Philosophical Studies

, Volume 165, Issue 3, pp 893–914 | Cite as

“Screw you!” & “thank you”

  • Coleen MacnamaraEmail author


If I do you a good turn, you may respond with gratitude and express that gratitude by saying “Thank you.” Similarly, if I insult you, you may react with resentment which you express by shouting, “Screw you!” or something of the sort. Broadly put, when confronted with another’s morally significant conduct, we are inclined to respond with a reactive attitude and to express that reactive attitude in speech. A number of familiar speech acts have a call-and-response structure. Questions, demands and hails are all call-types, and each seeks a defining response. Questions seek answers, demands seek compliance, and a hail, for example, “Hi Coleen” seeks a “Hi” in return. Many theorists claim that expressions of the reactive attitudes also have this structure. Yet, this insight raises a number of questions. There are, after all, many familiar call-types, not only questions, demands and hails, but also requests, invitations, recommendations and entreaties. Given this, it is natural to wonder whether the expressed reactive attitudes are a sui generis call-type or whether they can be properly assimilated to one of the better-known forms. Further, we might wonder about the response component. It is utterly familiar that the response suited to a demand is compliance, and that the response sought by a question is an answer, but what response do the expressed reactive attitudes seek? The answer to this question is not similarly ready to hand. In this paper, I provide a recognition-based theory of the call-and-response structure of the expressed reactive attitudes. On my account, both the positive and negative expressed reactive attitudes are modes of recognition that seek for their target to give expression to her recognition of having been appropriately recognized. In the negative case, the target does this by feeling and expressing guilt or remorse, and in the positive case, by feeling and expressing self-approbation.


Reactive attitudes Praise Blame Demands Recognition Gratitude Resentment Approval Indignation Guilt Remorse Self-approbation 



My sincerest thanks to Elisa Hurley, Christina Hollowell, Zac Bachman, Dan Ehrlich, Chris McVey, Philip Swenson, David Copp and the participants of the 2011 USF Conference on Responsibility, Agency, and Persons for their helpful feedback on earlier versions of this paper. I owe special debts of gratitude to Maggie Little, Joshua Hollowell and Monique Wonderly for countless conversations on the issues discussed in this paper and for reading and commenting on numerous drafts.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of California at RiversideRiversideUSA

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