Responsibility, Naturalism and ‘the Morality System'

In David Shoemaker (ed.), Oxford studies in agency and responsibility. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 184-204 (2013)
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In "Freedom and Resentment" P.F. Strawson, famously, advances a strong form of naturalism that aims to discredit kcepticism about moral responsibility by way of approaching these issues through an account of our reactive attitudes. However, even those who follow Strawson's general strategy on this subject accept that his strong naturalist program needs to be substantially modified, if not rejected. One of the most influential and important efforts to revise and reconstruct the Strawsonian program along these lines has been provided by R. Jay Wallace, who presents a "narrower" construal of our reactive attitudes in his own account of what is involved in holding an agent responsible. In this paper I argue that Wallace's narrow construal of responsibility comes at too high a cost and that naturalists of a broadly Strawsonian cast should reject it. Related to this point, I argue that Wallace's narrow conception of responsibility is a product of his effort to construct his account within the confines of "the morality system" (i.e. as described by Bernard Williams) and that this way of construing responsibility leads into series of unnecessary and misleading oppositions. A more plausible middle path, I maintain, can be found between Strawson's excessively strong naturalist program and Wallace's narrow and restrictive view of responsibility.

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Paul Russell
Lund University


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