Moral Sense and the Foundations of Responsibility

In Robert Kane (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Free Will: Second Edition. Oup Usa. pp. 199-220 (2011)
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Throughout much of the first half of the twentieth century, the free-will debate was largely concerned with the question of what kind of freedom was required for moral responsibility and whether the kind of freedom required was compatible with the thesis of determinism. This issue was itself addressed primarily with reference to the question of how freedom is related to alternative possibilities and what the relevant analysis of “could have done otherwise” comes to. The discussion of these topics made little advance on the basic strategies and positions already developed and defended on either side of the compatibilist/incompatibilist divide in the preceding two centuries. When P. F. Strawson’s published his seminal article “Freedom and Resentment” in 1962 the dynamics of this debate were fundamentally altered. This is true both in respect of Strawson’s general methodology, which demands a more empirically informed approach, and in terms of his core conceptual framework, which identifies a different set of considerations and issues at the heart of this debate. In particular, whereas the traditional or classical debate focused on the problem of (moral) freedom, Strawson directed his attention to the role of moral sentiments or “reactive attitudes” as the key to understanding and resolving the core problems lying at the heart of this debate. This essay is devoted to a critical assessment of Strawson’s project and an analysis of the current debate concerning its prospects.

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Paul Russell
Lund University


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