Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 561–572 | Cite as

Strawson, Shoemaker, and the Hubris of Theories

  • Tamler SommersEmail author
Original Paper


David Shoemaker’s Responsibility from the Margins is chock full of valuable insights on the nature of our responsibility, and it has more in common with P.F. Strawson’s approach in “Freedom and Resentment” than the accounts of most philosophers who call themselves Strawsonians. On one central issue of interpretation, however, Shoemaker gets Strawson wrong. Like many interpreters, Shoemaker sees Strawson as defending a “quality of will” theory of responsibility. This idea fundamentally misunderstands Strawson’s aims in “Freedom and Resentment.” Strawson does not defend a theory of any kind in that essay. On the contrary, Strawson tries to caution his fellow philosophers away from the theorizing impulse. The urge to develop comprehensive theories, he argued, inevitably leads philosophers away from the natural facts about responsibility and the related emotions. So, Strawson offers an alternative way of understanding responsibility, one that takes the facts into account “in all their bearings.” This interpretive disagreement is instructive, I’ll argue, because it illuminates several weaknesses in Shoemaker’s own “tripartite” theory of responsibility. Where his account goes astray can be remedied in large part by embracing the spirit of Strawson’s approach in full.


Responsibility Emotions Blame Free will P.F. Strawson Metaphilosophy 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentUniversity of HoustonHoustonUSA

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