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Here is an initial proposal that I'm sure has counter-examples, but since they aren't immediately obvious to me I'll throw it out there:

The deserving-of-more-blame concept tracks how bad or wrongful an act is. I deserve more blame for killing than pinching, even if I do both in order to harm you, have robust capacities for avoiding the behavior, the acts each flow directly from my inner self, and so on. And it might be equally fitting to blame me for my wrongdoing in each case. The more-deserving concept, by contrast, tracks something that comes in degrees in the typical control condition, e.g. if it's dispositions that matter, then, since dispositions come in degrees, how deserving you are comes in degrees too; or if my pinching (performed from a cool, calculated malice) stemmed from my true self more than your pinching (performed in the heat of passion), then I'm more deserving of blame than you.

As locutions go, it may not be natural, but we could just distribute the 'more' in 'more blameworthy.' So we have examples where A is more worthy of the same blame as B; cases where A is equally worthy as B but of more blame; and in the third kind of case Justin mentions, A is more worthy of more blame than B.

P.S. Congrats to Justin on the new addition!

Hi Justin and congratulations to you both on your new member of the family!

I really like the way you stress the possible differences between "more deserving" and "deserving of more" of praise/blame. My first impression is that the first seems to be a question of relative *justice about* desert, whereas the second seems attuned to the matter of relative amounts (if that's the word here) of praise/blame.

Maybe Warren Buffett is more deserving for praise than any of the give-away-your-billions crowd because he was the first to propose it and do it (I think). But should another wealthier billionaire donate much more, and much more effectively, then we might heap more praise on that person than on Buffett in your second sense. (Kind of sickens me to talk about billionaires as my example, but it just came to me as a plausible application of the distinctions.)

If that's right, then it seems intuitively possible to combine them at least in some given instances.

Just a first pass. Really have enjoyed your blogging.

I second Nate's idea, and want to push it further. There could be more than one dimension within the control condition. My pinching might have been very hateful, expressive of my true self, yet done under the influence of alcohol that someone slipped to me. Your pinching might have been spur of the moment, unrepresentative of your deep self, but done while you were stone cold sober. Perhaps, in light of our actions, I deserve more avoidance by others and you deserve little or none such, while you deserve some formalized and explicit punishment and I don't.

If 'in the heat of passion' isn't us, then what is it when we say to someone 'I love you'?

Perhaps that explains the divorce rates?

Hi Nate,

I think as an initial proposal that has a lot going for it. One question, though: do you think that the deserving-of-more notion *only* tracks the goodness or badness of an action, and that the more-deserving notion *only* tracks control related stuff?

I think that you might be right that they do track these things, but not that they do so exclusively. For example, ill will, which seems connected to control, also seems like it can make an action worse than it otherwise would have been. Maybe, though, this isn't a counterexample, so much as evidence that quality of will differences affect both.

Matt, I'm not sure myself on the connection between being more or less responsible and being more or less praise- or blameworthy. The former seems to entail the latter, but the latter doesn't seem to entail the former. So although I like your way of putting things (as far as natural locutions go, certainly "from the point of view of desert..." isn't natural), I'm not sure it's quite mapping on to what I'm interested in. I'll have to think about it though.

P.S. Thanks!

Hi Justin,

That's fair. I don't know if it's mapping onto what you're interested in either. But my thought was that more and less responsible isn't just distinguishable in the three ways you've mentioned, but is so ambiguous as to be helpfully clarified in the way I proposed. Now, you're right about the entailments, I think, but only because degrees of responsibility look to me to be degrees of "connectedness" to the object of responsibility, which we might classify as "control-related" or "strength of attribution" or whatever. Whereas the second dimension, the amount of blame or praise seems important tied to the object's normative status. So you wouldn't say of the one who harms but doesn't kill that he is less responsible than the one who kills (all things being otherwise equal).

What complicates the issue is that we think that the less worthy of blame should also get blamed less. Negligently killing someone isn't as bad as intentionally killing someone, though there's one sense in which the former is less responsible for the death than the latter. So, I think, our evaluative judgments possibly conflate (or, if one prefers, combine) some of these issues.

I guess I'll add a comment on behalf of Nate's suggestion. You claim that ill will seems connected to control. But so is good will, right? And then we might think that it's really just 'will' that is connected to control, not it's quality. I control my action so long as it's produced by my will in the right way, regardless of the particular quality of that will.

On one approach (which Ravizza and I favored, way back when...), moral responsibility is all or nothing, and the complexity and degrees come at the stages of praiseworthiness/blameworthiness, all-things-considered we ought to praise/blame, and how much. And so forth. On another approach, moral responsibility itself comes in degrees, and these are related (in some appropriate way) to the degrees of praiseworthiness/blameworthiness, etc.

My question: why should one prefer one rather than the other approach? Or are they mere "notational variants"? Clearly, one could capture all the nuances of praise/blame on the first approach, so exactly why is the second preferable? I think "Reasons-responivess blah blah blah" is a very fine piece of work, and it is very helpful to see how one could adjust the Fischer/Ravizza framework to get a degree-notion of moral responsibility. Cool! But why should one prefer this?

Nice post, Justin. I was thinking of asking the same question as John. Why not see moral responsibility as a binary concept and admit that overt blame comes in degrees? Agents are either of the morally responsible variety or they are not. Seems to make things more tricky and not better if we admit that it comes in degrees. Moral responsibility (in degrees) is unintuitive to me.


I was thinking that there is something in common between your two activities--replying to comments and changing diapers. A common substance, as it were.

Good luck and have fun!

I floated the suggestion above that the more-deserving concept is tracked by matters of degree in the control condition. But I'm now finding it a little unclear that we really have or need the concept of being more-deserving of blame. Consider two wrongful killings: S's killing is premeditated and performed out of malice and S*'s is performed in the heat of passion. Ceteris paribus, S's killing is more blameworthy than S*'s. Why think that this judgment cannot be cashed out entirely in terms of S's deserving more blame than S* or its being fitting to blame S more than S*? Do you have sets of cases designed to motivate the availability / inevitability of the other reading (the more-deserving reading)? I can't come up with cases in which (i) A and B deserve exactly the same thing, (ii) I feel compelled to say "A deserves it more than B" or "A is more deserving than B", and (iii) it is not also true that A deserves more-blame than B. This makes me suspicious.

Let me suggest a complication to the picture. I'm not sure we should understand blameworthiness in terms of deserving blame, but let's go with it for the sake of argument. Even so, the blamer/blamee relationship seems more complicated than your two dimensions represents it. It seems, rather, to involve:

The blamee deserves a blaming action from a blamer in response to an ought-violation.

And now we can get degrees of blameworthiness by varying: (1) the amount of desert, (2) the intensity, or harshness, of the blaming action, (3) the number of blamers entitled to blame, and (4) the badness of the ought-violation, or perhaps the degree of wrongness of the action.

Could there perhaps be these four dimensions to degrees of blameworthiness, then? You might say that (3) is just another example of *more blame*, and perhaps that (4) is part of the explanation for why we think someone is more-deserving or else deserving of more-blame. But I'm not so sure that such a reduction would adequately capture everything that seems to go on when we talk about blameworthiness.


Thanks--you've been too kind in all your comments. If we're ever at an APA or other conference together, I owe you a beer (you can tell me about your 32+ year old tshirts... Well, on second thought, maybe we'll just talk about fw).

I'll have to think more about the Buffett case, but I think that thinking of the "more deserving" in terms of justice might be onto something.

If you can't tell, a lot of my posts have been pretty speculative, so I really will have to think through these things a bit more.

Yeah--something like that's got to be right. The subtleties of how we control our actions are surely going to affect degrees of responsibility (as long as skeptics like Fischer and Cauoette aren't right to think that this is a lot of bologna/baloney).

I wasn't mean to dismiss your suggestion, which I think is clearly mapping onto something. I should have been more clear that I take it to be a friendly amendment, but perhaps not completely able to do all the work I'm interested in doing. (Since it's now clear that you didn't mean for it to do all that work, the point's moot.)

Also, you're right that good will, and willing more generally are connected to control. I introduced ill will merely as an example, but I wasn't meaning for it to be exhaustive of the way in which one's volitional activity might be connected to control.

John and Justin "an 'I' away from five vowels in a row!" Caouette,

Here's why I think there are degrees of responsibility: the MASTER argument, you might say (prepare to be underwhelmed).

First, I note that causal responsibility comes in degrees. If there's a 10 mph tailwind at one race and only a 1 mph tailwind at a second race, it seems right to say that the 10 mph tailwind is *more* responsible for the world-record time than is the 1 mph tailwind (in the latter case, we attribute the time more to the sprinters).

Now obviously, causal responsibility is not the same as moral responsibility, but given an apparently similar structure, it seems plausible that moral responsibility would be a gradient rather than threshold notion. Moreover, it certainly seems like a good explanation of why competent adult offenders are deserving of longer prison sentences than juvenile offenders is that the former are more responsible. In "Reasons-Responsiveness and Degrees of Blah, Blah, Blah," Philip and I don't leave it at this, since we offer an account of one thing that could underwrite judgments of "more responsible" (or "less responsible"). That account explains things in terms of variances in degrees of guidance control (and a similar account could be extended to the epistemic condition on responsibility). Finally, it does seem intuitive to me to say that agents can be more or less responsible.

So because of the parallel with causal responsibility, the explanatory power of degrees of responsibility, and the intuitiveness of the claim (to me at least), I'm inclined to think that we lose something if we only talk of degrees of praise- or blameworthiness.

John, I'm not sure if you talking about y'all's comments or mine. But if you're talking about mine, then your assessment is even more true that I'm CUI (commenting under the influence (of a glass or wine or two)).

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