Skip to main content
×
Home
    • Aa
    • Aa

QUALITIES OF WILL*

  • David Shoemaker (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

One of P. F. Strawson's suggestions in “Freedom and Resentment” was that there might be an elegant theory of moral responsibility that accounted for all of our responsibility responses (our “reactive attitudes,” in his words) in a way that also explained why we get off the hook from those responses. Such a theory would appeal exclusively to quality of will: when we react with any of a variety of responsibility responses to someone, we are responding to the quality of her will with respect to us, and when we let her off the hook (either for her action or with respect to her qua agent), we are doing so in virtue of her lacking the capacity for the relevant quality of will. Strawson's own attempt to put forward such a view fails, for reasons Gary Watson has given, but several other theorists have advanced their own, more developed, Pure Quality of Will theories in recent years (including Scanlon, Arpaly, and McKenna). Specifically, there have been three distinct interpretations of “will” defended in the literature, yielding three different possible targets of our responsibility responses: quality of character, quality of judgment, or quality of regard.

My first task in this essay will be to show that none of these theories individually can capture all of our responsibility responses, given our deeply ambivalent responses to several marginal cases (e.g., psychopathy, clinical depression, Alzheimer's dementia). One reaction to this fact might be to abandon the quality of will approach altogether. Another, more plausible, reaction is to develop a pluralistic account of responsibility, one that admits three noncompeting conceptions of responsibility, each of which emphasizes one of the three different qualities of will as the target of a distinct subset of our responsibility responses. On this pluralistic approach, marginal agents might be responsible on some conceptions, but not responsible on others. In the bulk of the paper, I discuss each of the relevant subsets of responsibility responses, the different qualities of will they target, what the capacities for the three qualities of will are, and how the pluralistic qualities of will approach could account for our ambivalence in the marginal cases.

Abstract

One of P. F. Strawson's suggestions in “Freedom and Resentment” was that there might be an elegant theory of moral responsibility that accounted for all of our responsibility responses (our “reactive attitudes,” in his words) in a way that also explained why we get off the hook from those responses. Such a theory would appeal exclusively to quality of will: when we react with any of a variety of responsibility responses to someone, we are responding to the quality of her will with respect to us, and when we let her off the hook (either for her action or with respect to her qua agent), we are doing so in virtue of her lacking the capacity for the relevant quality of will. Strawson's own attempt to put forward such a view fails, for reasons Gary Watson has given, but several other theorists have advanced their own, more developed, Pure Quality of Will theories in recent years (including Scanlon, Arpaly, and McKenna). Specifically, there have been three distinct interpretations of “will” defended in the literature, yielding three different possible targets of our responsibility responses: quality of character, quality of judgment, or quality of regard.

My first task in this essay will be to show that none of these theories individually can capture all of our responsibility responses, given our deeply ambivalent responses to several marginal cases (e.g., psychopathy, clinical depression, Alzheimer's dementia). One reaction to this fact might be to abandon the quality of will approach altogether. Another, more plausible, reaction is to develop a pluralistic account of responsibility, one that admits three noncompeting conceptions of responsibility, each of which emphasizes one of the three different qualities of will as the target of a distinct subset of our responsibility responses. On this pluralistic approach, marginal agents might be responsible on some conceptions, but not responsible on others. In the bulk of the paper, I discuss each of the relevant subsets of responsibility responses, the different qualities of will they target, what the capacities for the three qualities of will are, and how the pluralistic qualities of will approach could account for our ambivalence in the marginal cases.

Copyright
Footnotes
Hide All

For providing very helpful remarks on an earlier draft of this essay, I thank Angela Smith and Matt Talbert. For their insightful questions and comments at my presentations of this material, I am grateful to several contributors to this volume (especially David Brink and Erin Kelly), Victor Kumar, David Lefkowitz, Eugene Mills, and Nancy Schauber. I am also grateful for the financial support of the Freedom Center, Tulane University, and a state of Louisiana ATLAS Grant while I worked on the paper. For their discussion and help with various aspects of the project, I thank Justin D'Arms, Terry Horgan, Dan Jacobson, Shaun Nichols, Connie Rosati, and Mark Timmons. For many enjoyable and exceedingly fruitful conversations about this material, in particular regarding the distinction between answerability and accountability, I am grateful to Steve Wall. My largest debt, though, goes to Michael McKenna, who, through detailed written comments, excellent questions, and patient (and lengthy) discussion, made me see many of my earlier errors but also helped me to express many of the ideas here in a much clearer and defensible fashion. Any mistakes and unclarities that remain, however, are most assuredly attributable to me, and I remain answerable for them.

Footnotes
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Gary Watson , Agency and Answerability (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 219–59

Paul Russell , “Strawson's Way of Naturalizing Responsibility,” Ethics 102 (1992): 287302

Michael McKenna , “Where Frankfurt and Strawson Meet,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 29 (2005): 163–80

Michael McKenna , “The Limits of Evil and the Role of Moral Address: A Defense of Strawsonian Compatibilism,” The Journal of Ethics 2 (1998): 123–42

Michael McKenna , Conversation and Responsibility (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012)

Nomy Arpaly and Timothy Schroeder , “Praise, Blame, and the Whole Self,” Philosophical Studies 93 (1999): 161–88, esp. 182–84

Moral Address, Moral Responsibility, and the Boundaries of the Moral Community,” Ethics 118 (2007): 70108

Responsibility and Disability,” Metaphilosophy 40 (2009): 438–61

David Shoemaker , “Attributability, Answerability, and Accountability: Toward a Wider Theory of Moral Responsibility,” Ethics 121 (2011): 602–32

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and Lesley Sylvan , “Admiration for Virtue: Neuroscientific Perspectives on a Motivating Emotion,” Contemporary Educational Psychology 35 (2010): 110–15

Sara B. Algoe and Jonathan Haidt , “Witnessing Excellence in Action: The ‘Other-Praising’ Emotions of Elevation, Gratitude, and Admiration,” Journal of Positive Psychology 4 (2009): 105–27

Brian Lickel et al., “Vicarious Shame and Guilt,” Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 8 (2005): 145–57

Mia Silfver et al., “The Relation Between Value Priorities and Proneness to Guilt, Shame, and Empathy,” Motivation and Emotion 32 (2008): 6980

Brian Parkinson and Sarah Illingworth , “Guilt in Response to Blame from Others,” Cognition & Emotion 23 (2009): 15891614

Agnieszka Jaworska , “Caring and Internality,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (2007): 529–68

Harry Frankfurt , The Importance of What We Care About (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 11–25, 58–68, and 159–76

Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen , “Identification and Responsibility,” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 6 (2003): 349–76

Angela Smith explicitly advocates such a view in, e.g.,Attributability, Answerability, and Accountability: In Defense of a Unified Account,” Ethics 122 (2012): 575–89

Julia Driver explores in “The Suberogatory,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 70 (1992): 288

Psychopathy, Responsibility, and the Moral/Conventional Distinction,” Southern Journal of Philosophy 49, Spindel Supplement (2011): 99124

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Social Philosophy and Policy
  • ISSN: 0265-0525
  • EISSN: 1471-6437
  • URL: /core/journals/social-philosophy-and-policy
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 1
Total number of PDF views: 29 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 169 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th June 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.