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05/17/2014

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Hi Randy (if I may). I lurked and liked the previous posts but had little to add. This is an interesting point that immdiately made me wish to ask some questions. (i) Aren't there different senses of "being guilty" that correlate with judgments of "being responsible" according to different FW views (leaving hard incompatibilists aside by your requirement ofr "blameworthiness"), and thus require different degrees of how one might believe the guilty ought to suffer, even if one agrees with your point? (ii) What about some forms of sociopathy where (it seems) absence of the capacity for feeling empathy might well preclude any capacity for feeling guilt? This seems to militate against such a feeling as a necessary condition for desert, given that these sociopaths are blameworthy.

Thanks for the great question!

Hi Randy, Thanks for another great post! I see you prefer the term ‘suffer’. I guess I am inclined to agree with you about your substantive thesis while quibbling a bit about the terminology. I myself think the term ‘suffer’ is risky. It can suggest a degree of severity that in some contexts is over-exaggerated. My worry is that opponents of a basic desert thesis might be against it because they find it barbaric or vengeful or cruel. But if, as you suggest, suffering is just a matter of finding something unpleasant, then I have no objections on this score.

I’ll just offer two further points:

First, I have a hard time seeing the force of the contention that we can get judgments of desert *from* judgments of fittingness. I am inclined to think it is the other way around. That is, I would think that deserving a response of blame, call B, is one way of accounting for the sense in which a response of B is fitting; B is fitting because deserved, not vice versa. But let me say here, I really am open to being corrected. Can you help me see the force of your proposal, please?

Second, one thing I find very compelling about your view is that it makes the most appealing blaming response the reflexive case of self-blame by way of the emotion of guilt. That just seems right to me: It is better that a wrongdoer self-inflict the suffering (I would say harm) she deserves by blaming herself as in contrast with others blaming her in a way that would give rise to the wrongdoer suffering to the same degree. Furthermore, it also seems that the justificatory burden is higher when it is another person who is doling out the deserved suffering. (Or is it? I suppose some might reply back that there is something at least as appealing about the idea that the one who is wrongly harmed is at least equally well-suited to harm the wrongdoer by blaming her.)

Does the fittingness of guilt suggest that guilt is deserved? Recall Williams' case of the driver who completely faultlessly causes the death of a child. Many people have the intuition that it is fitting that the driver experience guilt. But - more or less by hypothesis - guilt is not deserved.

Cool, Randy, I love suffering!

If suffering is merely to feel something unpleasant, then I think it is obvious that we can deserve to suffer. (A student may deserve a failing grade, which she regards as unpleasant.)

On the other hand, if suffering is not merely to feel something unpleasant, then it is not clear that feeling guilty is a form of suffering. So we may deserve to feel guilty without thereby deserving to suffer.

Randy,
A great post; with just a few paragraphs, you manage to bring one of the key questions into much sharper focus. To start with, it is more attractive, certainly, than the standard retributive view. But even with this wonderfully mild account of justly deserved suffering – and its hard to imagine how one could make it milder without eliminating it altogether – I’m not convinced that this mild suffering is justly deserved, even if it is in some sense quite “fitting.” Suppose I grow up in a profoundly sexist culture, in which the religious doctrines, the schools, the social practices, and my own family and friends (including the women, who have also been acculturated into sexist beliefs and attitudes) treat sexist attitudes toward women (women are inferior, women should always be subservient to men, women should never hold positions of authority or leadership) as obvious truths and basic moral principles. I remain in this culture, adopting its views, until I am 25. At that point I move away, and through the guidance of a new culture and new friends I come to see sexism as an egregious wrong. It’s not easy for me, but for years I struggle to rid myself of the sexist beliefs and attitudes I once held, and that I now despise. I thought I had been successful, and eradicated those attitudes entirely. But something happens – I oppose the appointment of a superbly-qualified woman to the department, and my colleagues help me to see that this opposition is the product of deep residual sexism (sexism that I thought I had successfully purged). When I recognize that I still have sexist attitudes – often operating nonconsciously, but still influencing my thought and behavior – I am appalled, and profoundly disgusted with myself and my character; and indeed, I feel awful, and may well feel that it is perfectly right that I should feel awful about this vile element of my character and its behavioral manifestation. I would even go further: it’s probably a good thing that I feel awful, because if I did not, it would probably mean that I don’t really see this sexist aspect of my character as being so bad, and I would not be likely to make additional strenuous efforts to correct it. But now suppose a friend says to me: “Look, Bruce, I know you feel awful about finding this sexist element in your character; but you really shouldn’t beat yourself up about it, you shouldn’t feel so bad about it. Yes, certainly, it’s a serious moral flaw, and you ought to make real efforts to eliminate it. But I know that you hate sexism, and I know that you have worked really hard to eliminate the sexist attitudes to which you were acculturated. But it is really hard -- almost impossible -- to completely eliminate such deeply inculcated attitudes, and you shouldn’t blame yourself for not being completely successful. What you did was very wrong, of course; but you shouldn’t blame yourself, and you don’t deserve to feel bad about your act or your character flaw. In a sense, of course, it is fitting that you feel bad for the bad in your character; but it doesn’t follow that you justly deserve to feel bad about it. And if it were possible to correct your character flaw without feeling bad about it (it probably is not, but if it were) then it would be better if you didn’t feel bad about it at all.” Is my friend right? Is this a case where a feeling of guilt is fitting, but the guilty person (who is really bad; “blameworthy” seems to me ambiguous, can mean deserves blame or can simply mean the person is really bad) does not deserve to suffer guilt pangs (or, in deference to Michael’s interesting comment, does not deserve even mild unpleasantness)? (Incidentally, I don’t thing that the claim you make is trivial; to the contrary, it seems a very important way of focusing on the most difficult issues surrounding moral responsibility.)

I agree with Michael that the term "suffering" is a bit problematic in this context. If nothing else, it seems to me that someone can feel guilty without suffering. Imagine that I transgress some very minor social/moral norm and that I feel proportionately bad for having done so. Given how minor the norm violated, I feel only a proportionate tinge of guilt. Do I really suffer in this case? It seems not (at least to me). Contrast this with a case where I have violated a very serious norm and am subsequently racked with guilt such that I can't sleep, eat, etc. In this case, it would make sense to say that I am suffering as the result of the guilt I feel. This suggests to me that while feelings of guilt can induce suffering, they need not.

There is an additional concern as well--namely, that the amount of guilt and suffering someone experiences in the wake of x-ing can be completely discordant with their desert (assuming, for the sake of argument, that norm violators deserve suffering). So, psychopaths may experience little to no guilt--and hence, little to no suffering--even when they violate major norms. Individuals suffering from scrupulosity, on the other hand, may experience extreme guilt and suffering even for minor norm violations. In these cases, the guilt and suffering are discordant with the agents' desert. I take it that's part of the reason why some people think we should impose harm on wrong doers to make sure their suffering and their desert are in accordance. Otherwise, people may end up suffering more (or less) than they deserve.

But what do I know? I am a desert skeptic and a non-retributivist! So, I am aware my intuitions are atypical. That said, thanks for another interesting post.

Many thanks for the comments. I'll try to address most of the main points.

Alan: I noted in the previous post that I don't think that adding fancy kinds of metaphysics (with indeterminism or agent causation) changes the kind of moral responsibility that one can have. But I agree that differences in capacity or circumstance can affect how blameworthy one is. About the sociopath, he might be incapable of feeling guilty, but mightn't it still be the case that he deserves to feel guilty?

Michael, Brandon, and Thomas: If you want, we can just talk about being in an unpleasant psychological state. Feeling guilty is being in such a state. I'm inclined to say that if one is in a psychological state that is unpleasant to some degree, then one is suffering to some degree. It isn't a matter of having some further attitude toward that state; it's a matter of what that state itself is--a kind of suffering.

A twinge of guilt might be only slightly unpleasant. But if some state isn't even the least unpleasant, is it a feeling of guilt?

A couple of folks mentioned inflicting guilt on oneself or beating oneself up. My claim doesn't concern either of these things. It concerns just the feeling of guilt. Having the feeling isn't itself doing or thinking something in order to generate in oneself that feeling, or in order to maintain or intensify it. It might be fitting that one have the feeling but not fitting that one do something with the aim of making oneself have the feeling.

Michael, I gather you hold that necessarily, if some response is deserved then it is fitting, but you reject that necessarily if some response is fitting then it is deserved. That might be right. Perhaps a belief that's true is fitting but isn't deserved. I'll think about this.

Neil, if the lorry driver isn't at all blameworthy, I can't see that it is fitting that he feel guilty. I'd think that the feeling includes a representation of oneself as blameworthy. The representation in this case is incorrect. That seems sufficient to render the feeling unfitting. Perhaps some other unpleasant state is fitting. Or perhaps there is some other kind of justification (besides fittingness) for the feeling of guilt.

Bruce, it seems to me that your argument is to the effect that the guy with the persisting racist attitude isn't blameworthy. If that's so, then my claim doesn't imply that he deserve to feel guilty.

Thomas, of course agents might have feelings of guilt that aren't fitting, or lack feelings of guilt that it would be fitting for them to have. Not sure I see how this poses a problem for me.

Randy, if you were the lorry driver, would you feel guilty? If so, would you think that your guilt was unfitting?

I imagine that if I hit the child, then no matter what people said to me, I'd suspect that I had done something wrong (drove a little carelessly), or hadn't paid attention as I should have. But we're stipulating that all this is mistaken, and that the driver is completely blameless. And, of course, the question isn't what I'd think about the fittingness of a feeling of guilt, but about its fittingness.

Hi Randy, Thanks for your replies, which were all characteristically thoughtful. About your suggestion that the guilt that is (lest us grant) deserved is not self-inflicted—not something the wrongdoer *does* to herself—that is a great point as well. I did indeed misrepresent you, and you are correct, I think, that your considered view makes a desert thesis even more appealing and even harder for a critic of desert theses to resist.

Here is a further thought, building on your suggestion: A distinct topic not taken up by your modest proposal is whether it is ever permissible for others to blame overtly because the one who is blameworthy deserves to be blamed. Here the question is a matter of whether it is permissible to inflict a harm (or suffering) on another by overtly blaming her in a way that is intentionally directed at her. You do not deny that there might be merit to such a claims about desert, only that the justification for them would be more burdensome. I agree. Suppose we have a justification that rises to this challenge. I would like to suggest that one defeater for the judgment that a wrongdoer deserved the (harmful) blaming of another is that the wrongdoer feels guilty. The harm (or suffering) is thus already “received” by the wrongdoer in this way, and so the blaming other now has reason not to “pile on”. On the other hand, when the wrongdoer does not feel guilty (knowing that she acted wrongly), then the blame of others might be called for.

Michael, suppose that you express your resentment to me, and I deserve it. Would it make your expression undeserved if I had already recognized my guilt and felt guilty? I don't think I want to say that. It might remove a different kind of justification of your expression. I'll think about this; great question.

Randy, your question prompted a discussion on Facebook (thanks to Justin Caoette). In that discussion, Justin and Michael made a move similar to the one you made above in response to me. Let me repeat what I said there in response to the claim that what the driver feels is not guilt. The initial argument was something like: 1. we think it is appropriate that someone feel guilt in certain circumstances. 2. guilt is aversive. 3. So it is appropriate that someone suffer. Therefore they deserve to suffer. But my example shows that 1-3 are satisfied with regard to other aversive emotions. But it is false in these cases that the aversive feeling is deserved. It is also false that "fittingness" can ground desert.

Hi Randy, Yeah that does not seem correct; it would seem that my expression might still be deserved. But what about this: While my expression of blame toward you might remain deserved, it might still be all-things-considered not warranted in light of your guilt, and hence your self-blame.

a) Is it perhaps a bit culture bound - viz the anthropological literature on guilt, shame and embarrassment.
b) survivor guilt, guilt at the death of one's parents etc as further counterexamples

Great post, Randy! I've been focused on a similar question in my dissertation. Thanks for the illuminating discussion, it’s been helpful.

I had a couple of clarificatory questions for you (if I may): (1) do you think that the concepts of fittingness and desert amount to the same thing in these sorts of contexts? And, (2) Was this what you were getting at when you said "If a feeling of guilt is fitting, then it is deserved. This is one thing that desert comes to."

Hi Neil, I've been thinking about our discussion and I wonder: why is the "agent regret" fitting in the case where the driver "completely faultlessly causes the death of a child?" If the agent did no wrong why should they regret what they had done (Randy mentioned this earlier as well)?

Also, causal responsibility can't be sufficient to ground the appropriateness of regret, if it’s not then the action seems to lie in the conditions that ground appropriateness or fittingness, would you agree? If yes, then we have reason to reject your claim that your example satisfies (1)until we can analyze the conditions that are grounding claims of fittingness.

Put differently, we wouldn't think it is appropriate that someone feel guilt in the circumstances you provided therefore you haven't provided an example that meets conditions 1-3 while also holding that it is false that the aversive feeling was not deserved. I think at this point we would be, as you said in our earlier discussion to Michael, “getting very close to fundamental intuitions”.

Neil, I don't say that the lorry drive doesn't feel guilt. We can imagine the case either way. What I say is that if it is guilt that he feels, the feeling isn't fitting.

Your argument differs from the one I advanced. Mine has no premise about what we think. And yours employs a nonspecific notion of appropriateness. Mine concerns fittingness, which is a specific kind of appropriateness. I agree that responses can be in some ways appropriate without being fitting.

Michael, yes, I imagine that in some case the expression might lack all-things-considered justification because of the offender's recognition of wrongdoing and feeling of guilt.

David, not sure which findings on guilt you're referring to. Survivor guilt is a case of an attitude that I'd think isn't fitting. After all, we suppose the survivor isn't guilty of wrongdoing, right?

Apparently Typepad was down for about a day; seems to be working again. Looking forward to your comments.

Justin, I didn't commit to the view that when it comes to a feeling of guilt, its fittingness is the same thing as its being deserved. And Michael's earlier question suggested to me that there isn't a general equivalence of this sort. But perhaps it does hold in the case of feelings of guilt, and perhaps with other reactive attitudes.

There is also an understanding of desert in terms of value or goodness. With respect to feeling guilty, the desert thesis might be stated:

It is non-instrumentally good that a guilty person feel guilty (at the right time and to the right degree).

But the goodness of this state of affairs might just consist in the fact that the feeling is fitting. So perhaps the fittingness thesis is more basic. These are things I want to think about further.

About agent regret: It has seemed to me that a lesson of Williams's case is that regret can be fitting when a feeling of guilt isn't. There are other kinds of cases in which this is so. If I have what reasonably seems to be a Buridan-like choice between option A and option B, and if the choice I make turns out badly, I might regret the choice even if it wasn't in any way blameworthy.

Well, Typepad still isn't working as it should. I'm not receiving email notifications for some of the comments. But I'll try to get them all posted.

Hi Randy,

Really nice post. I wondered if I could ask a clarificatory question that picks up on Michael's theme?

I'm generally sympathetic to the view you're articulating, and I wonder whether you'd want to make use of the following distinction. Michael pushes you to think about overt blame. 'Blame' is open for complication, as it has both an attitude referent and an action referent (or at least a speech action referent). 'Guilt', to my ear, has no action referent. It is only an attitude (or feeling). (Reflection on this point might suggest that the self-relexive case may be more different from 2nd and 3rd personal ones than some have thought.)

We can control for these differences by distinguishing between attitudes and their expressions. I can feel guilt or do something which expresses that guilt. I can 'think' blame (whatever that amounts to) or do something to express it.

With this distinction on hand, we might then read your proposal as speaking only to the desert of (and fittingness of) the attitudes, not their expressions. Michael's examples would be somewhat orthogonal, then, to the extent that they involve expressions of the attitudes (and thus involve *more* than the attitudes themselves).

Interestingly, this would also push a wedge between the reflexive case of guilt and blaming others. This is because the unpleasantness of guilt is from feeling it, not expressing it, and yet unexpressed blame would generally not be unpleasant at all (who knows who's out there blaming me right now?).

A further implication of embracing the distinction is it allows you to separate the reasons for/against various attitudes (or feelings) and the reasons for/against their expressions. Michael may be right that someone who's had blame expressed to them a bunch already should be spared further comment, but that reason is only relevant to the expression of blame, not feeling it.

I'm inclined to think the distinction is quite promising and can be used to inform discussions on a number of issues in the literature.

Matt, that all seems right to me. I did intend my claim to be about just the fittingness of an attitude and not about speech or other behavior that expresses attitudes. The extension would be interesting and important, but it would be a further move.

Hi Randy,

I think I can agree that in addition to wrongdoer’s recognition that he has done wrong, the unpleasant feeling that you describe makes for a morally fitting addition, without accepting that this gives us a good reason to believe that the wrongdoer deserves to have the unpleasant feeling.

In her 1990 book, Bruce Waller proposes that such pain can be explained by the recognition that one did not live up to one’s own moral standards, and is fitting for that reason. Hilary Bok, in her 1998 book, develops a similar story. This explanation doesn’t seem to involve desert, at least not obviously so. By analogy, one might feel bad that on some occasion one didn’t meet one’s standard for chess or piano playing when one completely understands that one’s substandard performance is due to factors beyond one’s control, and one fully believes as a result that no pain is deserved. Alternatively, Ben Vilhauer (2004) develops an account of this feeling that grounds it in sympathy with those one has wronged, on which the feeling is fitting because the sympathy is morally appropriate. This account also need not invoke desert.

But intuitively, what Bruce, Hilary, and Ben propose can’t amount to the complete story, for as my grad student Austin Duggan pointed out, we believe that a pained response to one’s wrongdoing is fitting for those who aren’t predisposed to feel bad upon the violation of their moral standards, and who lack sympathy with those who have been wronged. But I’m thinking that this belief can be accounted for by the largely forward-looking goals of moral reform and reconciliation. For those who lack the predisposition to feel pained in this way, feeling pained upon having done wrong would nevertheless be valuable because it is apt to result in moral change and potentially in reconciliation with those who have been wronged, and is fitting for this reason.

Derk, some really excellent points. I'll give these some thought. In the meantime, a question: Do you accept that a feeling of guilt can be fitting? I'd gather you don't, since, I'd think, the feeling includes a representation of oneself as blameworthy, and you deny that this representation is ever correct.

There might be a sense of ‘guilt’ given which I’m OK with a feeling of guilt being fitting. Suppose that feeling guilt does involve of representation of oneself as blameworthy, as you suggest, but one sense of ‘blameworthy’ is 'being an appropriate target of blame in a largely forward-looking and non-desert-involving sense.' Then I'd agree that a feeling of guilt can be fitting. But I definitely accept the fittingness of a pained or unpleasant response upon having done wrong.

Derk, I wonder how fittingness differs from basic desert. It seems to me that the fittingness of a response like a feeling of guilt is pre-institutional, not a matter of consequences, and not a matter of contractualist considerations. So if a feeling of guilt is fitting in this way, it would seem to be deserved, in a quite basic way.

I'll take a look at the things you cited from Waller, Bok, and Vilhauer.

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