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How Blame Functions: Essays on Blame, Responsibility, and Moral Emotions


What it is for us to blame an individual, and when is our blame appropriate? While moral psychologists have proposed a variety of theoretical approaches, they only recently started to systematically investigate the function of blaming practices and its bearing on questions about blame’s nature and normativity. In developing their function-based approaches, moral psychologists have not, however, paid much attention to the possibility that blame may have multiple functions.

My project aims to fill in this gap by developing a pluralist function-based approach to both the nature and the ethics of blame. Chapter 1 introduces the backgrounds and themes of the project. Chapter 2 directly engages with and challenges what I take to be a monist aim-based or function-based approach—the view that the aim of blame involves moral communication. Chapter 3 develops my pluralist function-based approach to the nature of blame. I suggest that blame is defined by a cluster of functions including protest, communication, and signaling. I contend that these functions are not merely accidentally associated with each other; instead, they, when realized together, have a distinct value of contributing to various first-order normative aims in an efficient and non-alienating way. Chapter 4 applies this approach to a kind of practical conflict about blame. Sometimes we face conflicting considerations about whether to blame because, I argue, blame cannot fulfill its multiple functions at the same time. In Chapters 5 and 6, I turn to examine questions about the role of reactive attitudes in theorizing moral responsibility. I argue against an influential “response-dependence” view that grounds facts about responsibility in facts about reactive attitudes; and I defend an inclusive view about the scope of reactive attitudes, according to which the controversial attitude of shame should count as a reactive attitude. The conclusion is that a pluralist function-based approach has various theoretical advantages, and reactive attitudes should play an important but limited role in this approach.

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