Responsibility and the Moral Sentiments

Responsibility and the Moral Sentiments

Responsibility and the Moral Sentiments

Responsibility and the Moral Sentiments


Jay Wallace advances a powerful and sustained argument against the common view that accountability requires freedom of will. Instead, he maintains, the fairness of holding people responsible depends on their rational competence: the power to grasp moral reasons and to control their behavior accordingly.


I began thinking about the problems discussed in this book ten years ago, in a seminar for first-year graduate students given by T. M. Scanlon at Princeton. Scanlon was a marvelous guide to this terrain; he managed to convey quite memorably both the normative significance of the issues and the unusual difficulty of giving an adequate account of them. I almost certainly would not have become sufficiently obsessed by the problems of freedom and responsibility to write a book about them had it not been for his gripping introduction to the subject.

Though I continued to be haunted by these problems during the rest of my graduate career, they receded into the background while I finished my course work and produced a dissertation on a different set of issues (concerning practical reason). It was not until my arrival at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 1988 that I returned to working systematically on responsibility, galvanized--as only beginning teachers can be--by the need to think of something to say to the students in the course on free will that I had inherited.

The stimulus provided by this teaching assignment eventually resulted in a paper on freedom and responsibility that first set out some of the ideas developed in this book, and that was read to audiences at Penn and Columbia during the 1990-91 academic year. I am grateful to both audiences for expressing interest in my views, and for convincing me that more would need to be said for others to be able to make them out. I owe a special debt to Akeel Bilgrami, who took the trouble to write up his detailed thoughts about where I had gone wrong in my interpretation of Strawson; I learned much from the exchange (though he will probably find that I did not learn enough).

The first draft of this book was written during the summer and fall of 1991, when I enjoyed the benefit of an academic leave. I am very grateful to the University of Pennsylvania for making possible this . . .

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