Responsibility, rational abilities, and two kinds of fairness arguments

Philosophical Explorations 12 (2):151 – 165 (2009)
In this paper, I begin by considering a traditional argument according to which it would be unfair to impose sanctions on people for performing actions when they could not do otherwise, and thus that no one who lacks the ability to do otherwise is responsible or blameworthy for his or her actions in an important sense. Interestingly, a parallel argument concluding that people are not responsible or praiseworthy if they lack the ability to do otherwise is not as compelling. Watson, recently, offers in its stead an 'interpersonal' argument that appeals to a distributive notion of unfairness to conclude that praiseworthy actions, too, require the ability to do otherwise. I argue that this argument does not succeed. At this point, it seems that we have support for an asymmetrical treatment of blameworthy and praiseworthy actions. However, I conclude that while such an asymmetrical treatment may ultimately be correct, there is reason to doubt that considerations of fairness of sanction and reward support an asymmetry as well as an appeal to the 'ought-implies-can' principle
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DOI 10.1080/13869790902838506
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Thomas Scanlon (1998). What We Owe to Each Other. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

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