I'll Bet You Think This Blame Is About You

In Justin Coates & Neal Tognazzini (eds.), Oxford Studies in Agency and Responsibility Volume 5: Themes From the Philosophy of Gary Watson. Oxford, UK: pp. 60–87 (2019)
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There seems to be widespread agreement that to be responsible for something is to be deserving of certain consequences on account of that thing. Call this the “merited-consequences” conception of responsibility. I think there is something off, or askew, in this conception, though I find it hard to articulate just what it is. The phenomena the merited-consequences conception is trying to capture could be better captured, I think, by noting the characteristic way in which certain minds can rightly matter to other such minds—the way in which certain minds can carry a certain kind of importance, made manifest in certain sorts of responses. Mattering, not meriting, seems to me central. However, since I cannot yet better articulate an alternative, I continue in the merit-consequences framework. I focus on a particular class of consequences: those that are non-voluntary, in a sense explained. The non-voluntariness of these reactions has two important upshots. First, questions about their justification will be complex. Second, they are not well thought of as consequences voluntarily imposed upon the wrongdoer by the responder. By focusing on merited consequences and overlooking non-voluntariness, we risk misunderstanding the significance of moral criticism and of certain reactions to moral failure.

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Pamela Hieronymi
University of California, Los Angeles


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