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Reviewed by:
  • Freedom, Resentment, and the Metaphysics of Morals by Pamela Hieronymi
  • Ekin Erkan
HIERONYMI, Pamela. Freedom, Resentment, and the Metaphysics of Morals. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2020. xx + 168 pp. Cloth, $29.95

Contra the dominant readings, Hieronymi—refusing to sideline concerns of metaphysics for the impasse of normativity—argues that the core of Strawson's argument in "Freedom and Resentment" rests on an implicit and overlooked metaphysics of morals grounded in social naturalism, focusing her discussion on Strawson's conception of objective attitudes. The objective attitude deals with exemption, rather than excuse. This distinction is critical to Strawson's picture of responsibility: In addition to our personal reactive attitudes are their impersonal or vicarious analogues. There are two such cases: first, cases where we suspend or modify reactive attitudes due to error about the quality of the will. In these cases of excuse, we might include an actor who we learn was innocently ignorant, or whose behavior was an accident, and so we see that he or she really meant no harm. Consequently, we exculpate the injury in question. In cases of excuse, we are mistaken about the quality of the actor's will and, thus, our reactive attitude changes, but the moral demands stay. However, one might view other people as equipped with mental attributes and as people about whom one is disposed not to indulge in with those reactive attitudes of resentment, approbation, and so on; this involves viewing others objectively. We encounter these scenarios in the case of small children, people suffering from dementia, or those with forms of other serious mental illness. This second category involves exemption: Rather than reacting with the corresponding reactive attitudes, we view those actors—who lack the capacities required to fit into the usual system tolerably well—objectively, thereby exempting them from the usual demands of ordinary interpersonal relating.

Strawson speaks of a "resource" as we sometimes shift from a reactive to an objective attitude even in cases in which the will is neither immature, diseased, nor in extreme or unusual circumstances. These are instrumental scenarios of emotional effort, as demonstrated in scenarios of emotive disengagement from the stresses of involvement, involving a stepping away from the natural reaction to offensive behavior to adopt a more objective attitude. Could or should the acceptance of the determinist thesis lead us always to look on everyone exclusively this way, where the acceptance of determinism could lead to the decay or repudiation of "participant reactive attitudes"?

For Strawson's unconvinced pessimist—an incompatibilist about moral responsibility and freedom—a metaphysics of morals could enumerate an argument that starts from claims about the nature of moral requirement or moral demand and reach the conclusion that moral demands require a form of control, possibility, originality, or spontaneity, which is ruled out by the truth of determinism. It would follow that we would universalize the objective attitude, applying the "resource" indiscriminately. Absent social naturalism, Strawson's rejection of the pessimist's moral standards—that all ordinary interpersonal relating could fail to meet, requiring us to adopt the objective attitude universally—would rest simply on his examination of our practices, on his interpretation of cases in [End Page 150] which we modify or suspend reactive attitudes. The pessimist trades in intermediate moral principles—standards about desert, control, alternatives, possibility, and so on—which they present as intuitively compelling. However, Strawson's analysis demands that we go beyond a simple appeal to intuition in order support these intermediate principles.

Why does Strawson think that whether we could or should exempt depends on what is "ordinary," statistically speaking? Consider Strawson's argument that no general thesis could provide a reason to exempt everyone from moral demands: We do and should exempt the outlier cases, and it cannot be the case that everyone is an outlier. Strawson thinks that we have a natural, nonrational commitment to engaging in characteristically interpersonal relationships. The quality of others' wills toward us matters to us and are manifest in their behavior such that we put some set of demands on the quality of others' wills; accordingly, we will react in certain ways when those demands are violated. For Strawson, this fact...


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