Addressing the Past: Time, Blame and Guilt

International Journal of Philosophical Studies 30 (3):219-238 (2022)
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Time passed after the commission of a wrong can affect how we respond to its agent now. Specifically it can introduce certain forms of complexity or ambivalence into our blaming responses. This paper considers how and why time might matter in this way. I illustrate the phenomenon by looking at a recent real-life example, surveying some responses to the case and identifying the relevant forms of ambivalence. I then consider a recent account of blameworthiness and its development over time that purports to account for this ambivalence. Blameworthiness, on this account, consists in a psychological flaw; time matters because it brings the possibility of change in the agent, and ambivalence arises because it is hard to know to the extent of such change. This account, I argue, mischaracterises responses to the case and misidentifies the source of their ambivalence. Drawing on recent work in the philosophy of emotion, I sketch an alternative approach. Our responses, I suggest, make sense within processes through which we address wrongdoing. Time matters because these processes take time and because time’s having passed raises the question whether and how the wrong has been addressed. Unaddressed wrongs can elicit ambivalence of a specific form.



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Edgar Phillips
University of St. Andrews

Citations of this work

Blameworthiness is Terminable.Benjamin Matheson - forthcoming - Philosophical Quarterly.
Introduction: The Ethics and Politics of Disagreement.Maria Baghramian - 2023 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 31 (3):267-278.

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References found in this work

Freedom of the will and the concept of a person.Harry G. Frankfurt - 1971 - Journal of Philosophy 68 (1):5-20.
The Moralistic Fallacy: On the 'Appropriateness' of Emotions.Justin D'Arms & Daniel Jacobson - 2000 - Philosophical and Phenomenological Research 61 (1):65-90.
Articulating an uncompromising forgiveness.Pamela Hieronymi - 2001 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 62 (3):529-555.
Why We Should Reject S.Derek Parfit - 1984 - In Reasons and Persons. Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.

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