Academic journal article Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy

"Freedom and Resentment" and Consequentialism: Why 'Strawson's Point' Is Not Strawson's Point

Academic journal article Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy

"Freedom and Resentment" and Consequentialism: Why 'Strawson's Point' Is Not Strawson's Point

Article excerpt

EARLY in THE SECOND-PERSON STANDPOINT, Stephen Darwall articulates a thesis that he takes P. F. Strawson to advance in "Freedom and Resentment." He maintains that Strawson asserts, and is right to assert, that good consequences are the wrong kind of reason to justify "practices of punishment and moral responsibility" (1):

   Strawson argued that social desirability is not a reason of "the
   right sort" for practices of moral responsibility "as we understand
   them." When we seek to hold people accountable, what matters is not
   whether doing so is desirable, either in a particular case or in
   general, but whether the person's conduct is culpable and we have
   the authority to bring him to account. Desirability is a reason of
   the wrong kind to warrant the attitudes and actions in which
   holding someone responsible consists in their own terms. (2)

Darwall labels this thesis 'Strawson's Point.'

I will argue for a different interpretation of Strawson, one according to which it is not entirely true that he considers socially desirable consequences to be the wrong kind of reason to justify practices of punishment and moral responsibility and, more generally, one according to which he is not the unequivocal critic of consequentialism that Darwall takes him to be. In fact, I will contend that the account of the moral reactive attitudes that Strawson first presents in "Freedom and Resentment" may be a valuable resource for consequentialists. Because I will be challenging only Darwall's reading of Strawson, my discussion will leave his arguments in The Second-Person Standpoint that build on Strawson's Point intact (except insofar as Strawson's imprimatur lends them force). I will begin by recapitulating Darwall's objections to consequentialism and showing just how closely he takes Strawson to anticipate them.

1. Darwall's Critique of Consequentialism and Reading of Strawson

a. Darwall's critique of consequentialism

Darwall's overarching aim in The Second-Person Standpoint is to establish that moral reasons are "second-personal," by which he means that they stem from claims or demands that we make upon each other. One helpful example that he uses to illustrate the concept of a second-personal reason involves a person's stepping on your foot. Your pain certainly gives him a reason to move his foot, but according to Darwall this reason is "third-personal" (in virtue of being agent neutral). (3) Everyone has reason to relieve the pain in your foot if they can; the oaf at fault is special only in how easily he can do so. When you demand that he move his foot, in contrast, this gives him a reason of a very different sort.

   The reason would not be addressed to him as someone who is simply
   in a position to alter the regrettable state of someone's pain or
   of someone's causing another pain. if he could stop, say, two
   others from causing gratuitous pain by the shocking spectacle of
   keeping his foot firmly planted on yours, this second, claim-based
   (hence second-personal) reason would not recommend that he do so.
   it would be addressed to him, rather, as the person causing
   gratuitous pain to another person, something we normally assume we
   have the authority to demand that persons not do to one another.
   (4)

The notion of authority is central to Darwall's conception of morality, since your making a claim or demand on someone gives her a reason only if you have the authority to make it. Authority is one of four concepts that constitute a circle that he takes to characterize the second-person standpoint. These are:

(a) the authority to make a claim on or demand or expect something of someone,

(b) an authoritative (legitimate) claim or demand,

(c) a (second-personal) reason (for complying),

(d) being accountable (to someone with the requisite authority) for complying. (5)

Darwall insists that "there is no way to break into this circle from outside it," since "Propositions formulated only with normative and evaluative concepts that are not already implicitly second-personal cannot adequately ground propositions formulated with concepts within the circle. …

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