Responsibility and the Condition of Moral Sense

Philosophical Topics 32 (1-2):287-305 (2004)
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Recent work in contemporary compatibilist theory displays considerable sophistication and subtlety when compared with the earlier theories of classical compatibilism. Two distinct lines of thought have proved especially influential and illuminating. The first developed around the general hypothesis that moral sentiments or reactive attitudes are fundamental for understanding the nature and conditions of moral responsibility. The other important development is found in recent compatibilist accounts of rational self-control or reason responsiveness. Strictly speaking, these two lines of thought have developed independent of each other. However, in the past decade or so they have been fused together in several prominent statements of compatibilist theory. I will refer to theories that combine these two elements in this way as RS theories. RS theories face a number of familiar difficulties that relate to each of their two components. Beyond this, they also face a distinct set of problems concerning how these two main components relate or should be integrated. My concerns in this paper focus primarily on this set of problems. According to one version of RS compatibilism, the role of moral sentiments is limited to explaining what is required for holding an agent responsible. In contrast with this, the role of reason responsiveness is to explain what moral capacities are required for an agent to be responsible, one who is a legitimate or fair target of our moral sentiments. More specifically, according to this view, moral sense is not required for rational selfcontrol or reason responsiveness. There is, therefore, no requirement that the responsible agent has some capacity to feel moral sentiment. Contrary to this view, I argue that a responsible agent must be capable of holding herself and others responsible. Failing this, an agent’s powers of rational self-control will be both limited and impaired. In so far as holding responsible requires moral sense, it follows that being responsible also requires moral sense.
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