Demanding more of Strawsonian accountability theory

European Journal of Philosophy 28 (4):926-941 (2020)
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A neglected and non-trivial problem exists for a central cluster of Strawsonian accountability theories of moral responsibility, namely those that, following Gary Watson, understand the reactive attitudes to be implicit forms of moral address, particularly moral demand. The problem consists in the joint acceptance of two claims: (a) Accountability is a matter of agents holding one another to moral demands, and (b) accountability is a view of blame and praise. I label joint acceptance of these claims the Strawsonian’s demand dogma. Symptomatic of a larger tendency among responsibility theorists to focus on blame to the neglect of its positive counterpart, the demand dogma saddles the Strawsonian with an impoverished and ultimately untenable view of praise. This is because moral demand occupies a dual role on the Strawsonian's view of blame, one that it is incapable of occupying for praise. For, demands figure not only in the contents of blame responses; demand typifies the form of these responses themselves. That is, reactive attitudes of blame, unlike those of praise, implicitly make demands of their targets. The force of this problem is highlighted by considering the inadequacy of various strategies for shoehorning “demand” into our conception of praise. If reactive attitudes generally are incipient forms of moral address, praise-manifesting attitudes must communicate something other than demand. Though primarily critical, this paper invites Strawsonian responsibility theorists to give renewed attention to the foundations of the proposal that the reactive attitudes are incipiently communicative, focusing this time on the form of address that lies at the heart of praise.



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Daniel Telech
Lund University

Citations of this work

Praise as Moral Address.Daniel Telech - 2021 - Oxford Studies in Agency and Responsibility 7.
Praise.Daniel Telech - 2022 - Philosophy Compass 17 (10):1-19.
Strawson's underappreciated argumentative structure.Nicholas Sars - forthcoming - European Journal of Philosophy.
The Communication Argument and the Pluralist Challenge.Shawn Tinghao Wang - 2021 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 51 (5):384-399.
A Puzzle Concerning Gratitude and Accountability.Robert H. Wallace - 2022 - The Journal of Ethics 26 (3):455–480.

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References found in this work

What we owe to each other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Free agency.Gary Watson - 1975 - Journal of Philosophy 72 (April):205-20.
Two Faces of Responsibility.Gary Watson - 1996 - Philosophical Topics 24 (2):227-248.

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