Philosophical Studies

, Volume 171, Issue 1, pp 63–72 | Cite as

Moral responsibility, conversation, and desert: comments on Michael McKenna’s conversation and responsibility

  • Dana Kay Nelkin


In this paper, I engage with several of the intriguing theses Michael McKenna puts forward in his Conversation and Responsibility. For example, I examine McKenna’s claim that the fact that an agent is morally responsible for an action and the fact that an agent is appropriately held responsible explain each other. I go on to argue that despite the importance of the ability to hold people responsible, an agent’s being morally responsible for an action is explanatorily fundamental, and in this sense responsibility is response-independent. I then explore some of the specific aspects of McKenna’s conversational theory before turning to his suggestion that the conversational nature of our responsibility practices gives us special kinds of reasons for accepting that agents are deserving of the harms of blame. Finally, I conclude by raising questions for his argument that the scope of blameworthy actions extends beyond that of impermissible actions.


Desert Moral responsibility Reactive attitudes 



Many thanks to the other participants of the APA session, Michael McKenna, George Sher, Holly Smith, and Kevin Timpe, and to members of the audience for very insightful comments and discussion. I am also very grateful to Michael McKenna, Derk Pereboom and Sam Rickless for their comments on an earlier draft. And for very helpful discussion of an earlier draft of Conversation and Responsibility, I also thank the members of a graduate seminar on Responsibility and the Reactive Attitudes I gave in 2009, namely, Sarah Aiken, Per Milam, Chris Suhler, and Michael Tiboris.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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