“Responsibility After ‘Morality’: Strawson’s Naturalism and Williams’ Genealogy”

In Sybren Heyndels, Audun Bengtson & Benjamin De Mesel (eds.), P.F. Strawson and his Philosophical Legacy. Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press. pp. 234-259 (2023)
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Abstract

“Responsibility After ‘Morality’: Strawson’s Naturalism and Williams’ Genealogy” Although P.F. Strawson and Bernard Williams have both made highly significant and influential contributions on the subject of moral responsibility they never directly engaged with the views of each other. On one natural reading their views are directly opposed. Strawson seeks to discredit scepticism about moral responsibility by means of naturalistic observations and arguments. Williams, by contrast, employs genealogical methods to support sceptical conclusions about moral responsibility (and blame). This way of reading their views depends, however, on the assumption that the concept of responsibility that Strawson aims to defend is the same as Williams aims to discredit. The conception of responsibility that Williams aims to discredit is one that is based around the assumptions and aspirations of “the morality system”. This paper argues that while there is a plausible way of interpreting Strawson’s naturalism that uncouples it from the assumptions of “the morality system”, there remain significant differences between Strawson and Williams. More specifically, even if Strawson’s understanding of moral responsibility abandons the (narrow) assumptions of “morality”, Strawson is still committed to “conservative” and “optimistic” conclusions about moral responsibility that cannot be sustained. [March 2022]

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Paul Russell
Lund University

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