chapter  4
2 Pages

Interpersonal blame: Strawson and Scanlon

In the background of Dennett’s analysis seems to be a view according to which, even when engaging in blaming behaviour, we are to think of the subject of blame (along with all persons) as fundamentally a bio-chemical system, a network of causes to be managed or “reprogrammed” by whatever causal interactions are most effective. Again, even on this view, there are useful distinctions that can be drawn, for example, between an action’s being caused by this set of neural pathways or that. But absent freedom, the participant perspective is stripped of the ontological oomph that grounds the moral significance of those distinctions. Saul Smilansky nicely captures the essential worry for any view that takes responsibility to be compatible with what he calls the “ultimate perspective”, the view that “being the sort of person one is, and having the desires and beliefs one has, are ultimately something which one cannot control, which cannot be one’s fault, it is one’s luck” (2001, 75):

The partial validity of the compatibilist distinctions is unlikely to overcome the practical salience of the ultimate perspective in such a situation. . .Determinists are not likely to cherish and maintain adequately the respect due to people in the light of their free actions, nor a free will-based moral order in general. The ethical importance of the paradigm of free will and responsibility as a basis for desert should be taken very seriously, but the ultimate perspective threatens to present it as a farce, a mere game without foundation. (90)

Viewing a person from the ultimate perspective is not quite the same as viewing a person objectively, as “an object of social policy; as a subject for what, in a wide range of sense, might be called treatment” (Strawson 1962/2003, 79). But I think Smilansky is right that the ultimate perspective is most suited to objectivity of attitude, as it threatens to undermine the ethical significance of the participant perspective.