To save content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save content items to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
In this chapter, I begin with the observation that there is an asymmetry in our normative expectations of degrees of self-blame and degrees of other-blame. There are many situations in which it seems intuitively plausible that a person should blame herself to a certain degree, while at the same time it is also appropriate for others to blame her to a lesser degree. This calls out for explanation. In this chapter, I canvass the prospects for rejecting the idea that there is any systematic explanation to be found, as well as those of a variety of possible explanations that purport to justify a genuine asymmetry between the norms of self-blame and other-blame. These latter include explanations according to which it is virtue to over-blame in one’s own case, and in which it is a virtue to be disposed to under-blame in the case of others. In the end, I argue instead that a central and systematic explanation relies in part on a general moral principle that asymmetric risk imposition between self and others is justified. I conclude by exploring the implications of this view for whether we should privilege intuitions about self-blame, other-blame, or neither when engaged in philosophical theorizing.
This chapter sets out a non-retributive conception of blame and of self-blame, that is, one that does not invoke the notion of basically deserved pain or harm. To blame is instead to take on a non-retributive stance of moral protest. The reasons for moral protest are forward-looking: moral formation or reconciliation in a relationship that has been impaired due to wrongdoing, protection from wrongdoing, and restoration of the integrity of its victims. Regret, a painful response to one’s own wrongdoing, which by contrast with guilt (by stipulation) does not involve the supposition that the pain it involves is basically deserved, may appropriately accompany self-blame. The pain of guilt, an attitude distinct from regret, conceptually involves basic desert since it involves the supposition that it would be prima facie permissible for those who are appropriately situated to impose it on a wrongdoer for a non-instrumental reason. The pain of regret, by contrast, does not involve this supposition.
Blame is multifarious. It can be passionate or dispassionate. It can be expressed or kept private. We blame both the living and the dead. And we blame ourselves as well as others. What’s more, we blame ourselves, not only for our moral failings, but also for our non-moral failings: for our aesthetic bad taste, gustatory self-indulgence, or poor athletic performance. And we blame ourselves both for things over which we exerted agential control (e.g., our voluntary acts) and for things over which we lacked such control (e.g., our desires, beliefs, and intentions). I argue that, despite this manifest diversity in our blaming practices, it’s possible to provide a comprehensive account of blame. Indeed, I propose a set of necessary and sufficient conditions that aims to specify blame’s extension in terms of its constitution as opposed to its function. And I argue that this proposal has a number of advantages beyond accounting for blame in all its disparate forms.
Central cases of moral blame suggest that blame presupposes that its target deserves to feel guilty, and that if one is blameworthy to some degree, one deserves to feel guilt to a corresponding degree. This, some think, is what explains why being blameworthy for something presupposes having had a strong kind of control over it: only given such control is the suffering involved in feeling guilt deserved. This chapter argues that all this is wrong. As evidenced by a wider range of cases, blame doesn’t presuppose that the target deserves to feel guilt and doesn’t necessarily aim at the target’s suffering in recognition of what they have done. On the constructive side, the chapter offers an explanation of why, in many cases of moral blameworthiness, the agent nevertheless does deserve to feel guilt. The explanation leans on a general account of moral and non-moral blame and blameworthiness and a version of the popular idea that moral blame targets agents’ objectionable quality of will. Given the latter idea, the morally blameworthy have harmed the standing of some person or value, giving rise to obligations to give correspondingly less relative weight to their own standing, and so, sometimes, to their own suffering.
In Chapter 1, I attempt to explicate the problem of blame by making use of an analogy with another more familiar problem relevant to permissibility and harm – the problem of punishment. I argue that this comparison serves to highlight two clear desiderata for a normatively adequate account of blame, one concerning the value of blame and another concerning desert. In this chapter, I also argue that the problem of blame concerns the reactive varieties of blame in particular, offer some principled strategies for distinguishing between reactive and nonreactive varieties of blame, and discuss the role that the negative reactive attitudes play in characterizing the former.
In Chapter 3, I focus on the nature of reactive blame itself. In order to see fully how the fittingness account of basic desert might help to resolve the problem of blame, we are in need of a clearer picture of the reactive attitudes whose conditions of appropriateness this solution will ultimately depend on. I canvass three prominent views of reactive blame (P. F. Strawson’s, R. J. Wallace’s, and David Shoemaker’s) that I take to be most helpful in further explicating what meeting the desert-based desideratum for normative adequacy might look like. Here I argue for a cognitivist view of the reactive attitudes, and that we ought to restrict the scope of the relevant class of reactive attitudes at issue quite narrowly. With a sharper view of the reactive attitudes in hand, I then return to the fittingness account of basic desert and offer a first pass at an account of the right kind of reasons to reactively blame.
In Chapter 2, I turn my focus to the desert-based desideratum for a normatively adequate account of reactive blame. I begin with an issue that often plays a central role in obscuring whether the problem of blame can be resolved, namely how we ought to understand the concept of basic desert. Adjacent to the problem of blame, debates about free will and moral responsibility often seem to bottom out in appeals to whether or not the account on offer can deliver basic desert of blame. However, little progress has been made in explicating precisely what basic desert of blame amounts to. I argue that once we have restricted our focus to reactive blame in particular, a clearer picture of basic desert emerges. I go on to offer an analysis of basic desert of reactive blame which I call the fittingness account, and argue that it can provide the first step in resolving the problem of blame.
This book makes a case for the permissibility of reactive blame – the angry, harmful variety. Blame is a thorny philosophical problem, as it is notoriously difficult to specify the conditions under which an agent is deserving of blame, is deserving of blame in the basic sense, and furthermore why this is so. Kelly McCormick argues that sharpening the focus to reactive, angry blame can both show us how best to characterize the problem itself, and suggest a possible solution to it, because even reactive blame is both valuable and deserved in the basic sense. Finally, McCormick shows how, despite the many facets of the dark side of blame, adopting an explicitly victim-centered approach highlights a powerful argument from empathy for retaining reactive blame and its attendant attitudes and practices.
Active labour market policy (ALMP) reforms have fundamentally changed welfare states over the last decades. Their objectives are quite diverse: workfare reforms have increased conditionality and sanctioning of benefits, while enabling reforms have extended education and training opportunities for the unemployed. Little is known about the political discourse on ALMP reforms. We investigate how the individual unemployed person is portrayed in ALMP reforms via a comparative coding analysis of parliamentary debates on labour market reforms that took place in Germany in 2003 (workfare) and in 2016 (enabling). Our results indicate that compared to enabling reforms the individual unemployed is less important in the framing of workfare reforms but more often blamed. Party characteristics matter: parties on the left more often point to the deservingness of the unemployed. However, when the social democratic party in government introduced a workfare reform they used blaming of unemployed persons as a framing strategy.
A well-known tradition in private law theory says that one is responsible for the outcomes of one’s negligence when those outcomes are connected with one’s agency in the right way. Though they differ on the detail, theorists within that tradition (exemplified in the work of Tony Honoré, Stephen Perry, Joseph Raz, and John Gardner) tend to agree that a story about what we are responsible for must be grounded on a story about who we are, and what we are like as agents. In their view, you are responsible to make repair for the consequences of your careless driving insofar as not ascribing such responsibility to you would fail to treat you appropriately as an agent who has certain general capacities and commands the normal range of rational powers, including the power to take up driving and to make driving decisions. This chapter identifies three problems with such ‘agency’ accounts. First, those accounts have difficulty explaining why the connection with agency seems to matter more in some contexts, e.g., in blaming, and less in others, e.g. in the allocation of substantive burdens among persons. Second, they lack the resources to help us decide whose responsibility it is to deal with some outcome when more than one agents are connected to that outcome in the ‘right’ way, e.g., when a malicious attacker and the speaker he targets could both have avoided the speaker’s injury by choosing appropriately. Third, their implicit claim that our ideas about agency are more basic or fundamental than our ideas about responsibility is not obviously correct.
Legal scholars often prescind to moral philosophy to try to solve legal puzzles or paradoxes and to shape the positive law by reference to the seemingly pure and uncluttered lessons derived from within first-order moral theory. This chapter aims to do something quite close to the opposite. By looking at the structure of negligence law and certain concepts within it and by exhibiting their principled bases, it generates possible solutions to some of the problems about negligence that have troubled moral philosophers. These include: whether conduct that would ordinarily be called “negligent” can qualify as a breach of moral duty even if it was solely the product of inadvertence; whether it matters to the blameworthiness of a negligent actor that her conduct caused no harm; and whether a person whose negligent conduct is purely a product of inadvertence can properly be blamed or held responsible for injuring another. In the domain of negligence law, which contains “negligence,” “duty,” and “legal responsibility” in the form of legal liability, the answer to all three analogous questions is emphatically “yes,” and tort law explains why. Moving back to moral questions, we see our way to defensible answers to those questions and we also see why the questions present themselves as so difficult.
Harms brought about through negligence are typically morally blameworthy despite being unintended and often unforeseen. How is this best understood? A natural approach parallels a common approach to blameworthiness for unwitting wrongdoing, i.e., acts performed in ignorance of their wrongness: blameworthiness for the act or harm in question is taken to be derivative from more straightforward blameworthiness for relevant earlier failures. I have argued elsewhere for a derivative blameworthiness approach to unwitting wrongdoing that appeals to reasonable expectations about available steps the agent could have taken to avoid or remedy the ignorance in question; and contra Gideon Rosen and Neil Levy, such claims about reasonable expectations do not depend on there being episodes of clear-eyed akrasia in the agent’s past management of her beliefs, so that the account allows for blame in a much wider range of cases. My aim here is to extend this approach to a variety of forms of negligence, defending a similarly broad reasonable expectations version of a derivative blameworthiness view. In particular, I will distinguish and explore cases involving (i) self-conscious negligence, (ii) negligence involving false beliefs about relevant norms of due care, (iii) thoughtless negligence, and (iv) harms due to pure forgetting – though I will argue that the latter often turn out not to be cases of negligence at all, at least for purposes of moral blame.
Chapter 11 aims to summarize the key messages in the book by applying them to our thinking during the coronavirus crisis. I show how many of the concepts – from psychology and formal modelling – recur in expert and lay reasoning during the pandemic. I argue that the danger of jumping to premature causal claims, without careful evidence evaluation, is particularly rife in situations of radical uncertainty. But causal thinking is also an essential tool for dealing with such crises.
The aim of the chapter is to develop an understanding of what moral responsibility is, so that this can, in later chapters, be applied to the case of the psychopath. I begin by distinguishing moral responsibility from other senses of responsibility, including causal, virtue, and obligation responsibility, and elucidate the various connections between these senses. I then consider the relationship between moral responsibility, praiseworthiness and blameworthiness, and the range of phenomena for which it is possible to be morally responsible. Next, I proceed to consider two major theories of moral responsibility: the Strawsonian ‘reactive attitudes’ account and the ‘reasons-responsiveness’ account. I consider the advantages and disadvantages of these, and their ability to account for a range of cases. Finally, I argue for an account adapted from R. Jay Wallace’s version of reasons-responsiveness.
A concern that people ought to be given what they deserve, in both positive and negative senses, lies deep within the human psyche. Views on the level of reward or punishment that a person deserves for their actions will differ across persons, places, and time, but, I argue in this article, depend substantively upon some combination of intentions and outcomes. Using these characteristics, I propose a taxonomy of actions, ordered from most to least blameworthy, with, for example, it being suggested that for any particular level of harm an intentional yet unrealized harm is more blameworthy than an unintentional yet realized harm (a similar taxonomy can be developed for the positive domain of praiseworthy actions). The taxonomy is focused upon people's actions toward others, but I finish the article with a discussion of desert in relation to people's intentions toward themselves. Ultimately, I contend that the strength and sustainability of public sector services and welfare systems, not to mention our private relationships, rely upon the recognition that desert underpins our notion of justice.
The article describes the #MeToo-movement in the United States and Germany and discusses the merits and problems of this social phenomenon. It highlights the fact that some features of #MeToo (blaming and sanctioning wrongdoers) resemble those of criminal punishment and thus require careful justification. In the final part, the author examines the impact of the #MeToo-movement on criminal law reform.
Skepticism about blameworthiness says that there is good reason to doubt that, in our world, humans are ever blameworthy for their deeds. A significant problem for the discussion of this view is that it is unclear how to understand the kind of blame that should be at issue. This paper makes a new proposal. The basic idea is that the kind of blame skeptics should be skeptical about is constituted by responses that can violate the targets’ claims and by the responders’ thought that the targets have forfeited this claim because of their morally objectionable actions and because of how they were when they performed them. This view identifies an important part of our everyday lives and frames discussions about skepticism about blameworthiness in a new way.
Various theorists have endorsed the “communication argument”: communicative capacities are necessary for morally responsible agency because blame aims at a distinctive kind of moral communication. I contend that existing versions of the argument, including those defended by Gary Watson and Coleen Macnamara, face a pluralist challenge: they do not seem to sit well with the plausible view that blame has multiple aims. I then examine three possible rejoinders to the challenge, suggesting that a context-specific, function-based approach constitutes the most promising modification of the communication argument.
What exactly is it that makes one morally responsible? Is it a set of facts which can be objectively discerned, or is it something more subjective, a reaction to the agent or context-sensitive interaction? This debate gets raised anew when we encounter newfound examples of potentially marginal agency. Accordingly, the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) and the idea of “novel beings” represent exciting opportunities to revisit inquiries into the nature of moral responsibility. This paper expands upon my article “Artificial Moral Responsibility: How We Can and Cannot Hold Machines Responsible” and clarifies my reliance upon two competing views of responsibility. Although AI and novel beings are not close enough to us in kind to be considered candidates for the same sorts of responsibility we ascribe to our fellow human beings, contemporary theories show us the priority and adaptability of our moral attitudes and practices. This allows us to take seriously the social ontology of relationships that tie us together. In other words, moral responsibility is to be found primarily in the natural moral community, even if we admit that those communities now contain artificial agents.
Our ability to locate moral responsibility is often thought to be a necessary condition for conducting morally permissible medical practice, engaging in a just war, and other high-stakes endeavors. Yet, with increasing reliance upon artificially intelligent systems, we may be facing a widening responsibility gap, which, some argue, cannot be bridged by traditional concepts of responsibility. How then, if at all, can we make use of crucial emerging technologies? According to Colin Allen and Wendell Wallach, the advent of so-called ‘artificial moral agents’ (AMAs) is inevitable. Still, this notion may seem to push back the problem, leaving those who have an interest in developing autonomous technology with a dilemma. We may need to scale-back our efforts at deploying AMAs (or at least maintain human oversight); otherwise, we must rapidly and drastically update our moral and legal norms in a way that ensures responsibility for potentially avoidable harms. This paper invokes contemporary accounts of responsibility in order to show how artificially intelligent systems might be held responsible. Although many theorists are concerned enough to develop artificial conceptions of agency or to exploit our present inability to regulate valuable innovations, the proposal here highlights the importance of—and outlines a plausible foundation for—a workable notion of artificial moral responsibility.