Responsibility and the Moral Sentiments

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9780674766228: 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.

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From the Back Cover:

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.

About the Author:

R. Jay Wallace is Professor of Philosophy at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin.

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