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A Sketch of a Theory of Moral Blameworthiness


  • I thank Jessica Boyd, David Enoch, Peter Kung, Michael Otsuka, Masahiro Yamada, and audiences at NYU and UC Riverside for helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. Extra special thanks go to Cian Dorr, Elizabeth Harman, Thomas Nagel, and Gideon Rosen for numerous discussions of the material in this paper as well as extensive comments on many earlier drafts of it.


In this paper I sketch an account of moral blame and blameworthiness. I begin by clarifying what I take blame to be and explaining how blameworthiness is to be analyzed in terms of it. I then consider different accounts of the conditions of blameworthiness and, in the end, settle on one according to which a person is blameworthy for φ-ing just in case, in φ-ing, she violates one of a particular class of moral requirements governing the attitudes we bear, and our mental orientation, toward people and other objects of significant moral worth. These requirements embody the moral stricture that we accord to these others a sufficient level of respect, one that their moral worth demands. This is a familiar theme which has its roots in P. F. Strawson’s pioneering views on moral responsibility. My development of it leads me to the conclusion that acting wrongly is not a condition of blameworthiness: violating a moral requirement to perform, or refrain from performing, an action is neither necessary nor sufficient for being blameworthy. All we are ever blameworthy for, I will argue, are certain aspects of our mental bearing toward others. We can be said to be blameworthy for our actions only derivatively, in the sense that those actions are the natural manifestations of the things for which we are strictly speaking blameworthy.