Once More to the Limits of Evil

Originally published in The Journal of Ethics

P. F. Strawson’s “Freedom and Resentment” provides the fundamental insight that emotions constitute one mode through which we hold each other responsible. We can study responsibility through examining its corresponding emotions; examining such emotions reveals the corresponding form of responsibility. Central to this approach is resentment, along with the closely related emotions of indignation and guilt.Footnote1 Through examining these emotions and the conditions of their fittingness, we can discover the conditions of moral responsibility.Footnote2 For instance, Strawson examines the conditions that would exculpate someone from liability to fitting resentment to clarify what sorts of freedom are or are not needed for responsibility. He argues that we withhold resentment of an apparent wrongdoer when we discover that she was coerced, but we would not withhold resentment of her simply on the discovery that the universe is deterministic. Strawson thus attempts to show that, within our emotion-constituted practice, though responsibility requires some form of freedom, it is not a form of freedom that is affected by determinism.

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