Moral Blame – Its Function and Normative Constraints

In his seminal paper on ‘Freedom and Resentment’ (1962), Peter Strawson suggested a new understanding of agential responsibility. His claim is that we can answer questions about the nature and normative constraints of responsibility when we look at our practices of holding each other accountable for our actions and the underlying quality of will. Blaming is a central part of these practices. Recently, the function and normative constraints of blaming have attracted a great deal of scholarly attention. According to the standard view, we should blame only those wrongdoers who are responsible for their actions; (this excludes young children and people with severe mental disabilities, but as we shall see, things are much more complicated).

In the first part of the course, we shall read and discuss a selected number of contributions to the debate about the conditions for an agent to be responsible for her or his actions, focussing in particular on mental health (or the agent’s state of mental development) conditions and on epistemic conditions. In the second part of the course, we turn to a more recent topic of the scholarly inquiry into blame, namely to the conditions someone has to meet

in order to have the standing to blame another. In order to get an idea of the topic of those particular discussion, think of the biblical advice “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. ”The final and central part of the course will explore the prospects of understanding blame as a speech act. We shall read J.L. Austin’s famous How to do things with words (1962) and then use his conceptual tools for looking at the work of authors who attribute a
communicative function to blaming.