Blame: Its Nature and Norms

Blame: Its Nature and Norms

Blame: Its Nature and Norms

Blame: Its Nature and Norms


One mark of interpersonal relationships is a tendency to blame. But what precise evaluations and responses constitute blame? Is it most centrally a judgment, or is it an emotion, or something else? Does blame express a demand, or embody a protest, or does it simply mark an impaired relationship? What accounts for its force or sting, and how similar is it to punishment?

The essays in this volume explore answers to these (and other) questions about the nature of blame, but they also explore the various norms that govern the propriety of blame. The traditional question is whether anyone ever deserves to be blamed, but the essays here provide a fresh perspective by focusing on blame from the blamer's perspective instead. Is our tendency to blame a vice, something we should work to replace with more humane ways of relating, or does it rather lie at the very heart of a commitment to morality? What can we legitimately expect of each other, and in general, what sort of attitude do would-be blamers need to have in order to have the standing to blame? Hypocritical or self-righteous blame seems objectionable, but why?

The contributions to this volume aim to give us a fuller picture of the nature and norms of blame, and more generally of the promises and perils of membership in the human moral community.


D. Justin Coates & Neal A. Tognazzini

1. Introduction

Whether or not P. F. Strawson was right about the precise attitudes and emotional reactions that constitute interpersonal relationships, he was surely right to think that our commitment to such relationships is “thoroughgoing and deeply rooted” (p. 81). These relations vary widely—we relate “as sharers of common interest; as members of the same family; as colleagues; as friends; as lovers; as chance parties to an enormous range of transactions and encounters” (p. 76)—but they “form an essential part of the moral life as we know it” (p. 91). That much of Strawson’s picture, at least, should be uncontroversial. Also uncontroversial is the fact that blame is, for better or worse, a central part of human relationships. the essays in this volume, then, attempt to deepen our understanding of our own moral lives.

When we say that blame is central to human relationships, we don’t mean that it belongs at the center. We are merely making the undeniable point that we are (in fact) beings who evaluate, react, and respond to each other (and ourselves) along various normative dimensions. How we should feel about the role that blame plays in our lives is itself one of the interesting philosophical questions about blame. But there are also the questions of what precisely blame is, who its appropriate subjects and objects are, when it is (and is not) called for, and what functions (if any) it serves. Each of these questions is addressed, at least to some extent, by one or more of the essays collected here, which together represent the current state of the philosophical conversation about the nature and ethics of blame. Our primary aim in this chapter is to situate those essays within the broader context of recent work on blame.

For helpful comments on earlier versions of the material in this chapter, thanks to John Martin Fischer, Samantha Matherne, Ben Mitchell-Yellin, and Matt Talbert.

All quotations from Strawson are from his 1962, as reprinted in Watson (2003).

It’s important to note, however, that work on blame is still in its infancy, so there is no generally accepted way of framing these issues. the way we frame things in this chapter does not always map

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.