Practical Philosophy Seminar- Maria Seim: "Angry blame and moral protest"




Blame is the social practice through which we hold each other morally responsible. When we blame we attribute responsibility for a morally bad action or attitude to a moral agent. This paper identifies blame with the moral emotion anger in an attempt to explain what blame most fundamentally is. Anger is, however, a somewhat controversial emotion. Anger has been portrayed as unpredictable and unreliable, and it has been argued that anger does not listen to reason; it ruins relationships and damages its host as well as its target. In short, we would be better of if we could rid ourselves of angry emotions altogether. This paper defends anger against its critics. By presenting and defending a paradigm based explanation of blame as angry moral protest, and identifying the goal of angry moral protest as acknowledgment and re-establishment of moral status for the victim, the importance of anger in our moral lives is revealed.    


Contemporary attempts at defining blame usually take one of three methodological approaches: concept analysis, functional theory, or a paradigm based explanation. In this paper I argue that there is no reason to differentiate between paradigm based explanations and functional theories of blame. In merging the two approaches we can argue that anger is the paradigmatic emotional response associated with blame, and that the function of angry blame is moral protest.


I identify three typical objections to this account of blame. The first is a methodological worry. The reason to chose a functional account over concept analysis is that all accounts based on concept analysis have proven vulnerable to counter examples that show how the criteria for the account can come apart from the criteria for what we commonly think of as blame. Whatever necessary condition one puts forward for blame, there seems to be a counter example of blame that does not meet this condition. If the functional account is a better method, it must be proven to be more resilient towards such counter examples.


Second, it is hard to see how there is room for private blame in an account that identifies protest as the paradigm example. Protest seems necessarily to be communicated, so how do we account for private blame on this account?


The third challenge is to show why protest is the function of blame. In psychology anger has been associated with the action tendency of wanting to take revenge or inflict pain on the wrongdoer. If blame is so closely connected to anger, it could thus be argued that a more likely function of blame is revenge.


In addition, we have the overarching question of how to vindicate a practice that has anger at its core. As mentioned, anger is morally problematic emotion, and if blame is fundamentally connected to anger, this might be a reason to stop blaming altogether, or at least to set the standards which need to be met in order for blame to be appropriate and fitting very high.


In answering to the first and second challenge, I argue that the combination of a functional account and a paradigm based account can accommodate a wider variety of attitudes and behaviors than an account that posit necessary and sufficient condition. As long as the attitude or behavior has a residue of the function the paradigm example of angry communicated blame, it can be counted as part of our blaming practice.


In answering to the second challenge I argue similarly that protest can be private, but that the paradigm example of blame is communicated, angry protest.


In answering to the third and fourth challenge I argue that wanting acknowledgment of the wrongdoing and re-establishment of moral worth is a more likely action tendency for anger, and use this analysis to counter the most common skeptical arguments against anger.


Seeing the function of blame as protest means that when we blame we protest against the wrong done towards us. When performing a morally wrong action the wrongdoer is expressing their disregard, and implicitly claiming that the victim can be treated this way, and does not deserve being treated better. Blame is the protest of this claim. When we blame we are in effect saying that what the morally wrong action is communicating is not true: We cannot be treated this way, and we deserve to be treated better. What the protest is aiming for is for the wrongdoer to acknowledge the nature of the wrong done; recant the meaning of the wrong, and thereby re-establish the moral worth of the victim.


Feminist philosophy has a long history of praising anger as a moral emotion necessary in the protest against marginalization. In the last part of the paper I draw on this philosophy to strengthen the view that blame, understood as angry protest, is an important practice that deserves vindication.



Published Feb. 1, 2019 10:05 AM - Last modified Apr. 11, 2019 1:18 PM