The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics seeks to strengthen teaching and research about pressing ethical issues; to foster sound norms of ethical reasoning and civic discussion; and to share the work of our community in the public interest.
For the Record
‘For the Record’ is a feature where our Fellows-in-Residence and Graduate Fellows have a chance to present their research ideas informally, reflect on their experience at the Center, or report on Center events.
This month's For the Record comes from Graduate Fellow Rachel Achs, PhD candidate in Philosophy. Her primary research is in ethics and moral psychology, although she has also long maintained an interest in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant on a breadth of topics ranging from metaphysics to aesthetics.
Blame and Conventional Meaning
Many theoretical questions seem especially pressing in the context of the unfolding #MeToo movement. Those most related to my own work in moral philosophy are about blame and its warrant: What makes it appropriate to blame people for their mistakes, particularly when blaming involves an attempt or desire to retaliate against an offender by harming that person? And what sorts of penalties are appropriately matched to what sorts of violations?
One thing that makes it difficult to theorize about blame is that it’s not a particularly unified concept. There are diverse ways of blaming – frustrated yelling, cold silence, public “calling out,” private resentment, punitive sanctions – and philosophers have disagreed over what, if any, essential ingredients blame has. Some have thought that blame consists in a set of judgments about wrongdoing and its consequences; others have thought that blame essentially includes a physiological emotional reaction; and others still, a way of behaving, or a desire that the wrongdoing not have occurred, or a reorientation of one’s relationship with the alleged wrongdoer. In my own view, what unifies the diverse manifestations of blame into a singular phenomenon is actually the blamer’s own conception of what she is doing. Read more