responsibility?’ We have it, Strawson suggests, because of our natural concern about the quality of will with which people act, a concern expressed in our reactive attitudes. I argue that, although Strawson’s later work definitely involves a shift of emphasis when compared to ‘Freedom and Resentment’, his overall account of freedom and responsibility is coherent. The later work helps to better understand the nature and significance of Strawson’s contribution, and to identify problems with common interpretations of and objections to ‘Freedom and Resentment’.

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