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Morality without Responsibility


William A. Edmundson


Georgia State University College of Law

February 20, 2013


Abstract:     
Morality as we know it seems inextricably involved with notions of responsibility, desert, and blame. But a number of philosophers (e.g., Pereboom, G. Strawson) have concluded that responsibility in the desert-supporting sense rests upon metaphysical presuppositions that are unsatisfiable whether or not determinism is true. Some of these philosophers go on to argue that we ought - morally ought - to discard the idea of moral responsibility. Is this proposal coherent? Could morality intelligibly be practiced in a way that dispenses altogether with praise, blame, resentment, and desert - the concepts that constitute what we understand as holding agents morally responsible for their deeds? I distinguish three aspects of moral practice, which I term "naming," "shaming," and "blaming." Of the three, only the last, blaming, implicates the idea of moral - as opposed to merely causal - responsibility. I defend what I term the "Enlightened View" that accepts naming and shaming as essential to morality, but holds blaming to be inessential. I distinguish the Enlightened View from the "Abolitionist View" that holds blaming to be not merely inessential to morality but undesirable and unworthy. Crucial to the defense of the Enlightened View is an account of moral guidance restricted to the devices of naming and shaming. This discussion uncovers a modest but significant sense of blame and desert implicit in the practice of morality - one too weak to require any major qualification of the Enlightened and Abolitionist Views.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 44

Keywords: responsibility, freedom, determinism, desert, retributivism, punishment, Strawson, reactive attitudes, Scanlon

JEL Classification: K14, K42

working papers series


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Date posted: August 7, 2007 ; Last revised: February 20, 2013

Suggested Citation

Edmundson, William A., Morality without Responsibility (February 20, 2013). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1004904 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1004904

Contact Information

William A. Edmundson (Contact Author)
Georgia State University College of Law ( email )
P.O. Box 4037
Urban Life Building, Room 402 140 Decatur Street
Atlanta, GA 30302-4037
United States
404-413-9167 (Phone)
404-413-9225 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://law.gsu.edu/wedmundson/
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