Recognizing Constraints on Moral Reasoning and the Fairness of Blame
Esselmont, Christine N.
Vidt, Christine N.
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Many argue that moral blame is unfair when poor formative circumstances negatively influence an individual’s ability to appreciate moral reasons. For example, Susan Wolf refers to the pre-conditions for being blamed as being “connected to the world in a certain sort of way” and R. Jay Wallace emphasizes the importance of an agent’s being able to exercise what he refers to as “powers of reflective self-control” if blame is to be fair. Wallace in particular contends that to blame an individual who is unable to adequately respond to reasons is to participate in an unfair practice of burdening those who are often better described as victims. I argue that we should reject this claim about blame, and the conception of moral responsibility that underlies it, while remaining sympathetic to some of the concerns raised by its proponents. What I call the Unfair Victim argument makes claims that seem prima facie, quite plausible. I contend that rejecting it does not require that one overlook the fact that poor formative circumstances can make it more difficult to recognize moral reasons or that this may cause particular individuals to suffer hardship. I argue that a more defensible, Scanlonian view of blame still allows one to recognize the hardship suffered by those described by the Unfair Victim argument without having to accept that this hardship diminishes moral responsibility or renders blame unfair.