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Blame within reason

Adam R Thompson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


My dissertation develops a novel response to global skepticism about responsibility—the view that no one is fit to be held responsible for anything. Though P.F. Strawson offered a highly influential account of holding and being responsible, his argument is widely considered to fail as a response to global skepticism. The primary worry is that he only describes our practice of holding responsible but does not justify it. I propose an unorthodox Strawson-style account of holding and being responsible and employ that account to offer an argument against global skepticism which not only describes but also justifies our practice of holding individuals responsible. A key innovation of my account is that it rejects the Humean idea that evaluative beliefs cannot motivate absent aid from independent desire. Rejecting that idea allows us to preserve the beauty of Strawson's original reactive attitudes account, which cites specific emotions as the only attitudes involved in holding responsible. I go on to develop the moral psychology at work which allows me to support the idea that holding responsible involves more than emotional responses to an individual's behavior. This also grounds support for the idea that the community of morally responsible agents is likely wider than traditionally thought. Furthermore, I immunize my account and argument to well-entrenched concerns for Strawson-style views. Often I achieve this immunity by adopting views that are thought to be incompatible with a Strawson-style argument. These views are typically embraced by skeptics or other anti-Strawsonian theorists. For instance, contrary to tradition, I show that a Strawson-style argument can be founded on the idea that experiencing individuals as natural, mechanistic beings is compatible with the attitudes involved in holding an individual responsible. I go on to show that the theses I argue for together with others allow us to accurately describe and justify our practice of holding individuals responsible.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Thompson, Adam R, "Blame within reason" (2015). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3689824.