Responsibility and the Limits of Conversation

Criminal Law and Philosophy, 2015, Forthcoming

Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper 2014-28

32 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2014 Last revised: 6 Jan 2015

Manuel Vargas

Philosophy Department, UCSD

Date Written: August 1, 2014


Both legal and moral theorists have offered broadly “communicative" theories of criminal and moral responsibility. According to such accounts, we can understand the nature of responsibility by appealing to the idea that responsibility practices are in some fundamental sense expressive, discursive, or communicative. In this essay, I consider a variety of issues in connections with this family of views, including its relationship to free will, the theory of exemptions, and potential alternatives to the communicative model.

Focusing on Michael McKenna's Conversation and Responsibility, I argue that communicative accounts, and the conversational model in particular, direct our attention to important and under-appreciated elements of our responsibility practices. However, rather than focusing on model of conversation-as-address, as McKenna does, we do better to regard gossip as the paradigmatic conversational form that captures the main features of moral responsibility.

Keywords: moral responsibility, conversational theory of responsibility, McKenna, Strawson, punishment

Suggested Citation

Vargas, Manuel, Responsibility and the Limits of Conversation (August 1, 2014). Criminal Law and Philosophy, 2015, Forthcoming; Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper 2014-28. Available at SSRN:

Manuel Vargas (Contact Author)

Philosophy Department, UCSD ( email )

United States

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