David Shoemaker, "Responsibility from the Margins" (Oxford UP, 2015)


Moral life is infused with emotionally-charged interactions. When a stranger carelessly steps on my foot, I not only feel pain in my foot, I also am affronted by her carelessness. Whereas the former may cause me to wince, the latter arouses resentment, which can be communicated with an emotionally-toned protest, Um. . . excuse me. . . With this a protest, I hold the stranger responsible for her act. Yet there are cases where the stranger who steps on my foot does not manifest an objectionable carelessness. After all, she may have been pushed, or perhaps had been feeling faint. Such conditions mitigate resentment, render my emotional response unfitting and in need of revision. This much seems trivial. Distinctively philosophical questions arise when we consider cases where agents are in certain ways compromised or impaired. Imagine that the stranger is in the grip of dementia, or in a fit of rage that has rendered her unable to control the motion of her limbs. Would resentment be fitting in such cases? Now, what if the stranger is cognitively incapable of empathy, and so is unable to see what reason she has to avoid stepping on others feet? In short, we may ask when certain facts about the condition and capacities of individuals render them unfitting targets for responsibility responses such as resentment. And what are we morally to make of such agents? In Responsibility from the Margins (Oxford University Press, 2015), David Shoemaker proposes a tripartite view of responsibility which can make sense of our responses to persons whose agency is compromised. The book brings together high-level philosophy with a deep appreciation for the empirical details concerning the various forms of marginal agency it discussed.

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Robert Talisse

Robert Talisse is the W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University.

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