Responsibility and the Moral Sentiments
R. 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. He shows how these forms of rational competence are compatible with determinism. At the same time, giving serious consideration to incompatibilist concerns, Wallace develops a compelling diagnosis of the common assumption that freedom is necessary for responsibility.
- Paperback | 288 pages
- 143 x 227 x 16mm | 349g
- 27 Feb 1998
- Harvard University Press
- Cambridge, Mass, United States
- Revised ed.
Back cover copy
R. Jay Wallace argues in this book that moral accountability hinges on questions of fairness: When is it fair to hold people morally responsible for what they do? Would it be fair to do so even in a deterministic world? To answer these questions, we need to understand what we are doing when we hold people morally responsible, a stance that Wallace connects with a central class of moral sentiments, those of resentment, indignation, and guilt. To hold someone responsible, he argues, is to be subject to these reactive emotions in one's dealings with that person. Developing this theme with unusual sophistication, he offers a new interpretation of the reactive emotions and traces their role in our practices of blame and moral sanction. With this account in place, 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. He shows how these forms of rational competence are compatible with determinism. At the same time, giving serious consideration to incompatibilist concerns, Wallace develops a compelling diagnosis of the common assumption that freedom is necessary for responsibility. Rigorously argued, eminently readable, this book touches on issues of broad concern to philosophers, legal theorists, political scientists, and anyone with an interest in the nature and limits of responsibility.
Table of contents
Introduction The Problem The Solution Prospectus Emotions and Expectations The Approach Sketched Narrowing the Class Reactive and Nonreactive, Moral and Nonmoral Irrational Guilt Responsibility Responsibility, Blame, and Moral Sanction Responsibility and the Reactive Emotions The Reactive Account and Moral Judgment Methodological Interlude Understanding the Debate Strawson's Arguments Fairness Strategies Blameworthiness and the Excuses Excuses and Intentions Qualities of Will A Typology of Excuses Determinism and Excuses Accountability and the Exemptions Exemptions and Abilities Exemptions: Some Cases Determinism and Rational Powers Comparisons and Contrasts The Lure of Liberty Avoidability and Harm Opportunity and Possibility Difficulty and Control Oughts and Cans Conclusion Appendix: Further Emotional Vicissitudes Appendix: Alternate Possibilities Index
This is an excellent book. It is innovative in scope and carefully argued throughout. [It] recasts the debate between compatibilists and incompatibilists as a normative debate about the conditions under which it is fair to hold a person morally responsible...Wallace's book is an intriguing and demanding piece that merits the attention of anyone working on these topics. -- Michael McKenna * Philosophical Review * Wallace's book is a major achievement...The book is extraordinarily well written, realizing a high degree of rigor without sacrificing accessibility. -- Paul Benson * Journal of Philosophy * This beautifully organized and lucidly argued book might be taken as a model of how a sustained philosophical argument should proceed. Wallace's thesis is that our practices of holding persons responsible for their choices and actions, and reacting to those that offend against moral norms with blame, indignation or resentment, make perfectly good sense, even if determinism is true. This is an old topic, and one might well be initially sceptical, as I was, that anything new could be said to illuminate it. But I was soon gripped by the sheer dialectical brilliance of Wallace's treatment of it, and his careful attempt to explain what he calls 'the seductiveness of incompatibilism,' that is, of the view that he is showing to lack sufficient basis. -- Annette Baier
About R. Jay Wallace
R. Jay Wallace is Professor of Philosophy at the Humboldt Universitat zu Berlin.