Practical Philosophy Webinar: Christel Fricke

"Taking Blameworthiness out of Blame"


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Christel Fricke. Professor Dr. phil. Professor of Philosophy at the Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas, University of Oslo.


Practices of openly blaming apparent wrongdoers play an important part in shaping and upholding the social and moral order of a society. So far, blame experts have mostly focused on two questions: ‘What is the nature of blame?’ and ‘What are the normative constraints of blame?’. While details remain controversial, blame experts widely agree on two issues, namely that blame includes the blamer’s judgment of the blamee as blameworthy and that expressions of blame are warranted only if this judgment is true. Further normative constraints on blame relate to the status of the blamers and to the circumstances under which they express their blame. Generally speaking, blame experts accord the role of moral judges to blamers; they set high standards for appropriate blame and conclude that we should blame others less frequently than we commonly do.

Can blaming play its role of social and moral regulation if we blame others only if we can be sure to meet these high standards? I argue that it cannot. If we want to hold on to our current practices of openly blaming apparent wrongdoers for the sake of social and moral regulation, we need to revise these practices and take blameworthiness out of blame. Blamers should refrain from taking the role of moral judges. They should express a mere suspicion and invite the apparent wrongdoers and recipients of their blame to engage with them in moral conversations. In the framework of such conversations, questions about the intentions, quality of will and responsibility of those suspected of wrong behavior, about the consequences of their actions for other people and about the wrongness of these actions will be raised and – ideally – consensual answers will be given. In contrast to a legal trial where the respective laws are not open for revision, participants in a moral conversation may have to submit the moral norms as they understand them to critical assessment and revision, especially in cases where participants do not share an understanding of what these norms require and forbid in the first place. My revisionist account of blame does not annihilate all normative constraints on blame. However, the constraints on blame I shall defend will be less demanding and therefore easier to meet than the constraints on blame as it is commonly understood. Blame without thereby judging the blamee to be blameworthy is an important tool for social and moral regulation, including processes of constructing, revising and sharing social and moral standards.


Published Apr. 21, 2020 3:36 PM - Last modified Apr. 21, 2020 3:36 PM