Jun 10, 2015

Wed Review (P.F. Strawson - Freedom and Resentment

The essay pretty much tries to see what would happen if we operationalize the term determinism. What would determinism, or the lack of it, even look like? In the end whether the doctrine is real or not, it makes no real impact on our psychological feelings (moral sentiments). Strawson argues that in real life we do change our opinion of resentment based on the agent's responsibility. The example he gives, among many, is this: a guy steps on your hand. The first thing you think is, "what an asshole!!!". This initial response will change if you find out A) the guy purposely stomped on your foot or B) it was a complete accident (i.e. the guy was pushed).

Ultimately resentment and gratitude is a form of life and is ingrained in our social practices. It doesn't matter if actions are in fact pre-determined, our actions create our selves (we are our actions) or, as Strawson puts it: "Our practices do not merely exploit our natures, they express them". I think John Dewey puts it more clearly in his essay on ethics, "We are responsible for out conduct because that conduct is ourselves objectified in actions." The statement that claims that we are not responsible for our actions is an absurd one.

On the flip side, to suggest that if determinism were true it would undermine moral responsibility is absurd because you couldn't alter our psychological makeup, our propensity to feel resentment, with a change in philosophical perspective.

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