The Optimist: the facts as we know them (a) don't show determinism to be false, and (b) provide an adequate basis for our moral practices (e.g., praise/blame/resentment).

The Pessimist: the facts as we know them (a) don't show determinism to be false, but (b) they do not provide an adequate basis for the moral practices in question, so (c) we must go beyond them to find an adequate basis for these practices (and in so doing we must deny determinism).

Strawson's Strategy: get the pessimist to withdraw (c) by radically revising the optimist's account (b).



Objective Attitude = seeing others as objects of social policy, as subjects for treatment, as "things" to be managed/handled/avoided.

Participant Reactive Attitudes = "attitudes belonging to involvement or participation with others in inter-personal human relationships," which include "resentment, gratitude, forgiveness, anger," or love (p. 66).

When you and I enter into a direct relationship with one another, there are going to be certain attitudes we each have that are constitutive to its even being a personal relationship.


We expect others to meet the Basic Demand, "the demand for goodwill or regard which is reflected in ordinary reactive attitudes" (p. 65).

Suspension of Resentment

Strawson's questions: (a) What sorts of considerations incline us to set aside personal, participant reactive attitudes?  (b) Would determinism mean that something like this is true of everyone all the time?


Two types of conditions resulting in a suspension of our ordinary participant reactive attitudes (e.g., resentment):

  1. Excusing Conditions: "He didn't mean to," "He didn't know," "He couldn't help it," etc.  Here there is no change in our attitude towards the agent, but only towards what he did.  These are excuses within reactive attitudes.

  2. Exempting Conditions:

    1. "He wasn't himself," "He's been under great stress recently," or "He's acting under post-hypnotic suggestion."
    2. "He's only a kid," "He's a schizophrenic," or "That's purely compulsive behavior on his part." 

      These sorts of please do invite us to suspend our ordinary reactive attitudes towards the agent, either at that time or all the time.  We suspend a certain type of relationship toward the person, and this produces in us the objective attitude.

Determinism and Resentment

What effect would the acceptance of the truth of determinism have on these reactive attitudes?


  1. If determinism were true (whatever that means), we'd have to view all behavior as always and equally determined.

  2. If determinism is relevant to the suspension of our personal reactive attitudes, it would imply that such suspension be extended universally (because the pleas for their suspension would always be valid).

  3. There are two pleas that typically result in the suspension of our personal reactive attitudes: those making reference to Excusing Conditions and those making reference to Exempting Conditions.

  4. If these are the only types of please that result in the suspension of such reactions, then determinism would imply that one (or both) of these pleas is always valid.

  5. Determinism does not imply that either plea is always valid, because:

    1. Pleas referring to Excusing Conditions would have us say that every injury-causing action, say, was a case of accident/ignorance, but this wouldn't be implied by the truth of determinism; rather, it would happen (if it did) only because everyone had goodwill and wanted to excuse everyone else for everything.

    2. Pleas referring to Exempting Conditions would have us saying all actions are always caused by psychologically abnormal agents, but that can't be the case because we can't all be abnormal (by definition of "abnormal").

  6. Thus, determinism is irrelevant to the suspension (or holding) of our personal reactive attitudes.


Could we deal with everyone objectively?


We don't suspend our reactions to the psychologically abnormal because of some belief in determinism; rather, we do so because of other reasons.


Filling in the Optimist's Gap

We hold people responsible (i.e., we have reactive attitudes to them) because __________.

Optimist: of the good effects of doing so (which is compatible with determinism).

Pessimist: they are responsible, which requires libertarian (contra-causal) freedom.


The idea that we are responsible is to be understood by the practice of holding people responsible, which is simply a matter of expressing our concerns and demands about our treatment of one another.


BUT: is there a paradox lurking here?  If holding X responsible requires the intelligibility of being able to morally address X (to see X as a potential moral interlocutor), then extreme evil (paradoxically) disqualifies one for blame.