The paradox of self-blame

American Philosophical Quarterly 59 (2):111–125 (2022)
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It is widely accepted that there is what has been called a non-hypocrisy norm on the appropriateness of moral blame; roughly, one has standing to blame only if one is not guilty of the very offence one seeks to criticize. Our acceptance of this norm is embodied in the common retort to criticism, “Who are you to blame me?”. But there is a paradox lurking behind this commonplace norm. If it is always inappropriate for x to blame y for a wrong that x has committed, then all cases in which x blames x (i.e. cases of self-blame) are rendered inappropriate. But it seems to be ethical common-sense that we are often, sadly, in position (indeed, excellent, privileged position) to blame ourselves for our own moral failings. And thus we have a paradox: a conflict between the inappropriateness of hypocritical blame, and the appropriateness of self-blame. We consider several ways of resolving the paradox, and contend none is as defensible as a position that simply accepts it: we should never blame ourselves. In defending this startling position, we defend a crucial distinction between self-blame and guilt.

Author Profiles

Patrick Todd
University of Edinburgh
Brian Rabern
University of Edinburgh


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