'Freedom and resentment' and consequentialism: why 'Strawson's point' is not Strawson's point.

Author:Miller, Dale E.

EARLY in THE SECOND-PERSON STANDPOINT, Stephen Darwall articulates a thesis that he takes P. F. Strawson to advance in "Freedom and Resentment." He maintains that Strawson asserts, and is right to assert, that good consequences are the wrong kind of reason to justify "practices of punishment and moral responsibility" (1):

Strawson argued that social desirability is not a reason of "the right sort" for practices of moral responsibility "as we understand them." When we seek to hold people accountable, what matters is not whether doing so is desirable, either in a particular case or in general, but whether the person's conduct is culpable and we have the authority to bring him to account. Desirability is a reason of the wrong kind to warrant the attitudes and actions in which holding someone responsible consists in their own terms. (2) Darwall labels this thesis 'Strawson's Point.'

I will argue for a different interpretation of Strawson, one according to which it is not entirely true that he considers socially desirable consequences to be the wrong kind of reason to justify practices of punishment and moral responsibility and, more generally, one according to which he is not the unequivocal critic of consequentialism that Darwall takes him to be. In fact, I will contend that the account of the moral reactive attitudes that Strawson first presents in "Freedom and Resentment" may be a valuable resource for consequentialists. Because I will be challenging only Darwall's reading of Strawson, my discussion will leave his arguments in The Second-Person Standpoint that build on Strawson's Point intact (except insofar as Strawson's imprimatur lends them force). I will begin by recapitulating Darwall's objections to consequentialism and showing just how closely he takes Strawson to anticipate them.

  1. Darwall's Critique of Consequentialism and Reading of Strawson

    1. Darwall's critique of consequentialism

      Darwall's overarching aim in The Second-Person Standpoint is to establish that moral reasons are "second-personal," by which he means that they stem from claims or demands that we make upon each other. One helpful example that he uses to illustrate the concept of a second-personal reason involves a person's stepping on your foot. Your pain certainly gives him a reason to move his foot, but according to Darwall this reason is "third-personal" (in virtue of being agent neutral). (3) Everyone has reason to relieve the pain in your foot if they can; the oaf at fault is special only in how easily he can do so. When you demand that he move his foot, in contrast, this gives him a reason of a very different sort.

      The reason would not be addressed to him as someone who is simply in a position to alter the regrettable state of someone's pain or of someone's causing another pain. if he could stop, say, two others from causing gratuitous pain by the shocking spectacle of keeping his foot firmly planted on yours, this second, claim-based (hence second-personal) reason would not recommend that he do so. it would be addressed to him, rather, as the person causing gratuitous pain to another person, something we normally assume we have the authority to demand that persons not do to one another. (4) The notion of authority is central to Darwall's conception of morality, since your making a claim or demand on someone gives her a reason only if you have the authority to make it. Authority is one of four concepts that constitute a circle that he takes to characterize the second-person standpoint. These are:

      (a) the authority to make a claim on or demand or expect something of someone,

      (b) an authoritative (legitimate) claim or demand,

      (c) a (second-personal) reason (for complying),

      (d) being accountable (to someone with the requisite authority) for complying. (5)

      Darwall insists that "there is no way to break into this circle from outside it," since "Propositions formulated only with normative and evaluative concepts that are not already implicitly second-personal cannot adequately ground propositions formulated with concepts within the circle." (6) He takes this stricture, which he summarizes with the slogan "second-personal authority out, second-personal authority in," (7) to undermine most consequentialist accounts of moral responsibility. The typical consequentialist strategy would be to move from the proposition that holding people accountable for a particular line of conduct would produce optimal outcomes to the proposition that they are accountable for it, but this would mean inferring that they have a second-personal reason to adhere to this line of conduct from the fact that we have a third-personal reason to treat them as if they do. It is just this sort of inference that Darwall means to block; a reason to desire the authority to make a claim is not a reason to believe that one has it.

      Moreover, Darwall further argues, this same restriction also tells against most consequentialist theories of moral obligation. This is because there is a close conceptual connection between being under a moral obligation to perform or omit a particular action and being responsible or accountable for doing so. Darwall credits J. S. Mill with the best-known description of this connection (while remarking on the irony of a consequentialist's being the author of the canonical statement of a point so damaging to consequentialism). Mill writes:

      We do not call anything wrong, unless we mean to imply that a person ought to be punished in some way or other for doing it; if not by law, by the opinion of his fellow-creatures; if not by opinion, by the reproaches of his own conscience. This seems the real turning point of the distinction between morality and simple expediency. (8) If a wrong action is necessarily one that we are accountable to others for not doing, then the concept of morally wrong action is implicitly second-personal, as are related concepts like that of moral obligation. This in turn means that we can infer conclusions about the moral standing of actions or our moral obligations only when some of our premises themselves invoke second-personal concepts. According to Darwall, this point is as telling against "indirect" consequentialist moral theories like rule consequentialism as it is against "direct" act consequentialism. He writes that "the only support [indirect consequentialism] allows for claims of obligation are instrumental considerations regarding how a practice of accountability itself, structured by some candidate rule, serves to advance an external goal," and concludes that this "just seems to postpone the difficulty." (9)

      on the whole, then, it seems fair to describe Darwall as a critic of consequentialism in The Second-Person Standpoint., although this assessment should be qualified in two ways. First, while he takes consequentialist accounts of moral responsibility and obligation to be among the most prominent offenders, some non-consequentialist views will also attempt to break into the circle of second-personal concepts from the outside. In fact, Darwall says that Kant's ethics do so as well, albeit from the direction of first- rather than third-personal deliberation. (10) So consequentialism is not his only target. Second, Darwall is arguing for a meta-ethical restriction on how criteria for making judgments about whether someone is morally accountable for a line of conduct or what her moral obligations are can be justified, not a restriction on the criteria themselves. What this stricture prohibits are arguments for these criteria that fail to include a premise that is at least implicitly a claim about our second-personal reasons: second-personal authority out, second-personal authority in. While Darwall concludes that contractualism is the most promising approach to normative ethics in light of his arguments, he entertains the possibility that a contractualist justification might be given for consequentialist views. (11) So it is not consequentialism per se that Darwall is criticizing, but rather the arguments that most consequentialists make.

    2. Darwall's reading of Strawson

      On Darwall's reading, "Freedom and Resentment" criticizes consequentialism along nearly identical lines. At the center of Strawson's essay is his account of the "reactive attitudes." These are attitudes that we take toward people whom we recognize as agents in response to the use they make of their agency. For instance, we resent individuals who choose to injure or show ill will toward us (or toward people who are near and dear to us). And resentment has a "sympathetic or vicarious or impersonal or disinterested or generalized" analogue in the moral indignation or blame that we feel toward people who choose to mistreat anyone, even when we have no particular connection with their victims. "What we have here is, as it were, resentment on behalf of another, where one's own interest and dignity are not involved; and it is this impersonal or vicarious character of the attitude, added to its others, which entitle it to the qualification 'moral.'" (12) Resentment also has "self-reactive" moral analogues, according to Strawson, including "such phenomena as feeling bound or obliged (the 'sense of obligation'); feeling compunction; feeling guilty or remorseful or at least responsible; and the more complicated phenomenon of shame." (13)

      As is already apparent from the passage that I quoted in my introduction, Darwall takes himself to be following Strawson's lead in arguing that consequentialists commonly give the wrong sorts of reasons in favor of whatever accounts of moral responsibility and obligation they endorse. The moral reactive attitudes, Darwall asserts, are inherently second-personal:

      Reactive attitudes invariably concern what someone can be held to, so they invariably presuppose the authority to hold someone responsible and make demands of him.... It follows that the reactive attitudes are second-personal in our sense, and that ethical...

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