Rationality, Responsibility and Blame

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 17 (1):141 - 154 (1987)
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Abstract

Do persons from disadvantaged backgrounds deserve as much blame for their immoral or criminal acts as persons who have had all the advantages? Many liberals feel inclined to say ‘no.’ After all, there is a high correlation between criminal activity and a disadvantaged background; indeed, it might fairly be said that poverty breeds crime. Taken in its most obvious direction, however, this line of argument has dangerous deterministic implications. The price of diminished blame is diminished responsibility. We absolve the disadvantaged by portraying them as persons with a diminished capacity for free action. In the extreme case, we view them as victims of circumstance, utterly unable to act other than they do. Thus is born the demeaning parentalism of the worst sort of liberal social worker.Still, there is something correct in the liberal impulse to deny or diminish blame in at least many of these cases for something like the reason that the liberal offers. The task of this paper is to explain what is right about it. More generally, I want to show how we can take a person’s background into account in judging her for her acts without falling into total or partial determinism. In other words, my task is to establish that diminished blame is compatible with full freedom and responsibility. Roughly, I shall argue that we cannot blame someone for her acts if they are permitted or required by moral conclusions that are rational for someone in her position to reach.

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References found in this work

Externalist Theories of Empirical Knowledge.Laurence Bonjour - 1980 - Midwest Studies in Philosophy 5 (1):53-73.
Retributive punishment.J. P. Day - 1978 - Mind 87 (348):498-516.
Is Retributivism Analytic?Igor Primorac - 1981 - Philosophy 56 (216):203 - 211.
Is Kant's practical reason practical?Michael Philips - 1981 - Journal of Value Inquiry 15 (2):95-108.

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