Workshop on Blame and Forgiveness

Day 1: Wednesday August 23

9.45 – 10:00 Arrival and coffee

10:00 – 11:30 Per Erik Milam: Letting Go of Blame

11:30 – 11:45 Coffee break

11:45 – 13:15  Maria Seim: A pluralist account of forgiveness

13:15 – 14:15 Lunch

14:15 – 14:45 Christel Fricke: Mutual Forgiveness

15:45 – 16:00 Coffee break

16:00 – 17:30 Kathryn Norlock: If it's Excusable, then Why Do I Feel So Bad? Refusing to Forgive Oneself When No One Blames Us

19:30 Dinner

Day 2: Thursday August 24

9.45 – 10:00 Arrival and coffee

10:00– 11:30 Dana Nelkin: Blame, Desert, and the Role of the Reactive Attitudes

10:30 – 10:45 Coffee break

11. 45 – 13:15: Andreas Brekke Carlsson : Shame and Attributability

13:15 – 14:15 Lunch

14:15 – 15:45 Gunnar Björnsson: A Minimal Account of Blame



Per Erik Milam: Letting go of blame

Most philosophers acknowledge ways of overcoming blame, even blame directed at a culpable offender, that do not count as forgiving. Sometimes continuing to blame a friend for their offensive comment just isn’t worth it, so we let go instead. However, despite being a common and widely recognised experience, no one has offered a positive account of letting go. Instead, it tends to be characterised negatively and superficially, usually in order to delineate the boundaries of forgiveness. This paper gives a more complete and systematic account of this important practice. We argue that the basic distinction between forgiving and letting go of blame follows from distinctions that most philosophers already accept. We then develop a positive account in terms of the reasons one has to let go rather than forgive. Finally, we show that letting go is as valuable a part of our shared moral lives as forgiveness.


Maria Seim: A Pluralist Account of Forgiveness

An aspect of our practice of forgiving that has gained much attention in contemporary debates is that of forgiveness’ internally diverse nature. Forgiveness is sometimes argued for and understood as a private and unconditional practice, and other times as an intersubjective, communicative and thus conditional practice. Some accounts of forgiveness portray the practice as necessarily either conditional or unconditional while others accept the possibility of forgiveness as a pluralist practice. This paper proposes a pluralist account of forgiveness. Relying on a paradigm based explanation of forgiveness, I reach the conclusion that conditional forgiveness has a different point and purpose than does unconditional forgiveness. When we forgive conditionally, we do it for other reasons and with another purpose than when we forgive unconditionally. Conditional forgiveness has as a goal to reach alignment of moral understanding and rebuild the relations between wrongdoer and victim, while unconditional forgiveness simply aims at emotional and psychological wellbeing for the victim or for the wrongdoer. This is not, however, a reason to give up on the concept of unconditional forgiveness, I argue. To conclude I propose several advantages to accepting a pluralist account of forgiveness based on the idea that both types of forgiveness have an important role to play in our moral lives.

Christel Fricke: Mutual Forgiveness The Potential Role of Forgiveness in Conflict Mediation


Commonsensically speaking, forgiveness becomes an issue after a person (or a group of people) has done wrong to another (or several others). By the act of wrongdoing, the agent transforms himself into a perpetrator and the person suffering from his action into a victim. The perpetrator harms the victim and thereby provokes a conflict between himself and the victim. Ideally, the repentant perpetrator asks the victim for forgiveness and the victim either grants it or refuses to do so. But in real life there are many conflicts between people where the distribution of the roles of perpetrator and victim is not quite as straightforward. All parties of the conflict may request the role of the victim exclusively for themselves and insist on the respective other to take the role of the perpetrator. Thus, before forgiveness can become an issue between them, they have to agree on how to distribute these roles, and they might have to recognize that they have both contributed to the conflict, that they are both perpetrators and have victimized each other. What they then need is mutual forgiveness.

My claim is that the main task of forgiveness is to pave a way to a solution of the conflict between the opposed parties and to a future non-conflictual co-existence or even to a peaceful interaction between them that is not determined by the conflict. Achieving forgiveness will allow them to leave their roles as perpetrator and victim behind.

I shall look at forgiveness as a process of communication between two (or more) parties. Where the opposing parties do not agree on how to distribute the roles of perpetrator and victim among them, they have to come to an agreement about the actual status quo of their conflict-ridden relationship and about a narrative of how it was brought about. In particular, the parties have to agree on the distribution of the roles of perpetrator and victim. If they recognize that they have both acted as perpetrators and that they have both been victimized by the respective other, what they should aim at is mutual forgiveness.  For this purpose, they will have to agree on what each perpetrator has done to the victim, whether it was done intentionally or not, whether it was provoked by the victim, to what extent the perpetrator was in control of the consequences of his action, and how much harm the victim has suffered. Neither party can alone answer these questions. Without such an agreement, however, the perpetrators might refuse to recognize their blameworthiness – if they are indeed blameworthy – and the victims – if they have indeed been victimized – will suffer not merely from the harm done to them but also from a lack of recognition as persons who deserve not to be harmed.

Only after these issues have been settled, the parties can move on and try to achieve mutual forgiveness. The aim of the process of communication between them is to constitute reasons for the perpetrators to deserve forgiveness and for the victims to grant it. Such reasons, if shared, will make it difficult for the victims to refuse granting forgiveness.


Kathryn Norlock: If it's Excusable, then Why Do I Feel So Bad?: Refusing to Forgive Oneself When No One Blames Us

When one refuses to forgive oneself even as others excuse the self-blaming agent, must one of the parties be mistaken about the blameworthiness of the agent? This paper investigates the possibility that at times, a moral agent is correctly excused by others, and still correctly refuses to self-forgive. In cases of oppression and duress, others may excuse for good reasons based on circumstances exceeding the thresholds of reasonable normative expectations, while agents may hold themselves to standards they didn’t meet for the purposes of maintaining their senses of agency even in oppressive conditions. I connect the agent’s interest in maintaining blameworthiness for choices made in oppressive contexts to Carol Hay’s arguments that we may have obligations to resist our own oppression which are met by forms of internal resistance, and I argue that self-blame may function proleptically in a way which serves the imperfect duty of resistance to oppression.

Andreas Brekke Carlsson: Shame and Attributability


Following Gary Watson, it is increasingly common to distinguish between to kinds of responsibility: responsibility as accountability and responsibility as attributability.  Accountability is normally taken to have stricter control conditions than attributability. A common way to argue for this claim is to point to differences in the harmfulness of blame: accountability blame can be seen as sanctions, attributability blame as evaluations. In this talk I’ll argue that this distinction is less straightforward when we consider self-blame. To blame one self in the accountability sense is to feel guilt and feeling guilty is to suffer. To blame one self in the attributability sense, I will argue, is to feel shame. However, shame also entails suffering. If accountability and attributability have different control condition, the explanation cannot merely be difference in the harm of blame. Instead, I will suggest that accountability blame and attributability blame are governed by different notions of appropriateness: an agent S is accountability blameworthy for X only if S deserves to feel guilty; an agent S is attributability blameworthy for S only if it is fitting that S feels shame for X. 


Dana Nelkin: Blame, Desert, and the Role of the Reactive Attitudes


Finding a plausible account of the nature of blame has proven a difficult task.  Traditional accounts that purport to offer necessary and sufficient conditions are vulnerable to powerful counterexamples.  This makes two non-traditional approaches well worth exploring, namely, a functional approach and a prototype (or paradigm) approach.  While each of these has strengths, each also fails to fully account for the particular unity among the wide variety of kinds of blame.  Building on the insights of these alternative views, I set out and defend a “core” account of blame; one which takes the central feature to be an attitude of holding a wrongdoing against the wrongdoer.  Such an account avoids taking communicated blame as the only paradigm as many extant prototype accounts claim, for example, and avoids wrongly drawing the scope of blame on the basis of excessively restrictive necessary conditions.  At the same time, a number of features that have often been taken as central and necessary to blame (such as the reactive attitudes of resentment and indignation) can nevertheless be explained as non-accidental and characteristic aspects, or manifestations, of blame, thus contributing to an appealing unity of the class.  I conclude by exploring how this account can address the challenging question for any account of how blame can be the kind of thing that is deserved. 


Gunnar Björnsson: A Minimal Account of Blame


This talk presents and defends a minimalist theory of blame. According to this account, to blame X for Y in judgment is to judge that X is to blame for Y, and to perform an act of blaming X for Y is simply to express that judgment. Central to the defence of this proposal is an account of what it is to judge that X is to blame for Y, as this accounts for crucial connections between blame and reactive attitudes and distinguishes this account from (some) so-called “ledger” accounts of blame. Importantly, the proposed account treats moral blame as a special case of a much wider phenomenon.




Andreas Brekke Carlsson, Christel Fricke and Caj Strandberg
Published Mar. 24, 2017 12:49 PM - Last modified Aug. 21, 2017 10:27 AM