Conversation and Responsibility

Research output: Book/ReportBook

319 Scopus citations


Moral responsibility can be explained by analogy with a conversation. The relation between a morally responsible agent and those who hold her morally responsible is like the relation between a speaker and her audience. A responsible agent's actions are bearers of meaning, agent meaning, just as a speaker's utterances are bearers of speaker meaning. Agent meaning is a function of the morally quality of the will with which an agent acts. Those who hold an agent morally responsible for what she does do so by responding to her as if in a conversation. By responding with certain morally reactive attitudes, such as resentment or indignation, they thereby communicate their regard for the meaning taken to be revealed in that agent's actions. It is then open for the agent held responsible to respond to those holding her responsible by offering an apology, a justification, an excuse, or some other response, thereby extending the evolving conversational exchange. The conversational theory of moral responsibility accepts two features of P.F. Strawson's theory. One is that moral responsibility is essentially interpersonal so that being responsible must be understood by reference to the nature of holding responsible. Another is that the moral emotions are central to holding responsible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages272
ISBN (Electronic)9780199918706
ISBN (Print)9780199740031
StatePublished - May 24 2012


  • Agent meaning
  • Conversation
  • Moral responsibility
  • P.F. strawson
  • Reactive attitudes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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