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But consider someone who would behave badly but only in appalling circumstances, which in fact she never meets.

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According to the third view, she is just as blameworthy though she never actually does the bad acts in question. This view casts the net of blameworthiness too widely, in Sher's view. What adds force to his objection to this view is his point that maybe every actual human is such that, in sufficiently terrible circumstances, he or she would do terrible acts p.


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It is implausible to contend that, as the third view implies, all are equally blameworthy, although only some have done the especially terrible acts. Can the three views be combined into a plausible theory?

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Sher explains that the answer is that they cannot. What keeps them from being plausible is precisely that they overstate the importance of character. As Sher concludes, "the amount of blame that someone deserves when he behaves badly depends not on how typical of him the bad behavior is but simply on how bad it is. The following chapter contains Sher's own theory of the structure of blameworthy action.

From the preceding discussion, we see that for Sher the badness of actual acts, and not just the badness of character traits, is central to the account.

Sometimes we hear the injunction "blame the act or decision, not the person who did it". Sher opposes this idea. But he accepts that some people find puzzling why blameworthiness attaches to the agent of a bad act, and not just to the act he did, or to the decision he made to do the act. The answer, according to Sher, is that, on the one hand, intentional actions are "traceable to" the interaction of some subset of the agent's beliefs, desires, and fine-grained dispositions, and, on the other hand, the agent's identity is at least partly constituted by his beliefs, desires, and dispositions pp.

Given the tightness of the connection between the act and these identity-constituting elements of the agent, blame for the agent for the act can hardly be surprising. Sher accepts that people can be blamed for having moral vices, or what he sometimes calls morally bad character traits. The next chapter explores a common argument against this view: Sher notes that many philosophers attack premise 2 of this argument. These philosophers accept that I do not now have control over my current traits, but they contend I could earlier have done things to prevent the development of the vices I now have, and so I should be blamed for not having done those things.

This argument won't do, however, because, as Sher points out, many bad traits are developed before someone reaches an age where he could reasonably be held responsible for his own moral education pp.

In Praise of Blame by George Sher

So if we are to reject the above argument, we had better attack premise 1. This is just what Sher does, with impressive success. He admits, of course, that sometimes a bad act does not reflect badly on the agent. This is true when I am innocently ignorant of some fact that gives me a relevant reason, as in when I am ignorant of some rare allergy had by the person to whom I give a tulip. But this is very different from the case where I have a bad character trait.

For "to have a bad character trait just is to be systematically unresponsive to the corresponding class of moral reasons. But that idea seems to conflict with the contention that it cannot be fair to blame someone for something he cannot help p. This contention about fairness is opposed by the following powerful argument. At least often, agents who did bad acts are blameworthy for having done them.

In Praise of Blame

In Praise of Blame by George Sher. In Praise of Blame 3. Blame is an unpopular and neglected notion: This book discusses questions about its nature, normative status, and relation to character. The book's most important conclusion is that blame is inseparable from morality itself. Hardcover , pages. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about In Praise of Blame , please sign up. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia.

Jun 17, Joel Carini rated it really liked it.

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I was most interested in the topic of Sher's book. Blame is closely related to the issues of responsibility and retribution which are of deep interest to me. I commend Sher for dealing with these deeply "humane" issues. Throughout, I was put off by some of the analytic-philosophy-style issues, like using capital letters to stand for things and isolating propositions from wider paragraphs.

I know these stylistic choices make sense in certain contexts. How do blame and blameworthiness--correlative notions--fit together? Considered as a group, the questions yield a unified and comprehensive theory of both blame and blameworthiness. In developing that theory, the book both criticizes and draws inspiration from the two most important previous treatments of its topic: Hume's discussion of the relation between character and blame and Strawson's landmark discussion of the "reactive attitudes.

The Structure of Blameworthy Action 4. Blame for Traits 5. What Blame is Not 6. What Blame Is 7.

2007.03.17

In Praise of Blame. The impressive overview it provides of the crosslinguistic variation and tendencies pertaining to imperatives and commands makes it a must for anyone interested in either of these two subjects. So, if you are interested, read Aikhenvald's book! Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.