The resentful and the indignant

David Botting


In “Freedom and Resentment” P.F. Strawson distinguishes between the participant reactive attitudes like resentment and the moral reactive attitudes like indignation described by Strawson as their “vicarious analogues,” where we are not the injured party and it is not our own personal relationships at stake. Through naturalistic description of the participant reactive attitudes a set of conditions for moral responsibility can be discovered that, moreover, are held to be immune to any external review or to require external justification. Except for pathological cases Strawson deems to amount to solipsism, these participant attitudes and their vicarious analogues are deemed to go together and the same arguments to apply equally to each: resentment and indignation are supposed to have the same conditions for being appropriately held or withheld. I find it to be not obvious that these conditions must be the same, but even if they are, the case for immunity that Strawson presents initially for the participant reactive attitudes does not transfer as unproblematically as he seems to assume to the moral reactive attitudes. The aim of this paper is not to analyse Strawson’s arguments, but more simply to identify a number of ways in which we may be resentful without being (or being prone to be in the relevantly similar circumstance) indignant, and indignant without being resentful.


Resentment; Indignation; Reactive attitudes; P.F.Strawson

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Jonathan Bennett, “Accountability,” in M. McKenna and P. Russell (eds.) Free Will and Reactive Attitudes: Perspectives on P.F. Strawson’s “Freedom and Resentment” (Surrey, England: Ashgate, 2008)

P.F. Strawson, “Freedom and resentment,” in Freedom and resentment and other essays (New York: Routledge, 2008)

Bennett W. Helm, “Responsibility and dignity: Strawsonian themes,” in Carla Bagnoli (ed.) Morality and the emotions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011)

Bruce Waller, Against moral responsibility, (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The MIT Press, 2011)





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