The Concept of Blame

Dissertation, Brown University (1981)
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The word "blame" and the concept of blame are commonly used by both laymen and philosophers. The latter refer to it frequently in the controversies surrounding desert and in controversies surrounding determinism. Some of the brouhaha in each of the above controversies is generated because the disputants use the word "blame" in different ways. One who attacks blame may, in reality, be attacking the practice of settled disapproval; on the other hand, a disputant who defends blame may merely be defending blame-as-holding-morally responsible. Hence, the two disputants "never meet." Worse, they seem unable to see why they never meet. Since they both write and speak the same word , they assume that they are speaking the same thing. ;We show that such an assumption is unwarranted. We show that the concept of blame variously refers to: causal identification, juding , holding morally responsible, and disapproval . Sudden disapproval means disapproval felt; settled disapproval means disapproval expressed. ;To show that blaming is not the same as condemning, censuring, rebuking, etc., we analyze blame vis-a-vis cognate concepts. Then, to show the wide range of understandings concerning blame, we outline and describe eight representative and historical views. Some of these views become especially prominent in our analysis of desert blame v. utilitarian blame and in our analysis of determinism vis-a-vis blame. ;One's "attitude of blaming" does not convey a singular, easy-to-identify attitude or series of responses. To show this, we spell out the differences in blaming-attitudes. We suggest that popular blame seems to be a blaming-attitude which allows or encourages expressions of condemnation. For this type of blame, there is no justification, we argue. In, "P blames A for untoward act X," P may feel disapproval toward act X, thus feel disapproval toward A because of X. This is non-controversial. Yet, how one expresses that blaming-attitude is significant. ; P may control and channel his feelings of disapproval and express them in such a way as to seek proper redress and ultimately help A. This, we argue, is an appropriate blaming-attitude. Or, P may use the occasion of untoward act X to unleash vengeance and hate on A. Such an action, we argue, is no part of blaming; it has nothing to do with holding a person morally responsible or with voluntariness and free-will. Such an action, we argue, would be better labelled as "condemning." ;We show how these blame distinctions relate to the issue of desert and to the issue of determinism. We show that attempts to relate determinism to any kind of blaming activity are difficult because the thesis of determinism is ambiguous. We also show that, all problems considered, desert blame is to be preferred over utilitarian blame



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