Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 221–240 | Cite as

Responsibility and the Limits of Conversation

  • Manuel R. VargasEmail author


Both legal and moral theorists have offered broadly “communicative” theories of criminal and moral responsibility. According to such accounts, we can understand the nature of responsibility by appealing to the idea that responsibility practices are in some fundamental sense expressive, discursive, or communicative. In this essay, I consider a variety of issues in connections with this family of views, including its relationship to free will, the theory of exemptions, and potential alternatives to the communicative model. Focusing on Michael McKenna’s Conversation and Responsibility, I argue that communicative accounts, and the conversational model in particular, direct our attention to important and under-appreciated elements of our responsibility practices. However, rather than focusing on a model of conversation-as-address, as McKenna does, we do better to regard gossip as the paradigmatic conversational form that captures the main features of moral responsibility.


Moral responsibility Conversational theory of responsibility McKenna Strawson Punishment Gossip 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy and LawUniversity of San FranciscoSan FranciscoUSA

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