Our fundamental responsibility responses are emotional appraisals. How we express our anger, shame, regret, guilt, gratitude, etc., are ethical matters, though, about the ways we ought to treat our fellows. And the question of desert—as in “What does he deserve for what he did?”— is fundamentally an ethical question, i.e., “How should we treat those who do angersome things?” But the form of this question applies equally to all sorts of “non-responsibility” arenas as well, i.e., “How should we treat those who are economically worst off in our society?” or “How should we treat people with Huntington’s disease?” We can answer these questions in a variety of ways, but those answers aren’t necessarily dependent on our responsibility responses.
If Mike Tyson is my neighbor and continually wakes me up in the middle of the night by playing smooth jazz loudly through his open window, I’d best not show my anger to him. I may judge that I shouldn’t feel angry, but I feel it nonetheless when I hear Kenny G start up at 2 a.m. In this instance, my anger is perfectly fitting and rational: Mike Tyson is slighting me, that is, not taking me and my ends seriously. But is this reflective of Mike’s deep self, his strong evaluations about what’s important in life? And does any of this make any difference about whether I hold him responsible? Philosopher Dave Shoemaker discusses this and related questions.
An interview with philosopher Dave Shoemaker about his new book, Responsibility from the Margins, that discusses how our conceptions of moral responsibility depend on, or are even constituted by, our emotional reactions to the actions, omissions, and attitudes of others.