Freedom and Resentment by Peter Strawson

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In his essay, “Freedom and Resentment”, Strawson aims to prove human freedom by evaluating two opposing viewpoints, the optimist and the pessimist toward determinism, and discrediting various ideas within each argument in order to arrive at his own conclusion. It is necessary to understand that the basis of Strawson’s argument focuses on human psychology. He believes that innate tendencies engrained in our dispositions develop our subjective reactive attitudes and we are too attached to interpersonal relationships to consider changing all attitudes to objective ones. While I find Strawson’s points to be relevant and compelling, there are flaws in his argument that cannot be ignored.

He begins with the optimist’s idea, which he later modifies to create his own principle. This position suggests that moral accountability and practices of punishment are justified regardless of the extent of free will because they are effective at regulating social behaviour. The optimist point of view assumes that negative freedom, the capacity to choose without restraint or psychological compulsion, is what humans are generally referring when they speak of freedom, and that the social capacity to hold one accountable for their actions is just within the bounds of this freedom. However, Strawson feels this argument is lacking because it is necessary to acknowledge human psychology and address the fact that all human actions are coloured by human attitudes, including those that shape the social institutions that regulate behaviour. The pessimist viewpoint, which he later discredits, theorizes that if determinism is true then any concept of moral obligation or responsibility, and thus punishment for defiance of these expectations, is unjust. This is because the pessimist idea assumes positive freedom which requires not only the capacity to act, but also that the outcome of this action is not pre-ordained. This argument proposes that since we do not have the free will to truly...
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