Conversation and Responsibility

ISBN : 9780190857783

Michael McKenna
260 Pages
156 x 234 mm
Pub date
Nov 2018
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In this book Michael McKenna advances a new theory of moral responsibility, one that builds upon the work of P. F. Strawson. As McKenna demonstrates, moral responsibility can be explained on analogy with a conversation. The relation between a morally responsible agent and those who hold her morally responsible is similar to the relation between a speaker and her audience. A responsible agent's actions are bearers of meaning—agent meaning—just as a speaker's utterances are bearers of speaker meaning. Agent meaning is a function of the moral quality of the will with which the agent acts. Those who hold an agent morally responsible for what she does do so by responding to her as if in a conversation. By responding with certain morally reactive attitudes, such as resentment or indignation, they thereby communicate their regard for the meaning taken to be revealed in that agent's actions. It is then open for the agent held responsible to respond to those holding her responsible by offering an apology, a justification, an excuse, or some other response, thereby extending the evolving conversational exchange.

The conversational theory of moral responsibility that McKenna develops here accepts two features of Strawson's theory: that moral responsibility is essentially interpersonal—so that being responsible must be understood by reference to the nature of holding responsible—and that the moral emotions are central to holding responsible. While upholding these two aspects of Strawson's theory, McKenna's theory rejects a further Strawsonian thesis, which is that holding morally responsible is more fundamental or basic than being morally responsible. On the conversational theory, the conditions for holding responsible are dependent on the nature of the agent who is responsible. So holding responsible cannot be more basic than being responsible. Nevertheless, the nature of the agent who is morally responsible is to be understood in terms of sensitivity to those who would make moral demands of her, thereby holding her responsible. Being responsible is therefore also dependent on holding responsible. Thus, neither being nor holding morally responsible is more basic than the other. They are mutually dependent.


Introduction: Moral Responsibility, Conversation & Meaning
Chapter 1: Responsibility: A Conceptual Map
1. Kinds of Responsibility
2. Morally Responsible Agency
3. Moral Responsibility for Conduct
4. Holding Morally Responsible
5. Moral Responsibility, Entailment, and the Concept of Moral Responsibility
Chapter 2: Reorienting Strawson's Theory of Moral Responsibility
1. Variations on Strawson's Theory
2. Embracing and Developing Wallace's Principle (N)
3. A Normative Interpretation versus an Extreme Metaphysical Interpretation
4. Two Distinctions
5. Resisting a Strawsonian Theme: The Explanatory Role of Holding Responsible
6. A Modest Metaphysical Interpretation
Chapter 3: Moral Responsibility & Quality of Will
1. A Strawsonian Quality of Will Thesis
2. The Morally Reactive Attitudes and their Attendant Practices
3. Pleas: Reasons to Modify the Reactive Attitudes
3.1 Excuses and Justifications
3.2 Exemptions
Chapter 4: Conversation & Responsibility
1. The Intimate Link between Being and Holding Responsible
2. Introducing a Conversational Theory of Moral Responsibility
3. Agent Meaning and Morally Responsible Agency
4. Agent Meaning and Action Meaning
5. What Kind of Meaning is Agent Meaning?
6. The Place of Meaning in Other Theories of Responsibility
Chapter 5: Genuine Responsibility: Defending a Conversational Theory
1. A Robinson-Crusoe-type Objection
2. Why Affect?
3. Moral Responsibility without Desert?
4. Moral Responsibility with Desert?
4.1 Basic Desert
4.2 Ultimate Responsibility & What is Deserved
4.3 Axiological, Deontological, or Both?
Chapter 6: Conversation & Deserved Blame
1. In Search of Desert Thesis
2. What's the Harm in Blaming?
3. Articulating a Desert Thesis for Blame
4. A Challenge for the Moral Responsibility Skeptic
Chapter 7: Blame's Warrant
1. The Challenge of Proper Warrant
2. Justifying Blame in the Absence of Desert
3. Justifying Blame by Way of Non-Basic Desert
4. Why not Basic Desert?
5. Accounting for Blame's Warrant
Chapter 8: Conversation and the Scope of Moral Responsibility
1. Blaming in the Absence of the Blamed
2. A Restrictive View of Moral Responsibility's Scope
3. Blameworthiness for Bad Acts?
4. Blameworthiness for the Nonvoluntary?
5. Conversation & a Unified Account of Moral Responsibility's Scope
Chapter 9: Conclusion

About the author: 

Michael McKenna is Professor of Philosophy and Keith Lehrer Chair, University of Arizona.

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