On Freedom and Forgiveness

Monday, 22 April, 2013 - 15:00

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“Freedom and Resentment” is a paper I return to again and again. I think it’s a really fascinating, deep, subtle, incredibly important and sometimes really quite annoying paper. Sometimes I return to it because I’m fascinated by its depth and subtlety, and sometimes because I just can’t work out what the argument is supposed to be. “Freedom and Resentment” relates, more or less directly, to two central topics in my research, which I have not previously brought into connection with each other, and between which a connection may seem unlikely: forgiveness and Kant’s transcendental idealism. The paper relates to forgiveness, because Strawson introduces the now famous idea of ‘reactive attitudes,’ which include attitudes like gratitude and resentment; this idea is plays an important and influential role in the literature on forgiveness. Kant’s transcendental idealism relates to “Freedom and Resentment” because Strawson’s paper is an attempt to dissolve (or to side-step) the problem of free will, and there are some ways in which his strategy for doing this has been seen as similar to Kant’s attempt to dissolve (or side-step) the problem in the first Critique, which depends on his transcendental idealism. Strawson aims to bring about a reconciliation between opposing sides in the free will debate through appealing to two different points of view we can adopt on the world: the ‘objective’ view, and the ‘participant’ view. This contrast has seemed to many to be similar to Kant’s contrast between two ways of considering the world (as his transcendental idealism is often understood), which is central to his resolution of the free will problem.  In this paper I pursue Strawson’s project in “Freedom and Resentment” by developing the connection between forgiveness and free will. I argue that Strawson’s notion of reactive attitudes is helpful for understanding forgiveness, and that thinking about forgiveness has implications for how we understand the kind of free will reactive attitudes see us as having. I argue that this does not easily fit with the common Humean naturalist compatibilist reading of Strawson’s strategy, and I suggest an alternative, broadly Kantian interpretation.

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