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Moral Sentiments And Determinism Essay

3595 words - 14 pages

ABSTRACT: P. F. Strawson’s essay "Freedom and Resentment" was a landmark in the study of determinism, free-will, and morality. It contributed a much-needed correction to the problem of overintellectualization as found in twentieth-century compatibilist literature. Although most of the central claims in Strawson’s essay are important and true, it fails to fill the lacuna in the analysis, discussion and proposals of traditional compatibilism. The reasons may be summarized as follows. The web of moral demands, feelings and participant attitudes comprises a set of facts within human social life which must be investigated in order to understand the relation (or lack thereof) between determinism and morality. If the facts themselves fill the gap, then it must be some adequate and coherent understanding of them. According to Strawson, the incompatibilist has an understandable dissatisfaction with his opponent’s account because, among other things, the latter fails to deal with the condition of desert and of the justice of moral condemnation and punishment. However, the theory of "Freedom and Resentment" fails equally on this point. What is now needed is a combination of factual study with ethical inquiry. The former would draw on the results of social psychology, the psychology of moral development, the social sciences of morals, and (philosophical) moral psychology.


In the light of a well-known distinction between participant moral attitudes and objective ones, the traditional issue of free will and morality is rephrased, in P.F.Strawson’s ‘Freedom and Resentment’ (henceforth FR), as follows: Could, or should, determinism lead us always to look on everyone exclusively in the objective way? The negative answer is defended and is supported by the following claims: (1) Man has a ‘thoroughgoing and deep-rooted commitment to the dimension of moral feelings and participant attitudes, which is an essential part of human social nature and cannot therefore be given up;(2) When we suspend non-detached attitudes in the particular cases in which we do, it is not because we think that determinism holds in those cases; (3)If we had a choice between abandoning or retaining the dimension of participation, the rational choice would be made in the light of the (practical) criterion of the gains and losses to human life. Consequently, (4) The question of whether it would be rational for us to give up participant attitudes is not a ‘real’ (p.l3 of Strawson l974) question; it is ‘useless’(p.l8) to raise it; the question becomes real only if we imagine we have a choice in this matter, but then the question would be a practical, and not a theoretical, one.

Another central view of FR is that previous compatibilist accounts, with their one-sided restriction to considerations of social policy, control, and treatment, leaves aside the area of moral feelings and participant attitudes which is, nevertheless, part of our practices of moral condemnation and of...

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