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Answerability without Answers

by Graham Hubbs

The classical ethical questions of whether and to what extent moral criticism is a sort of rational criticism have received renewed interest in recent years. According to the approach that I refer to as rationalist, accounts of moral responsibility are grounded by explanations of the conditions under which an agent is rationally answerable for her actions and attitudes. In the sense that is relevant here, to answer for an attitude or action is to give reasons that at least purport to justify it. To hold someone answerable for an attitude or action is thus to hold her rationally liable for it. T. M. Scanlon’s view is perhaps the most well-known example of this approach. The rationalist approach has recently been attacked by David Shoemaker for being too narrow: the charge is that attitudes exist for which an agent is responsible even though she cannot, in the relevant sense, answer for them. If there are morally significant attitudes that are attributable to an agent even though she cannot answer for them, then it would seem incomplete, misguided, or worse to treat morality as fundamentally a matter of demanding and giving reasons. By developing some remarks based on G. E. M. Anscombe’s Intention, I defend the rationalist approach against this critique. I show how an agent may be answerable for an attitude even though she cannot answer for it. The objective of this paper is thus twofold: to contribute to the discussion of the connection between rational liability and ethical responsibility, and to provide an example of the broad relevance of Anscombe’s thought to contemporary practical philosophy.

ISSN 1559-3061
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