Strawson - Freedom and Resentment January 16/18
1. The problem of free will
Phenomenology of freedom
Freedom and responsibility
o free to form desires
o freedom to act on desires
the problem: determinism
Phenomenology of freedom
Choice between apple pie and sugar pie:
lean to one side or the other
the choice is yours
you wonder what youll end up doing
its open to you to decide
after you make your choice, you think you could have made
Dont have to be in lecture. That is another choice.
No mental or physical antecedents. We can always act against our desires.
Freedom and Responsibility
Having a free will sets us apart from animals, plants, machines, etc.
We only ascribe blame to agents that have a will to ascribe freely.
E.g.; we dont blame a car for breaking down.
We dont blame someone for doing something while theyre hypnotized. If
they are hypnotized they do not have the ability to form a desire and act
The problem: Determinism
People from a certain socioeconomic class are more likely to do a certain
thing. The claim states they are determined to do what they do from
antecedent conditions. It doesnt matter if its nature or nurture, Our choices
are somewhat derived from antecedent conditions.
The apple doesnt fall far from the tree.
People are determined to act in the setting they were brought up in. The second and more general problem is that the picture of the world given
to us by science represents the nature world. We are physical objects
according to the scientific world. Everything we do and want is
deterministically cause by some antecedent event. Thats the cause of
Anything we do, we have this belief that we could have done otherwise.
Argument for determinism:
Premise 1: If determinism is true, then every human action is
Premise 2: If every action is causally necessitated, no one could
have acted otherwise
Premise 3: One only ahs free will if one could have acted otherwise
Premise 4: Determined is true
Conclusion: No one has free will
Descartes claim: We feel that we are free to form desires
Deny 4 th premise: Determinism is not true.
Deny 2 premise: If every action is causally necessitated, no one could have
If I had chosen to have the apple pie instead of the other, I would
have had it.
We could have chosen otherwise.
As long as I act in accordance in what I desire, I am free.
Had I desired the sugar pie, I would have chosen it, so I am acting
freely by choosing the apple pie.
I choose to be in class, instead of playing hockey This says nothing
about my cause for wanting to come to class. My cause could be
completely deterministic but because I acted on my desire, I am
2. Strawsons approach
1. Pessimism vs. optimism 2. Reactive vs. objective attitudes
3. Considerations that remove feelings of resentment
4. Reactive attitudes and determinism
5. Strawson on freedom
Our holding people responsible is somehow dependent on the truth or falsity
of this assumption that we have free will.
Detach the question of responsibility of the assumption.
The pessimist holds that if determinism is true than the concepts of moral
responsibly dont apply. We shouldnt hold people responsible if they werent
free to do anything else.
The optimist thinks that the truth of determinism will not underline out
concept of moral obligation and responsibly
We are free as long as there are no conditions that would make moral
Its compatible with determinism. We make responsibly we carve out a whole
by redefining what it means to be free, and narrowing the scope.
Why isnt the pessimist satisfied?
Moral responsibly dont apply.
Why freedom from compulsion would justify moral punishment,
If the universe if such that they could not have done otherwise even if it
looks outwardly like they did it, it doesnt seem fair. Out moral of concepts
dont seem rationally justification. Looking for rational justification.
The optimist tends to say that the practices justify their behavior. Not a
good basis for punishment says the pessimist.
Strawsons sympathies, sort of lie with the optimist, He wants to see if there
is anything more that he can give the optimist to say that the pessimist says
we cannot give up our moral practices. He sees some force in the pessimists
complaint. He gives the optimist more material to convince the pessimist to
not worry about our moral practices. He wants to do this in a different way.
He wasnt to disconnect the issue of moral responsibility/practices from the
theoretical metaphysical idea.
Dissolving philosophical problems instead of solving them. He wants to focus on what its like to be involved in interpersonal
relationships. He draws the distinction between are objective and reactive
We can take a reactive or objective stance towards people
Reactive = resentment
Someone knocks you over, you feel resentful towards them.
We expect people to live up to certain standards of good will ad we react
against them if they dont/ What if they pushed you by mistake, or to save
The feelings of resentment you had originally will be diminished. They may
turn to gratefulness. Their intentions are good, they didnt do it out of
If someone knocks you over to gain something for themselves the feeling
will diminish slightly but its still a violation of good will, just not as much as
if they knocked you over intentionally.
If the agent is psychologically abnormal (depressed, child, etc) in those
cases Strawson says we abandon the reactive stance to the person
altogether in just about everything they do. There is a range of modifications
we do In more and les in certain situations. In those cases we adopt the
objective stance, we no longer feel resentment but we treat them as people
that need to be trained as they are not full member of the moral community.
They couldnt help it. We consider them to varying degrees outside the
moral community. We see them as objects of social policy. We train them.
We can rephrase the issue in terms of our new understanding of reactive
attitudes Why should we think that acknowledging the truth of determinism
should withdraw our reactive attitudes. If determinism is true, the pessimists
claim that thats how we should treat everybody; we should abandon our
reactive attitudes. It doesnt seem right to phrase people that are
determined to do what they did.