Strawson's Way of Naturalizing Responsibility

Ethics 102 (2):287-302 (1992)
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This article is concerned with a central strand of Strawson's well-known and highly influential essay “Freedom and Resentment” Strawson's principal objectives in this work is to refute or discredit the views of the "Pessimist." The Pessimist, as Strawson understands him/ her, claims that the truth of the thesis of determinism would render the attitudes and practices associated with moral responsibility incoherent and unjustified. Given this, the Pessimist claims that if determinism is true, then we must abandon or suspend these attitudes and practices altogether. Against the Pessimist Strawson argues that no reasoning of any sort could lead us to abandon or suspend our "reactive attitudes." That is to say, according to Strawson responsibility is a "given" of human life and society-something which we are inescapably committed to. In this article I argue that Strawson's reply to the Pessimist is seriously flawed. More specifically, I argue that Strawson fails to distinguish two very different forms or modes of naturalism and that he is constrained by the nature of his own objectives (i.e., the refutation of Pessimism) to embrace the stronger and far less plausible form of naturalism. On this basis I conclude that while there is something to be said for Strawson's general approach to these matters, we nevertheless cannot naturalize responsibility along the specific lines that he suggests.

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