Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Scanlon on the Ethics of Blame

When someone is blameworthy, to what extent can be blame them?  How much blame is justified?  Well, we can always choose to forgive someone.  First, it can be easy to forgive someone if we acknowledge the role that luck played in his or her actions.   Even if a friend hurts our feelings, we can forgive them, which is not to undermine the judgment that something wrong was done.  Forgiveness assumes that someone has acted wrongly.  Second, we can take on a sympathetic perspective.  We can try to imagine that we were in the other person's position.  "That could have been me" is a way that we can take on the other person's perspective as our own, which can also motivate forgiveness.  One question is whether we have to be sympathetic with someone in order to forgive someone.  Certainly there are limits to this kind of sympathizing.  It is hard to sympathize with strangers or with people that we dislike.

Scanlon puts the problem into the following form: can we be blamed for the way we blame someone?  Perhaps sometimes we blame too quickly or we blame someone unfairly.  Perhaps blaming itself is morally blameworthy, since it requires a judgmental attitude of superiority. But Scanlon does not think that blame is like grading someone or rating someone's character.  Blame as a revision of a relationship does not require an attitude of superiority  Perhaps we can also be morally criticized if we never blame.  If we unconditionally forgive people who do not acknowledge that they have acted wrongly or made amends, this means that either we (a) deny that a wrong was done, (b) deny that the person was responsible for the wrong action or (c) deny that you are justified to complain, which is a failure of self-respect.    Indeed, it could harm your relationship if you fail to blame a person who wrongs you.  To not blame someone is to tacitly accept a kind of abuse.

Scanlon also thinks that sometimes we should be morally critisized if we blame someone while we have no standing to blame.  For example, if we steal and lie yet we blame another person for those same wrongs, this is a case where the blame is not warranted.  Likewise, if you make someone do something wrong or you help them to perform a wrong action, you should not blame them.  If you help someone to murder puppies, you should not then turn around and blame that person for killing puppies.

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