Sunday, 16 January 2000

From "Freedom and Resentment"

By P. F. Strawson.

Let us consider, then, occasions for resentment: situations in which one person is offended or injured by the action of another and in which—in the absence of special considerations—the offended person might naturally or normally be expected to feel resentment. Then let us consider what sorts of special considerations might be expected to modify or mollify this feeling or remove it altogether. It needs no saying now how multifarious these considerations are. But, for my purpose, I think they can be roughly divided into two kinds. To the first group belong all those which might give occasion for the employment of such expressions as ‘He didn’t mean to’, ‘He hadn’t realized’, ‘He didn’t know’; and also all those which might give occasion for the use of the phrase ‘He couldn’t help it’, when this is supported by such phrases as ‘He was pushed’, ‘He had to do it’, ‘It was the only way’, ‘They left him no alternative’, etc. Obviously these various pleas, and the kinds of situations in which they would be appropriate, differ from each other in striking and important ways. But for my present purpose they have something still more important in common. None of them invites us to suspend towards the agent, either at the time of his action or in general, our ordinary reactive attitudes. They do not invite us to view the agent as one in respect of whom these attitudes are in any way inappropriate. They invite us to view the injury as one in respect of which a particular one of these attitudes is inappropriate. They do not invite us to see the agent as other than a fully responsible agent. They invite us to see the injury as one for which he was not fully, or at all, responsible. They do not suggest that the agent is in any way an inappropriate object of that kind of demand for goodwill or regard which is reflected in our ordinary reactive attitudes.

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