Blameworthiness as Deserved Guilt

The Journal of Ethics 21 (1):89-115 (2017)
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It is often assumed that we are only blameworthy for that over which we have control. In recent years, however, several philosophers have argued that we can be blameworthy for occurrences that appear to be outside our control, such as attitudes, beliefs and omissions. This has prompted the question of why control should be a condition on blameworthiness. This paper aims at defending the control condition by developing a new conception of blameworthiness: To be blameworthy, I argue, is most fundamentally to deserve to feel guilty. Being blamed by someone else is not necessarily harmful to the wrongdoer. The blame might not be expressed, or the wrongdoer might not care. But to blame oneself necessarily involves suffering. This conception of blameworthiness explains why the control condition should obtain: We are morally blameworthy for A only if A was under our control because to be blameworthy is to deserve to feel guilty, to feel guilty is to suffer, and one deserves to suffer for A only if A was under one’s control.

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Andreas Brekke Carlsson
Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences


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