How Not to Defend Moral Blame


At first sight, moral blame is an unpleasant thing. No one likes being blamed and few people like experiencing the negative emotions associated with blaming others. Therefore, some suggest a radical reform of our everyday moral life: We should replace our tendency to blame wrongdoers with a tendency to criticize them in a less harmful and more productive way. The blameless fight for the good by Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi may exemplify this alternative. Many philosophers, however, think that such a reform would be bad. In this discussion note, I will focus on R. Jay Wallace’s claim that our tendency to blame wrongdoers stands in relation to some important good such that we would necessarily lose this good if we stopped blaming each other. He argues that blaming wrongdoers expresses one’s commitment to morality in a special way and that no other response could serve this function. I will show that there are forms of moral sadness in our psychological repertoire that differ from blame but have the same expressive dimension that blame is supposed to have. Thus, I will suggest that the question of whether we should try to get rid of our tendency to blame is still open.

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Leonhard Menges
University of Salzburg

References found in this work

The Emotional Construction of Morals.Jesse Prinz - 2007 - Oxford University Press.
Conversation and Responsibility.Michael McKenna - 2011 - Oxford University Press USA.
Civilizing Blame.V. McGeer - 2013 - In D. Justin Coates & Neal A. Tognazzini (eds.), Blame: Its Nature and Norms. Oxford University Press. pp. 162--188.

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Citations of this work

The Emotion Account of Blame.Leonhard Menges - 2017 - Philosophical Studies 174 (1):257-273.
Blame and Protest.Eugene Chislenko - 2019 - The Journal of Ethics 23 (2):163-181.

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