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There is an instructive ambiguity in Aristotle's account ofresponsibility, an ambiguity that has led to competing interpretationsof his view. Aristotle aims to identify the conditions under which itis appropriate to praise or blame an agent, but it is not entirelyclear how to understand the pivotal notion of appropriateness in hisconception of responsibility. There are at least two possibilities: a)praise or blame is appropriate in the sense that the agentdeserves such a response, given his behavior and/or traits ofcharacter; or b) praise or blame is appropriate in the sense that sucha reaction is likely to bring about a desired consequence, namely animprovement in the agent's behavior and/or character. These twopossibilities may be characterized in terms of two competinginterpretations of the concept of moral responsibility: 1) themerit-based view, according to which praise or blamewould be an appropriate reaction toward the candidate if and only ifshe merits—in the sense of ‘deserves’—sucha reaction; vs. 2) the consequentialist view, according towhich praise or blame would be appropriate if and only if a reactionof this sort would likely lead to a desired change in the agent and/orher behavior.[]

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The recognition of diversity within the concept or amongst conceptsof moral responsibility has generated new reflection on whether theconditions on being morally responsible are in tension with oneanother (Nagel 1986; G. Strawson 1986, 105–117, 307–317; Honderich1988: vol. 2, ch. 1; Double 1996a: chs. 6–7; Bok 1998: ch. 1;Smilansky 2000: ch. 6); For example, some have argued that while acompatibilist sense of freedom is sufficient for attributability,genuine accountability would require that agents be capable ofexercising libertarian freedom. A rapidly expanding body of empiricaldata on folk intuitions about freedom and responsibility has addedfuel to this debate (Nahmias et. al. 2005 and 2007; Vargas 2006;Nichols & Knobe 2007; Nelkin 2007; Roskies & Nichols 2008; andKnobe & Doris 2010).


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Since the reactive attitudes--when expressed and accompanied bytheir associated practices--may have consequences for the well-beingof an agent (especially in the case of those blaming attitudes andpractices involved in holding someone accountable for wrong-doing),they would seem to be appropriate only if it is fair that the agent besubject to them in the sense that s/he deserve them.[]This concern aboutfairness may be the original source of the merit-based view ofresponsibility. Relatedly, this line of thought may help explain thehistorical preoccupation with whether responsibility for an actionrequires the ability to have done otherwise. That is, the normativeconcern for a fair opportunity to avoid blame and sanction may liebehind the felt need to have access to alternatives. (Zimmerman:ch. 5; Wallace: 103–117; Watson 1996: 238–9; Magill 1997: 42–53;Nelkin 2012:31–50).


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Strawson's concept of moral responsibility yields a compatibilistaccount of being responsible but one that departs significantly fromearlier such accounts in two respects. First, Strawson's is acompatibilist view by default only. That is, on Strawson's view, theproblem of determinism and freedom/responsibility is not so muchresolved by showing that the objective conditions on beingresponsible are consistent with one's being determined but ratherdissolved by showing that the practice of holding peopleresponsible relies on no such conditions and therefore needs noexternal justification in the face of determinism. Second, Strawson'sis a merit-based form of compatibilism. That is, unlike most formerconsequentialist forms of compatibilism, it helps to explain why wefeel that some agents deserve our censure or merit our praise. They doso because they have violated, met, or exceeded our demand for areasonable degree of good will.