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09/25/2014

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I'm confused - or rather, I think the question is confused. Is it supposed to be about (a) the English word "blame"; (b) the technical philosophical concept of blame; or (c) actual blaming practices in the world? Failure to distinguish which of these you're talking about will just lead to chasing round in circles.

If it's (b) then I don't think your distinction between "blames" and "believing to be blameworthy" makes sense, or perhaps it's trivial. The philosophical sense of blame, as I understand it, is that it is an element in a moral system. If B does something wrong, and A fails to blame B, then all we have is a failure of A to be properly moral. I'm not sure that tells us anything interesting.

For what it's worth, I agree that blaming in the philosophical sense must be cognitive, and is not necessarily affective.

On your first point, you say it's clear that blaming can be private. That's not obvious, and aren't there people who say that blame constitutes immorality? I don't think both of those can simultaneously be true. On a desert island with two people, for example, that would mean that the morality or immorality of my action is determined entirely by a decision in my partner's head; and the criterion for my partner making the decision is whether or not she makes the decision! It's maybe not impossible, but it's very odd.

If morality is independent of blame, then we can simply say that blame is the cognitive recognition of immorality. But if blame is to do any work at all in a moral theory, then I think it has to have some action/expression attached to it. Actually, you seem to recognise this in your last point: I think "need not be expressed" and "does make some practical difference" are in contradiction.

Matt,

I'm not sure what to say about the last criterion, the "make a practical difference point". So, I *think* I blame Hitler, that bastard, for causing the deaths of so many innocent persons. But I have, and can have, no relationship with him, and there is no possibility of "uptake". Now you might say that I merely deem Hitler blameworthy, and don't actually blame him. But it *feels* like I blame him. And I blame George Bush for getting us into the disastrous Iraq War, but, again, I'll never interact with him, etc.

The best work on blame of which I know if the Coates/Tognazzini introduction to their anthology and also their SEP entry. I don't blame you for not mentioning it, of course...

Thanks, John. I agree Justin and Neal have done some very nice organizing work on blame. I recommend the anthology and the SEP entry highly. We can take this post to be extending that organizing work in a more argumentative fashion. Are there necessary conditions on 'A blaming B'? (That's just one way to phrase the question.)

I should also clarify my final criterion. Unlike some theorists, I don't think blame has to have practical uptake in the target of the blame (or even has to have the capacity to be given such uptake). Additionally, I don't think you need interact (or be able to interact) with the target in order to blame them. So I'm sympathetic to the idea that we can blame the distant or dead.

Instead, what I meant to suggest was that if you're entirely unmoved by the thought that 'A is blameworthy', then you don't really blame them, though you might still think them blameworthy. The relevant uptake may be practical, in the way you adjust your dealings or interactions with the person. But the uptake may just be a way in which your regard for them is colored. I take it it's hard to think about Hitler without regarding him a particular way, a way which is highly influenced by the thought that he's a moral monster of some kind. (I'm assuming moral monsters are necessarily blameworthy.)

I think that if the thought that B is BW makes no real difference to either the way you interact or think about B, then you don't really blame them.

This is an interesting paper by Miranda Fricker on blame, in a recent volume of Nous http://www.shef.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.368202!/file/blame.pdf

Hi Matt. I wonder if your post and concerns are more about attitudes of blame rather than practices of blame. I have an attitude of blame toward the economic policies of Reagan's administration in that I often say, "I blame Reagan for the origins of a lot of the economic inequality we see today." It's not merely an assertion about the causes of the way things are now, but expresses an attitude of disapproval too. Maybe you're leaning toward a form of expressivism about blame (in propositional communication and even to one's self). I'd say, however, that blame practices are another kettle of fish. It may be that blame practices often correlate with blame attitudes, but I think (offhand) that such practices do not presuppose such attitudes as a necessary condition.

Thanks, Alan. We would do well to distinguish between blame proper and various blame-related practices. One thing I should have put at the start, amongst my criteria, is that blame is that which the blameworthy are worthy of. That, and perhaps only that(?), is what everyone should agree on.

Your Reagan example is a good one, as I'd think you'd say you blame Reagan, not just when reporting it, as in the quote you give. That is, I don't think of blaming as a declarative speech act such that you bring it about that you blame Reagan by uttering those very words. You're just reporting the fact that you do blame him. So if we turn to what that blaming amounts to, it might involve the activity of reporting it, or of voting against people with similar economic policies, but the blame itself will be different.

Hopefully, it's at least reasonably clear how this inquiry connects up with previous posts. That the blameworthy are worthy of blame generates a pressure to blame them, to "give" them what they deserve (or merit or warrant). To do otherwise would involve, I think, a kind of mistake. This places some stakes on determining the nature of blame, since it helps outline what kind of mistake that might be.

"(Must blame include feeling at all?)"

I'm inclined to think so. I might blame the weather or God for something, but there's definitely a feeling there. I'm trying to think of any instance where I would use the word "blame" and in which there are no feelings. What example/s do you have?

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