Moral Rationalism and Blameworthiness

I’m sympathetic to the following view, which I call moral rationalism:

MR: If S is morally required to do x, then S has decisive reason (all things considered) to do x.

One popular argument for this view appeals to blameworthiness. This sort of argument is found both in Darwall (2006, 287-292) and in Skorupski (1999, 170) as well as in Shafer-Landau (2003, 190-193), although Shafer-Landau employs it to argue for only weak moral rationalism:

WMR: If S is morally required to do x, then S has a (pro tanto) reason to do x.

The following is my reconstruction of their argument.

(1) If S’s doing x is morally wrong, then S would be morally blameworthy for doing x under conditions sufficient for S’s being morally responsible for doing x.

(2) S would be morally blameworthy for doing x under conditions sufficient for S’s being morally responsible for doing x only if S did not have sufficient reason to do x.

Therefore, (3) if S’s doing x is morally wrong, then S does not have sufficient reason to do x. (Those for whom it’s already obvious that (3) is equivalent to MR can stop here.)

(4) S does not have sufficient reason to do x if and only if S has decisive reason not to do x.

Therefore, (5) if S’s doing x is morally wrong, then S has decisive reason not to do x.

(6) S has decisive reason not to do x if and only if S has decisive reason to do ~x.

(7) S’s doing x is morally wrong if and only if S’s doing ~x is morally required.

Therefore, (8) if S’s doing ~x is morally required, then S has decisive reason to do ~x.

(9) We can substitute ‘~x’ for ‘x’ in all of the above without affecting the validity or soundness of the argument.

Therefore, (10) if S’s doing x is morally required, then S has decisive reason to do x.

The premise that does most, if not all, of the heavy lifting here is (2). Here’s why I think that we should endorse (2). One plausible necessary condition for being morally responsible for one’s actions is having control over one’s actions, and one very plausible account of having control over one’s actions is Fischer’s (2006), where one has control over one’s action only if one has the capacity to recognize the relevant reasons and respond appropriately to them. On this view, if one did x, had the capacity to regulate one’s behavior in light of the relevant reasons, and met other epistemic and ownership conditions for moral responsibility, then one was morally responsible for having done x. Now suppose that S has sufficient reason to do x, and in response to the recognition of this fact chooses to do x (this could be because x is the only act alternative that she had sufficient reason to perform or because, of all the act alternatives that she had sufficient reason to perform, she just happened to choose to do x). This means that she is morally responsible for doing x (assuming, of course, that she meets other epistemic and ownership conditions) and thus blameworthy for doing x if x is morally wrong. But how can it be appropriate to hold an agent accountable for doing x on the grounds that she had the capacity to appropriately respond to the relevant reasons, when exercising this very capacity is what leads her to do x (or, at least, it leads her to be rationally ambivalent with respect to a set of alternatives that includes x)? It seems to me that it just doesn’t make sense to hold an agent responsible for doing x because she was, in the given situation, capable of appropriately responding to the relevant reasons and then blame her if she does in fact appropriately respond to the relevant reasons and thereby chooses to do x.

To illustrate, suppose that Jill promised to meet a student, Jack, to review his grade on the last test, but then a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity arises for Jill, and, unfortunately, she must break her promise to Jack in order to take advantage of this opportunity. Assume that the personal benefit for Jane in taking advantage of this opportunity is great enough to give her decisive reason to do so despite the moral reason she has to keep her promise. Now, suppose that Jane, being fully rational and fully informed, recognizes that she has decisive reason to take advantage of this opportunity and as a result chooses to do so, thereby breaking her promise to meet with Jack. What, then, should we say about this case? Possibility A: What she did was all-things-considered wrong, as we all have a prima facie obligation to keep our promises and the fact that she would personally benefit a great deal by breaking her promise is no justification for her doing so. Furthermore, since her act was wrong and since she meets all the conditions for being morally responsible for what she did, she should feel guilt and we should blame her for what she did. Possibility B: Given that she had sufficient (indeed, decisive) reason to break her promise, she was justified in doing so. And thus what she did was not wrong (given MR). Furthermore, she should not feel guilt (and we should not blame her), for it makes sense for her to feel guilt (and for us to blame her) only if she judges (and we judge) that she should regret having done what she did. And although it is certainly appropriate for her to regret having inconvenienced Jack and to regret having to break her promise, she should no more regret having done so than she should have had she been morally obligated to do so, as where, for instance, she had a more stringent moral obligation to take her daughter to the ER instead of keeping her appointment with Jack. Moreover, others should admit that were they in her shoes and fully rational, they too would have broken the promise to Jack. And if others should admit this, then they should not blame her for doing so. In any case, holding her accountable for breaking the promise on the grounds that she was capable of appropriately responding to the relevant reasons and then blaming her for appropriately responding to the reasons by doing what she had decisive reason to do seems entirely unfair and inappropriate.

It seems to me that Possibility B makes a lot more sense. Given the above sorts of considerations, I think we should accept (2) and, consequently, the soundness of the above argument.

59 Replies to “Moral Rationalism and Blameworthiness

  1. Hi Doug –
    Cool argument. I wonder if I might ask a question about (1). In particular, I wonder what you mean by “morally blameworthy”. One natural reading might be that someone is morally blameworthy for x if and only if it is morally appropriate or permissible to blame them for x. (You seem to indicate this reading when you ask: “how can it be appropriate to hold an agent accountable for doing x on the grounds that she had the capacity to appropriately respond to the relevant reasons, when exercising this very capacity is what leads her to do x (or, at least, it leads her to be rationally ambivalent with respect to a set of alternatives that includes x)?”) But if that’s correct, one could accept your arguments for (2) and be an anti-rationalist, so long as she denies (1). One could accept that exercising one’s practical reasoning capacities perfectly should never be morally blameworthy. But she could then go on to say that it would be morally inappropriate to blame someone for rationally justifiable behavior, even if that behavior is immoral. And this seems to me a line perfectly in keeping with the spirit of anti-rationalism: because other norms can rationally outweigh moral norms, we would expect that appropriate blame would track not whether we fail morality, but whether we fail rationality. Have I erred? Do you mean something else by moral blameworthiness?
    Furthermore, I’m a bit confused about the Jill case. It seems to me that if we reject (1), there’s a very plausible third alternative (I’m going to have to put on my Kantian hat here). (3) Jill acted wrongly, but rationally. But she should not feel regret and we should not blame her for doing as she did, because she acted rationally.

  2. Doug — Very briefly (while scrambling to leave town): if “sufficient” means “enough to render rational,” with “rational” taken in a broad sense (meaning something like “within reason”), I should think (2) would be false. Even if you substitute “decisive” (or the claim that x is “rationally optimal,” as in premise (2) of your previous post), can’t there be a conflict between ways of weighting reasons from the standpoint of rationality vs. morality? Divergence at the upper levels would be compatible with the assumption most of us agree on, that acting morally is always (broadly) rational.

  3. I should add something about your reasons-responsiveness argument: What we’d be blaming an agent for if she acted rationally but immorally is failing to be adequately sensitive to moral reasons. This is compatible with responding “appropriately” to reasons, if that term is also taken in a rational, rather than a moral, sense — as it should be if reasons-responsiveness is a condition of blameworthiness.

  4. Doug,
    For what it’s worth (2) seems false to me as well. That is, it seems to me that I can both have sufficient reason to do X and be blameworthy for doing X. Suppose I’m a surgeon who removes one of your kidney’s for kicks. But, as it happens, the kidney was defective and removing it saved your life. I had sufficient reason to remove the kidney, but I did something wrong. Would you say that I did not have sufficient reason? Or, there was sufficient reason but I didn’t have it?

  5. Hi Dale,
    I take it that someone is morally blameworthy for doing x if and only if it is appropriate to blame them for doing x and x is morally wrong. But, yes, the anti-rationalist can certainly deny (1) and thereby preserve ~MR in face of the argument, but I don’t find the denial of (1) very plausible. I know that’s not much of an argument, but I’m hindered by the fact that (1) seems to me to be a conceptual truth. I’m aware, though, that some people deny it. I’m not sure what to say in response to those who question (1). I guess that I’m hoping that many will find (1) intuitively plausible. I guess that I just have to admit that I don’t have any argument that will convince you of (1).
    [Update: I’ve added an additional comment below, which is perhaps slightly more helpful than this response.]
    Hi Pat,
    You say that what “we’d be blaming an agent for if she acted rationally but immorally is failing to be adequately sensitive to moral reasons.” But we’re supposing that although she may have, on balance, more moral reason, say, to do x than to do y, she has more (or just as much) reason, all things considered, to do y than (as) to do x, and that it is in recognition of this fact that she does y. In what sense, then, has she failed to be adequately sensitive to moral reasons? If moral reasons are not overriding (as we’re supposing), then it would seem that being adequately sensitive to them would consist in giving them their due weight, and if the non-moral reasons that support her doing y are as weighty, or weightier than, the moral reasons that support her doing x, then it seems to me that she has given them due weight in deciding to do y in light of the fact that this is what she has sufficient reason to do. Can you say more as to why you think that she hasn’t been adequately sensitive to moral reasons.
    Hi Mike,
    Do you want to say that what the surgeon did was wrong in the objective sense? That’s the sense that I’m employing. This is the sense in which if the surgeon asked God “What should I do?”, God would reply: “You should remove his kidney.”If you want to say that we’ll it was still wrong because I didn’t have informed consent, then I would deny that the surgeon has sufficient reason to remove the kidney.

  6. Do you want to say that what the surgeon did was wrong in the objective sense?
    No, what I want to say is that what he did was blameworthy in the objective sense. Has to be, right? If you intend to harm someone badly and, by sheer chance you do what helps them, then (other conditions for moral responsibility holding) we are approximating a paradigm case of blameworthy action, no?

  7. Mike,
    What are we blaming him for? Saving his life by removing his kidney? I can see how you might want to say that he had sufficient reason to save his life by removing his kidney, but I don’t see why we should blame him for doing that; on your view, that’s what he should have done. If we should blame him for something, it should be for his attitude (i.e., for his callous disregard for the welfare of his patient), not for his action — unless , of course, you want to say that his action was wrong because it violated his patients autonomy, and I’m sympathetic to that. Indeed, I think that he had decisive reason not to violate his patient’s autonomy by removing his kidney without his informed consent. But I wanted to play along and pretend that this is not morally salient and that it’s just saving his life that’s morally salient. But, if you go that route, then I don’t see why you should blame him for performing a life-saving act. I think that we have to be careful about what we’re blaming this surgeon for. I would want to blame him both for his act, because it was an act that immorally violated his patients autonomy as well as for his attitude toward his patient’s welfare and autonomy. I would not want to blame him for saving his life by removing his kidney, though. So I don’t think that your putative counter-example to (2) is nearly as clear cut as you take it to be. It’s clear that the surgeon is blameworthy, but it’s not clear that what he is blameworthy for is an act that he had sufficient reason to perform.

  8. I’m not sure that moral wrongness entails sufficient reasons against even if I think it does entail very strong reasons – ‘(almost?) always overriding’ as Scanlon puts it. I’ve always been convinced by a case discussed by Marcia Baron and Susan Mendus. I know many others are not but anyway here it goes again.
    You are a mother and your only child is possibly going to die of a kidney failure. She is on a waiting-list for a transplant but there are many other children in the same condition ahead of her. You work at the hospital. By ‘pulling strings’ you could move your child ahead in the list to vastly improve her chances of survival.
    Now, my intuitions about the case is that it would be morally wrong to pull the strings. You cannot justify this to the other children on the waiting-list, their parents, and so on. And, they can reasonably blame you if you do. But, still I think you have at least just as good or even better motherhood-based reasons to pull the strings to save your child.
    So, it seems to me that there could be some rare cases where you might have sufficient reasons to do the wrong thing. This case does have the same structure as yours but once the details are filled in it seems more compelling to resist your conclusion.

  9. Doug,
    I wonder whether the following aren’t counterexamples to your premise (1), i.e. cases in which a person is not blameworthy for doing something morally wrong.
    (i) A person does something wrong but you know that you’ve done, or would have done, the same thing in the same circumstances. So it would be hypocritical of you to blame her for what she did.
    (ii) A person does something wrong but she has a good excuse for doing it: she had a terrible upbringing, let’s say.
    (iii) A person does something wrong but she pays so little heed to the opinions of others that blaming her would achieve nothing. So it would be pointless to blame her.
    (iv) A person does something wrong but she has such a rebellious nature that blaming her for what she did would only encourage her to do more wrong things.
    Perhaps I’m merely inviting you to clarify what you mean by “blame” and “blameworthy”.

  10. Hi Jussi,
    So, assume as you suggest, that you have “better motherhood-based reasons to pull the strings to save your child” than you have moral reasons to refrain from doing so and that, therefore, you have decisive reason to pull the strings. If the other mothers blame you, then can’t you fully account for yourself and your actions by demonstrating that you had decisive reasons to do what you did. In calmer moments, won’t the other mothers have to admit that you did what you ought to have done, all things considered. And won’t they have to admit that any fully rational and informed person would have done the same. I don’t see how such admissions are compatible with the thought that the mother is blameworthy. I don’t see how it’s fair to hold her accountable on the grounds that she had the capacity to respond to the relevant reasons and then blame her for doing what she did precisely because she exercised that capacity appropriately.

  11. Campbell,
    I certainly admit that there are “cases in which a person is not blameworthy for doing something morally wrong,” but such cases are not counterexamples to (1). (1) does no say that if S’s doing x is wrong, then S is blameworthy for doing x. To be blameworthy for doing x, it’s essential that one does x under conditions sufficient for being morally responsible for doing x. So if, for instance, S does x because she has some uncontrollable and irresistible urge to perform acts of the sort that x is, then S would not be blameworthy, for S would not have control over whether or not she performs x and, thus, wouldn’t be morally responsible for doing x.
    Now, I’ll respond specifically to each of your putative counter-examples to (1):
    (i) I don’t get this one. Suppose we’re both murderers and that we are both morally responsible for the murders we have committed. It might be hypocritical for me to blame you for your murders, but that doesn’t mean that your actions are not worthy of blame. S can be blameworthy for doing x even though there exists a person for whom it would be hypocritical to blame S.
    (ii) If the excuse was sufficient to completely undermine her moral responsibility, then she would not be morally responsible for doing x. But (1) doesn’t say that people are blameworthy for performing acts for which they are not morally responsible. Of course, it may be that moral responsibility and blameworthiness come in degrees and that an excuse can make one morally responsible to only some lesser extent and, consequently, less deserving of blame (although not immune from blame altogether). (1) is compatible with such thoughts.
    (iii) I think of ‘blameworthy’ in the way that I think of ‘desirable’. Someone can be blameworthy (that is, it can be fitting/appropriate to blame her) even if your blaming her would achieve no good. Likewise, something can be desirable (that is, it can be fitting/appropriate to desire it) even if your desiring it would achieve no good.
    (iv) A person can be blameworthy even though it might be wrong to perform some overt act of blaming since such an act would have terrible consequences. To say that someone is blameworthy is to say that it would be appropriate to have a certain sort of feeling (the blame-feeling) with respect to that person and her actions; it is not to say that it would be morally good or right to perform an act that reprimands her or sanctions her.

  12. Thanks, Doug. That’s helpful.
    With (i) I was thinking of things like the Milgram experiments. Suppose it were discovered that, given human nature, any one of us would have become a nazi and committed horrible acts of brutality if placed in the same circumstances as those who did become nazis. It’s just a matter of “moral luck” that most of us aren’t nazis because, by shear chance, we were never placed in such circumstances. (Of course I don’t mean to suggest that this really is the case.) In that case, I’m tempted to say, it would be inappropriate to blame nazis for their actions, even though they were clearly wrong.

  13. Hi Dale,
    I’m trying to understand your denial of (1) better. Since what I said initially in response to your denial of (1) was so unhelpful, maybe be I can help the discussion along by asking you a few questions:
    (1) What is it to be morally responsible on your view? It’s not, on your view, to be subject to blame or praise depending on the moral quality of one’s actions, for, on your view, one can be morally responsible for doing something wrong but not be subject to blame because there was sufficient reason to act wrongly. So what is it, on your view, to be morally responsible for one’s action?
    (2) If you want to say that S’s doing x is morally blameworthy only if S did not have sufficient reason to do x, what do you want to say about praiseworthiness? Is there any analogue here? It seems to me that there should be some consistent way of treating both blameworthiness and praiseworthiness. I would say: If S’s doing x is morally good/bad, then S would be praiseworthy/blameworthy for doing x under conditions sufficient for being morally responsible for doing x. What would you say instead? Will you likewise treat blameworthiness and praiseworthiness in some parallel manner?
    This just sounds so strange to me: S is morally responsible for doing x and it was wrong of S to do x, but S is not at all blameworthy for doing x.

  14. Doug — As with many of the terms in these two posts (e.g. “sufficient reason”), I think “adequate” is ambiguous as between rational and moral adequacy. The agent’s sensitivity to moral reasons in your example would seem to be rationally but not morally adequate, if her nonmoral reasons have greater (rational) weight but her moral reasons have requiring force (as you grant when you label the act wrong). All we need to warrant blame is the moral judgment of inadequate sensitivity.

  15. It’s clear that the surgeon is blameworthy, but it’s not clear that what he is blameworthy for is an act that he had sufficient reason to perform.
    Doug,
    I think I do want to blame him for what he did. What he did was remove a kidney he believed was perfectly healthy and what he had sufficient reason to do, as chance would have it, was to remove a kidney he believed was perfectly healthy.

  16. Doug,
    I’m not sure. Take the perspective of the child in the line who gets moved back and dies (or her mother). Yes, they can admit that they would have acted in the same way as our mother did and that she did what she had most reason to do. But, they can blame the mother for their death or the death of their child. I know I would and it seems like a rational and warranted reaction.
    More importantly, they can also blame her for violating rules which she too would have had most reason to accept ex ante (and which she would have then accepted). I assume that when we set the rules for waiting-lists no-one knows the situation in which they will apply to them. In setting the rules up, our mother would have accepted the first-come-first-served rule rather than first-come-first-served-expect-if-you-are-in-a-potisition-to-pull-strings-rule. We can then blame her for violating a rule she too would have committed herself to. And, it doesn’t seem like she can justify making an exception of herself to that rule because others are in the same situation and are bearing similar burdens. But, I think she can still have better reasons to do something else and others can acknowledge this.

  17. Pat,
    I’m not sure why we should accept that, in my example, the agent’s sensitivity to moral reasons is morally adequate. Why do you think that it’s morally inadequate? Is it your view that S’s sensitivity to moral reasons is morally inadequate whenever S has done y even though she knows that she has more moral (requiring) reason to do x instead? I would reject such a view. It seems that I rarely do what I have most moral (requiring) reason to do, but I wouldn’t say that this shows that my sensitivity to moral reasons is morally inadequate. So I still want to here more as to when exactly an agent’s sensitivity to moral reasons is, on your view, morally inadequate.
    Mike,
    Suppose you’re dying of thirst and you know that the glass I have in my hand is a glass of water. I think that it’s petrol. You ask me to give you the glass of water in my hand, because you know that my doing so will save your life. I comply with your request, thinking that I’m giving you a glass of petrol and that it will kill you. Do you think that I’m blameworthy for giving you the glass of water? You can use whatever description you want to pick out the relevant act-token, but if that act-token is the morally right one, I don’t see how it makes sense to blame me for doing what I morally ought to have done.
    Jussi,
    You write:

    I’m not sure. Take the perspective of the child in the line who gets moved back and dies (or her mother). Yes, they can admit that they would have acted in the same way as our mother did and that she did what she had most reason to do. But, they can blame the mother for their death or the death of their child. I know I would and it seems like a rational and warranted reaction.

    Of course, they can blame you for the death of their child (after all, you’re causally responsible for the death of their child), but isn’t this sense of ‘blame’ the sense in which I can rightfully blame the hurricane for the destruction of my house? I’m talking about a different sense of ‘blame’, the sense in which one can be causally responsible for the fact that P without being blameworthy for having done the act that brought it about that P.
    Insofar as we’re right to think that you had decisive reason to break the first-come-first-served rule, I don’t see how anyone can blame you for breaking that rule. We may all have most reason to accept ex ante some rule about not stealing from one another, but I don’t see how I can blame you for stealing from me when I admit that that is what you ought (all things considered) to have done and also what I would have done were I in your situation and responding appropriately to the relevant reasons. So I admit that it sometimes makes sense to blame someone for something that you would have done, but the question is whether it makes sense to blame someone for something that they ought (all things considered) to have done, and thus what you would have done were you in their situation and responding appropriately to the relevant reasons.
    It seems that when I rightfully blame someone I blame them because they had decisive reason to do otherwise and had the capacity both to recognize this fact and to respond appropriately to it. So, for instance, when you gravely injure me for only a few extra bucks, I blame you for not recognizing or appropriately responding to the reasons you have to refrain from injuring me. And I blame you for this only because it seems right to think that you had the capacity to recognize and appropriately respond to these reasons. By contrast, it doesn’t make sense to me to hold you accountable for doing x on the grounds that you had the capacity for controlling your actions (i.e., the capacity for responding appropriately to the relevant reasons) and then blame you for exercising this control exactly as you should have by responding appropriately to the relevant reasons and doing what you had sufficient reason to do.

  18. Doug — I’m a bit puzzled, so let me go slowly. I assume you mean “inadequate” rather than “adequate” in your first line, but never mind that. You go on to suggest the following as a possible rendering of my criterion of inadequate sensitivity to moral reasons: “…S’s sensitivity to moral reasons is morally inadequate whenever S has done y even though she knows that she has more moral (requiring) reason to do x instead.” Unless I’m missing something, that last clause introduces a different sort of case from the one in your original post — let me check that we’re on the same page about that. Anyway, I *would* think there’s something morally inadequate — objectionable, defective, etc.– about S’s sensitivity to moral reasons in the case where she goes against moral requirements. Perhaps what you mean is that her *overall* sensitivity to moral reasons might still be adequate, i.e. she wouldn’t fall below a reasonable general threshold of adequate sensitivity. But I think I’d accept the criterion if it’s restricted it to the sensitivity an agent displays on a particular occasion, which is what I had in mind.
    Perhaps it would help if I also noted that a relatively minor instance of inadequate sensitivity might be seen as sub-threshold when it comes to blameworthiness. I assume that the question you raised for blameworthiness in your original post concerned general eligibility for blame, so that an act might be blameworthy (as far as it goes), and the agent blameworthy insofar as she does it, even if there are all-things-considered reasons for withholding blame as too hard on her in a particular case. Perhaps that might help account for your inclination to deny blameworthiness in your original case, as well as this one.

  19. Hi Doug –
    Those are great questions; you’ve caught me with my hand in the cookie jar, at least insofar as I’m not quite sure what to say in response. If you’re asking me about what my own views are, I guess I’d have to say I subscribe to something like an autonomy conception of responsibility; but this can be construed as reasons-responsiveness, and has been by some. But don’t dig any deeper, there’s little more to be found! But I don’t see why the anti-rationalist would have to deny the view you describe. What the anti-rationalist would have to provide are two different conceptions of what it means to be morally responsible for an action, and when it becomes appropriate to blame someone for an action.
    My own view, as you know, is consequentialist on this score. In that sense, I myself would be inclined to deny both (1) and (2), insofar as it might produce the best consequences to blame someone for rationally optimal action. But as this view is regarded as crazy by most, I’ll sweep it under the rug for now. But let’s say that I subscribed to your account of responsibility and an account of praiseworthiness/blameworthiness that is not indexed to morality, but rather to all-things-considered rationality. In other words, an action is praiseworthy if and only if it is rational, blameworthy if and only if it is irrational.
    I myself don’t find the upshot you mention particularly strange. But I could see how someone would find it strange, along with the following:
    (1) Someone could behave immorally, be responsible, and be praiseworthy. (So long as she behaved rationally.)
    (2) Someone could behave morally, be responsible, and be blameworthy. (So long as she behaved irrationally.)
    But I think the reason I don’t find these claims weird is because they’re perfectly consistent and in keeping with the spirit of anti-rationalism (viz., that morality is just one among many systems of norms, and doesn’t always determine what we ought to do in any given case).

  20. Premise 2, when translated into a normal conditional, reads: “If S is morally blameworthy for doing x, then it must be that S does not have sufficient reason to do x.”
    If we can subscript reasons (so that we say there are moral reasons, prudential reasons, etiquettical reasons, soccer reasons, etc.), why cannot we also subscript blameworthiness (so that we say there is moral blameworthiness, prudential blameworthiness, etiquettical blameworthiness, etc.)? The rough idea would be that a person is *morally* blameworthy when they flout, ignore, or are culpably ignorant of their moral reasons … whether these reasons have ultimate normative authority or not. So here is a third way of describing the Jack and Jane case:
    What Jane did was morally wrong, as we all have a prima facie moral duty to keep our promises, and she neglected this moral duty when no comparably weighty moral value was at stake. But she had sufficient reason to break her promise, and thus what she did was not all-things-considered wrong. She is *morally* blameworthy, because she broke the rules of morality, but she is not all-things-considered blameworthy, because she paid attention to her strongest all-things-considered reason.
    A similar case: suppose a German soccer player gravely and seriously wronged an American soccer player in the past. Perhaps the German seduced the American soccer player’s significant other, video-taped the event, and uploaded his videos to the internet. In this case, the American soccer player might have sufficient all-things-considered reason to viciously side-tackle the German during a match. But this action is still wrong and blameworthy given the rules of soccer – the American still deserves a yellow card.

  21. Hi Pat,
    You’re right that I meant ‘inadequate’, not adequate. I’m sorry for the error. But I think that there might still be some other miscommunication going on. So let me try to explain the Jill case and my views about it a bit more thoroughly. I think that it is morally permissible to break a relatively trivial promise if there is enough at stake in terms of the the promiser’s self-interest. I think that this is in fact the case with Jill. Jill has some big opportunity, say, to purchase the house of her dreams at a huge discount, but, to do so, she must break her relatively trivial promise to meet with Jack to review his exam score. I think that, given what’s at stake for Jill (tens of thousands of dollars), it is morally permissible for her to fail to show up as promised. I think that Jill has decisive reason, all things considered, to break her promise. I think that the reason she has to keep her promise is a moral reason, which has moral requiring strength — that is, it’s the type of reason that would generate a moral requirement absent countervailing reasons. I think that the reason that she has to purchase the house of her dreams at a huge discount (a house that is much nicer than what she needs to fulfill her obligation to provide a decent home for her family) is a non-moral reason — in particular, a self-interested reason. Thus, I think that she has more moral reason to keep her promise, but decisive reason, all things considered, to break her promise. I think that if it’s true that Jill had decisive reason to break her promise, then she isn’t blameworthy. That said, I do think that Jill is required to do what she can to make it up to Jack. So I agree that “there’s something morally inadequate — objectionable, defective, etc.– about S’s sensitivity to moral reasons in the case where she goes against moral requirements,” but I don’t think that Jill is morally required to keep her promise. After all, I accept MR. Thus, if she has decisive reason to break her promise, she can’t be morally required to keep it. This is the view that I’m arguing for. And I don’t see why you think that, in Jill’s case, she hasn’t shown morally adequate sensitivity to the relevant moral reasons. You can claim that she hasn’t because she’s morally required to keep her promise, but that’s counterintuitive (intuitively it seems permissible to break such relatively trivial promises when enough is at stake in one’s self-interest) and it also just seems to assume what’s in contention: namely, that S can be morally required to do what she doesn’t have decisive reason to do. Is this helpful at all? I’m sorry for not being clear initially, but I thought that it was clear enough that I don’t think Jill is morally required to keep her promise.

  22. Pat,
    One more thing: One of the reasons that I’m attracted to MR is because it seems that although, typically, I’m both morally required and have decisive reason to keep my promises to meet with students, it also seems to me that when enough is at stake in terms of my self-interest such that I now have decisive reason to break my promise, it seems morally permissible for me to do so. It seems that when there’s enough at stake in terms of one’s self-interest such that there is now decisive reason for the agent to break with some prima facie obligation, our commonsense intuitions tell us that it is also permissible to break with that prima facie obligation. This supports the idea that MR is a deeply ingrained part of our commonsense thinking about morality.

  23. Hi Dale,
    You write: “an action is praiseworthy if and only if it is rational, blameworthy if and only if it is irrational.” I take it ‘rational’ is meant to be the contradictory of ‘irrational’, and thus means ‘rationally permissible’, right? But, then, your view is wildly implausible given certain ordinary and plausible assumptions about what it is rational for people to do. It’s rational for me to watch Reno 911 (a stupid TV show that I sometimes enjoy as a guilty pleasure), but surely this isn’t praiseworthy in any sense — let alone morally praiseworthy.
    I also find your (1) and (2) quite counterintuitive, but I suspect that there may be no common ground to work with. I hope, though, that you’ll accept as common ground that my watching Reno 911 is not morally praiseworthy!

  24. Hi Jason,
    You write: “The rough idea would be that a person is *morally* blameworthy when they flout, ignore, or are culpably ignorant of their moral reasons.” But Jill was not ignorant of the relevant moral reasons. She understands that she has a prima facie obligation to keep her promises and that weighed heavily in her deliberations. She understands that a promise is not something to be taken lightly. Indeed, she regrets that she has to break her promise so as to do what it makes most sense for her to do, all things considered. And she realizes that she is morally obligated to apologize for breaking her promise, to explain why she needed to, and to do what she can to make it up to Jack. And Jill did not flout or ignore the relevant moral reasons. Again, she gave these moral reasons careful consideration in her deliberations. But these moral reasons were simply outweighed by the much weightier non-moral reasons that she had in the situation. So I accept your “rough idea” but I don’t see why you think that Jill must have ignored or flouted the relevant reasons.
    I also accept that the American player is soccerly (?) blameworthy for the side-tackling of the other player. I just don’t think that he is morally blameworthy if this is what he had decisive reason to do. But I would, in fact, deny that he had decisive reason to do that. That seems to me a rather juvenile way of dealing with the situation. Surely, there is some more appropriate way for the American to handle the situation.

  25. Hi Jason,
    I should have said that I deny that he even has *sufficient* reason to side-tackle the other player. Given the penalty he would likely incur and the fact that there are much less juvenile ways of dealing with the situation, it seems to me that he had decisive reason not to side-tackle the other player.

  26. Jason,
    One more thought: You write: “What Jane did was morally wrong, as we all have a prima facie moral duty to keep our promises, and she neglected this moral duty when no comparably weighty moral value was at stake.” The idea that it is impermissible to violate a prima facie duty (such as the duty to aid those in great need) unless there is some comparably weighty moral value at stake is something only an agent-neutral consequentialist would accept.
    Do you think that Jill is morally required to keep her promise to Jack even if she has the opportunity to gain $50,000 by doing something that, unfortunately, entails breaking her promise? And let’s assume that although she would personally benefit greatly from the added $50,000, she doesn’t need that money to fulfill any moral obligation. Do you think that $50,000 in personal gain is of comparable *moral* value to the keeping of a promise? I don’t think that it has any moral value, as failing to take advantage of such an opportunity absent any countervailing moral reasons would not be morally wrong, but only stupid and foolish.
    So, I think that we disagree as to whether non-moral reasons can ever prevent moral reasons from generating a moral requirement. If you’re interested, I have a paper that argues that they can: “Are Moral Reasons Morally Overriding,” which can be found here: http://www.public.asu.edu/~dportmor/papers.htm

  27. Hi Doug,
    Thanks for your responses. I see that things get considerably more complicated quite quickly. Here is how I would respond to some of the points that you raise:
    First, I only meant to suggest that the American player is *soccerly* blameworthy. He is soccerly blameworthy for tackling the guy, but he all-things-considered ought to tackle the guy. (Perhaps he also has reason to discuss the situation with the guy in a more mature way, after the game). I meant to suggest that soccer rightness / wrongness / blameworthiness is analogous to moral rightness / wrongness / blameworthiness. Both are systems of norms that sometimes (but not always) are decisive when it comes to deciding what we really (all-things-considered) ought to do. Of couse, I do not mean to suggest that these two systems of norms typically exercise comparable weight.
    Second, I would agree that, in these circumstances, Jill is neither ignoring her moral duty nor culpably ignorant of her moral duty. I originally thought that it was plausible to say that she is flouting her moral obligation, in this sense: she knows what morality generally requires, she consciously recognizes that it requires her to keep the promise in this case, but she simply sets morality aside.
    Third, a variety of ethicists have thought that:

  28. M: x is morally right =df. x is all-things-considered right.
  29. This is why some ethical egoists have insisted that their theories really are theories of morally right action – because they think the term “morality” inflexibly designates the ultimate system of norms, the system to which we really ought to pay attention, and they think egoism is the true theory, here.
    I don’t agree with M, although I can certainly understand why people hold it. Our use of moral terms is flexible, ambiguous, and imprecise, and I think that M correctly characterizes a presupposition behind part of our moral discourse. But I think it makes more sense of more of our moral talk, in the end, to see morality as simply one system of norms alongside others. (Note: I don’t think it’s trumped by prudence: I think that prudence is also one system of norms among others.)
    You write, “I don’t think [the $50,000] has any moral value, as failing to take advantage of such an opportunity absent any countervailing moral reasons would not be morally wrong, but only stupid and foolish.” My view would be that, though the $50,000 does not have any moral value, and though it would be morally wrong to break the promise, keeping the promise would be stupid and foolish. In this case, one has good reason to flout moral norms. All-things-considered, one ought to flout them.
    I suspect that our more basic disagreement is as follows: I prefer to keep my morality basically agent-neutral, and to say that a variety of egoistic concerns and special obligations to others *compete* with moral obligations. It seems that you would rather keep some of these values inside morality, and so you opt for the agent-relative view. I will definitely take a look at your paper!

  30. Hi Jason (and everyone else who rejects (2)),
    You write: “I suspect that our more basic disagreement is as follows: I prefer to keep my morality basically agent-neutral, and to say that a variety of egoistic concerns and special obligations to others *compete* with moral obligations. It seems that you would rather keep some of these values inside morality, and so you opt for the agent-relative view.” I think that’s exactly right. And I’ve tried in what appears above to give an argument for taking my position as opposed to yours.
    So I’m clear on what your position is, but I’m not so clear on where you jump ship with respect to the argument above. Initially, I thought that you rejected the idea that Jill appropriately responded to the relevant reasons. Now it seems that you agree that she appropriately responded to the relevant reasons in breaking her promise. So now I’m left wondering where you get off the boat. To say that morality is like etiquette and other systems of norms for which no analogue of MR holds is not a response to the above argument but just a statement of one’s conviction that the conclusion (MR) is false. So which premise in the above argument do you reject? I suspect that it’s (2). But in that case I want to know why you reject the argument I gave for (2). Perhaps, it would be helpful to you and to others if I laid out my argument for (2) as a list of numbered claims. Here it is, although it’s still somewhat informal.
    (11) A necessary condition for being morally responsible for one’s actions is having control over one’s actions.
    (12) One has control over one’s action only if one has the capacity to recognize the relevant reasons (moral and non-moral) and respond to them appropriately.
    (13) If one has sufficient reason to do x and does x in light of this fact, then one has responded to the relevant reasons (moral and non-moral) in an entirely appropriate manner.
    (14) It makes no sense to hold an agent responsible for doing x because she was, in the given situation, capable of appropriately responding to the relevant reasons and then blame her if she does in fact appropriately respond to the relevant reasons and thereby chooses to do x. If agents are accountable in virtue of having a certain capacity, then we can’t blame them for acting as they are led to act by exercising that capacity in a completely flawless manner.
    Therefore, (2) S would be morally blameworthy for doing x [under conditions sufficient for S’s being morally responsible for doing x] only if S did not have sufficient reason to do x.
    This sub-argument for (2) isn’t as formally and rigorously laid out as the main argument was. But I think that one can get the rough idea, and the numbering of the premises will help us in our discussion, for now you can tell me which of the above premises you find implausible and why.

  31. Hi Doug,
    I do want to reject (2), so I think I must reject (14) in the interesting argument you give as a rationale for (2). I acknowledge that it sounds kind of odd, but I want to say that Jill was appropriately responding to the reasons that were all-things-considered most important and simultaneously that we can *morally* blame her.
    The plausibility of this response probably depends upon the plausibility of an unusually thin conception of blameworthiness, where it doesn’t involve the appropriateness of guilt or remorse but simply is identical with intentional wrong-doing (given some sphere of rightness / wrongness). I haven’t done a lot of work on the concept of blameworthiness, so maybe this view is untenable.
    Perhaps you think that I am committed to the absurd idea that Jill responded appropriately to her *moral* reasons while she was still *morally blameworthy.* I guess I am committed to the idea that this can happen ––– in cases where the appropriate response to moral reasons is to set them aside. (My soccer example was supposed to be a case where a person responded appropriately to soccerly reasons by setting them aside and was still soccerly blameworthy.)

  32. Hi Jason,
    That seems to me to be a fair and honest response. Whether it’s the right response probably depends, as you suggest, on “the plausibility of an unusually thin conception of blameworthiness, where it doesn’t involve the appropriateness of guilt or remorse but simply is identical with intentional wrong-doing.” I’ve done no work on the concept, so I’m certainly not qualified to assess its tenability.
    Ultimately, I don’t think the argument that I’ve given is anywhere close to a knock-down argument. My highest hopes for it is that it provides a presumptive case for MR — or, at least, provides some reason for thinking that MR might be true. Whether MR ultimately rules the day will, I think, depend on much further philosophical work.

  33. Doug — I’ll be brief, since I’m flying out today (and won’t be taking my computer): I agree perfectly with what you’ve just said, but I don’t think it’s the same as what you said initially. Here you say that “it is morally permissible to break a relatively trivial promise if there is enough at stake in terms of the the promiser’s self-interest” and that you therefore “don’t think that Jill is morally required to keep her promise.” But the principle your post began with contained the condition “[i]f S is morally required to do x,” and the first premise in the argument you gave had as its condition “[i]f S’s doing x is morally wrong.” That’s the assumption I was working from.

  34. But actually, I see that I’ve been working more from the abstract case than from your treatment of Jill and that your possibility B does grant that the act isn’t wrong. So you’re right — I’ve been missing what you had in mind. I thought you meant something much more extreme: that a strong enough nonmoral reason could override a moral reason, in which case the act would still be wrong, though the agent wouldn’t be blameworthy for doing it. I’d agree with most of that statement too — up to the last clause. Anyway, that’s what I’ve been disputing — sorry for the confusion.

  35. Hi Pat,
    Okay, that’s right. I did start off the post with MR. But the Jill case is one in which I say explicitly that she does not have decisive reason to do x. So one should perform modus tollens on MR and conclude that Jill is *not* morally required to keep her promise. So I don’t know why you think that I’m not now saying what I originally said. I think that I’ve been consistent throughout. Admittedly, though, I should have described the Jill case more thoroughly so as to stave off potential confusion. But, hopefully, there’s no confusion now. Have a nice flight.

  36. I shouldn’t do this while scrambling to leave town. Of course you’re sympathetic to the *denial* that a nonmoral reason can be overriding (or in your terms, decisive). I’m filling in my own preference there for WMR. So in the Jill case, she has a pro tanto reason to keep her promise, but it’s not overriding — and I’d say that we still could hold that the act of promise-breaking is *wrong* (though it would be more plausible for something more serious, e.g. the case of “pulling strings” to favor your own baby), on what I take to be a version of moral rationalism, interpreting “ought” in terms of reasons. Can you accommodate that?

  37. I cannot accommodate the idea that there is an act (be it breaking a promise or pulling strings) that it is morally wrong to perform even though the agent has decisive reason to perform it. In the Jill case, my intuition is that Jill has decisive reason to break the promise and that her doing so is not wrong. In the pulling strings case, I’m inclined to say that pulling strings is wrong and that the mother has decisive reason not to do so. Admittedly, though, this is a tough case. The pulling strings case seems to me to be one where the moral and non-moral reasons for pulling strings (I assume that there is a moral reason to safeguard the life of one’s child) in combination nearly balance out the moral reasons against pulling strings. So I waffle back-n-forth as to whether I should say either (1) that it’s wrong and there’s decisive reason not to pull strings or (2) that it’s permissible and there’s sufficient reason to pull strings. But, unlike some others like Jason and perhaps Jussi, I have a hard time denying (14).

  38. Doug — I have to close down the computer now, but let me try one more way of formulating the issues I meant to be raising, in application to (14): even if reasons-responsiveness is a condition of responsible action, and one can’t be blameworthy specifically *for* a (rationally) appropriate response to reasons (i.e. an act as thus described), might one not still be blameworthy for a morally *in*appropriate response, which amounts to failing to meet a further necessary condition of *right* action?

  39. Hi Doug –
    I yield on Reno 911. (I wonder if this might be solved by tweaking what is or is not rationally permissible, but I won’t go there. I might be persuaded by a contrary intuition about 30 Rock.) In general, I think the strategy for the anti-rationalist is to divorce moral responsibility and moral blameworthiness. Insofar as one strong temptation toward anti-rationalism is a form of consequentialism, it’s not surprising that anti-rationalists will be sympathetic with this sort of a divorce. But you’re right that many will find this counter-intuitive. And it’s also surely correct that the anti-rationalist bears the burden of proof to show why, in the face of this counter-intuitivity (is that a real word? counter-intuitiveness?) anti-rationalism should be accepted. To my mind, there are successful arguments in that direction, but others likely disagree.

  40. Hi Pat,
    I can’t tell whether you’re objecting to
    (13) if one has sufficient reason to do x and does x in light of this fact, then one has responded to the relevant reasons (moral and non-moral) in an entirely appropriate manner
    or
    (14) if agents are morally responsible in virtue of having a certain capacity, then we can’t morally blame them for acting as they are led to act by exercising that capacity in a completely flawless manner.
    Are you claiming, in denial of (13), that even if one does x in light of the fact that one has sufficient reason, all things considered, to do x, one may still not have responded to the relevant reasons (moral and non-moral) in an entirely appropriate manner, for doing what there is sufficient reason, all things considered, to do may be an inappropriate (in whatever sense of ‘inappropriate’ that’s relevant to assessing moral responsibility) response to the relevant reasons?
    Or are you claiming, in denial of (14), that even if one is morally responsible in virtue of having a capacity to respond appropriately to the relevant reasons (moral and non-moral), one can still be morally blameworthy for acting as one is led to act in exercising this capacity in a completely flawless manner, for one can be morally blameworthy for acting as one is led to act in exercising the capacity for responding appropriately (where this is the capacity that’s relevant to assessing moral responsibility) in a completely flawless manner?
    You seem to be suggesting that there are different senses of appropriately responding to the relevant reasons. Perhaps, that’s right. But I’m not sure how that’s supposed to undermine the argument. I want to claim that in whatever sense of ‘appropriately responding’ that’s relevant to determining whether an agent is morally responsible for her actions, it doesn’t make sense to hold the agent morally responsible in virtue of her having the capacity to appropriately respond to the relevant reasons and then blame her for acting as she is led to act in exercising that very capacity in a completely flawless manner.

  41. Hey Doug,
    I’m late to the party, but I think I want to side with Mike on this one. (My case is ever so slightly different than his because my agent is ignorant of nothing. This might matter for claims about actions the agent had sufficient reason to perform.)
    Spike sees that Willow is being cornered by a nasty vampire and from purely malicious motives does the thing he knows that morality would permit. He dispatches with Willow’s would-be assailant in the only way he can given the circumstances (i.e., using great force and violence).
    [Spike, you might recall, was implanted with a microchip that prevented him from attacking humans by government agents. However, as he loved hurting things and nothing prevented him from attacking non-humans, he began attacking other vampires from purely malicious motives while conforming to norms that determine if intervention on another’s behalf is justified.]
    I think he’s blameworthy because he’s acted from the motive of malice. However, his action is not wrong (and I’m not assuming that vampires lack moral status, though this is a plausible assumption since they’re creatures of fiction). It seems that we can blame people for having acted from a motive in cases where the fact that they’ve acted from that motive doesn’t contribute to the wrongfulness of the relevant action.

  42. Hi Clayton,
    My response to you is the same as to Mike: The issue is not whether S is blameworthy, but rather whether S is blameworthy for performing x. In this case, ‘x’ equals ‘dispatching with Willow’s would-be assailant’, which you say is not morally wrong. Now, do you think that S is blameworthy for dispatching with Willow’s would-be assailant, or do you think that S is blameworthy for performing x with malice in his heart? That is, is S blameworthy for performing the act or for performing the act from a bad motive? Or perhaps you think that S is blameworthy for both or that we cannot blame an agent for her motive without blaming her for her action. It seems to me, however, that we can blame an agent for her motive without blaming her for having performed the act, and that S is only blameworthy for his bad motive, not for performing x. So I don’t see this as a clear counter-example to (1).
    Also, I’m inclined to think that insofar as S is blameworthy for his bad motive one of S’s acts or omissions must be wrong. Perhaps, it was wrong of him not to perform those acts that would have led him not to developed such a malicious character.

  43. Hey Doug,
    I think it causes trouble for (2):
    (2) S would be morally blameworthy for doing x under conditions sufficient for S’s being morally responsible for doing x only if S did not have sufficient reason to do x.
    Cases that are counterexamples to (1) are a bit harder to construct. I think it’s obvious that there are cases of excusable wrongdoing, but the conditions in light of which blame is inappropriate seem to be conditions that undermine the judgment that the subject is morally responsible for performing the action that has the wrong-making features.
    Concerning the example, I don’t think it would be unnatural to say that because he acted from malice, Spike was blameworthy for having dispatched with Willow’s would-be assailant. (But, to be perfectly honest, I think claims about what _precisely_ you are blameworthy for are tricky. If Spike had resisted, he still might have had the very same malice ‘in his heart’, but he wouldn’t be blameworthy. I take it that he’s blameworthy in part because he let his malice move him and his being moved just was his dispatching with Willow’s assailant. At the same time, I’m not inclined to think that there are two occasions for blame when someone acts from malice _and_ acts impermissibly and not inclined to think that ‘X-ing from malice’ is a way of picking out an action but an event that occurs when the action does. So, I confess that I’m not quite sure that it’s actions we blame people for although we might speak loosely as if we do.) I do, however, think that by the test you introduced above (i.e., What would God advise given knowledge of all the facts), this action isn’t wrongful. Moreover, Spike did have sufficient reason for performing the very action he did–but that reason was not operative.
    Anyway, I don’t think my remarks add much to Mike’s. I just wanted to note that Mike is not alone in his worry that the argument rests on dubious assumptions about the links between blame and permissibility.

  44. Hi Clayton,
    Okay. It’s (2) you’re objecting to. But why, then, do you keep talking about “dubious assumptions about the links between blame and permissibility” as opposed to about dubious assumptions about the links between blame and sufficient reason? It’s (1), not (2), that establishes a link between blame and (im)permissibility. Also, if you and Mike reject (2), I would like to hear where you two think that my argument for (2) goes wrong. Please see (11)-(14) above. Which of (11) through (14) do you reject and why? Or do you deny that (2) follows from (11)-(14)?
    Either way, though, I think that what I said constitutes a response to your putative counter-example.
    We agree that Spike is blameworthy. We agree that claims about what precisely such an agent is blameworthy for are quite tricky. We agree that Spike is blameworthy only because he had a bad motive. Given all this, I don’t understand why you are so certain that he is blameworthy for performing x and not something else. And, thus, I don’t understand why you are so certain that there is something wrong with (2). If you’re not sure what precisely Spike is blameworthy for, then why do you think that you’ve given a counter-example to (2)? It does concern me that both you and Mike share the thought that there’s something wrong with (2), but I want to hear more as to why I should think that it is x (and not, say, the motive or the acts that produced that motive) that S is blameworthy for. So it’s clear that Spike had sufficient reason to dispatch with the would-be assailant, but it’s not clear that he had sufficient reason to perform (or forebear from) whatever acts (or omissions) that led to his performing this act with a malicious motive. Presumably, if he’s morally responsible for having this bad motive, he must have had the ability to control his motives either directly or indirectly through acting in certain ways that would have ensured that he’d developed a better character. I’m inclined to think that he’s blameworthy for these acts (or omissions) and that he didn’t have sufficient reason to perform (or forbear from) these acts (or omissions). Why should I think otherwise?
    If I put myself in Spike’s shoes, what I would feel guilty about is not about the fact that I dispatched with the would-be assailant, but that I enjoyed doing so and that I felt malice when doing so. And if I was some uninvolved bystander, I would resent the fact that Spike enjoyed dispatching with the would-be assailant, not that he dispatched with the would-be assailant. This suggests to me that the object of blame is not the act of dispatching with the would-be assailant, but something else. Do you think that Spike should feel guilty (i.e., self-blame) about having dispatched with the would-be assailant?

  45. Doug,
    I confess I have not read everything above so I may be repeating thought you have already responded to.
    I think the line of thought you press is very interesting. I take it that to make your main point you don’t need to take a stand between your A and B Possibilities. Your point hinges on saying that whatever one has most (or sufficient) reason to do, one cannot be blameworthy for doing that thing (let’s just assume everyone is aware of all the reasons that there are to avoid worries about whether the blame is subjective or objective, etc.).
    The point is that if I admit that you had most reason to do what you did, then I ought not blame you for what you did. I can try saying it is moral blame (and that you did not heed the moral reasons), but if I admit that the moral reasons are not the most weighty reasons here then it does seem that I am both saying you behaved as you ought and that you did not do so. Or I am saying that the latter ought is a moral ought and so you did not have most reason to obey it, but I will blame you for failing to do so anyway. This too seems very awkward.
    So the threat I see this argument as posing is to force the anti-rationalist to either join the rationalist or to quit thinking blame is appropriate to people that behave immorally but within reason. One could, I suppose, take the heat out of the thought that one is blameworthy for acting immorally by understanding it merely to say that one violated a moral standard (as one had most reason to do). So the thought would be: the morality system did not like what you did. But that gives up the thought that I blame you, for I admit that you did not have good reason to behave as morality recommended.
    If I am on the right track (and Doug correct me if I am misunderstanding the central point), then what I see this argument as doing is upping the stakes for rejecting rationalism. The anti-rationalist must admit that blame is inappropriate to immoral behavior within reason. And perhaps this is a high price to pay. But that is what interests me. How high is this price? But if this price is acceptable, then I don’t yet see any furhter pro rationalist force to the argument.

  46. Doug,
    I confess I have not read everything above so I may be repeating thought you have already responded to.
    I think the line of thought you press is very interesting. I take it that to make your main point you don’t need to take a stand between your A and B Possibilities. Your point hinges on saying that whatever one has most (or sufficient) reason to do, one cannot be blameworthy for doing that thing (let’s just assume everyone is aware of all the reasons that there are to avoid worries about whether the blame is subjective or objective, etc.).
    The point is that if I admit that you had most reason to do what you did, then I ought not blame you for what you did. I can try saying it is moral blame (and that you did not heed the moral reasons), but if I admit that the moral reasons are not the most weighty reasons here then it does seem that I am both saying you behaved as you ought and that you did not do so. Or I am saying that the latter ought is a moral ought and so you did not have most reason to obey it, but I will blame you for failing to do so anyway. This too seems very awkward.
    So the threat I see this argument as posing is to force the anti-rationalist to either join the rationalist or to quit thinking blame is appropriate to people that behave immorally but within reason. One could, I suppose, take the heat out of the thought that one is blameworthy for acting immorally by understanding it merely to say that one violated a moral standard (as one had most reason to do). So the thought would be: the morality system did not like what you did. But that gives up the thought that I blame you, for I admit that you did not have good reason to behave as morality recommended.
    If I am on the right track (and Doug correct me if I am misunderstanding the central point), then what I see this argument as doing is upping the stakes for rejecting rationalism. The anti-rationalist must admit that blame is inappropriate to immoral behavior within reason. And perhaps this is a high price to pay. But that is what interests me. How high is this price? But if this price is acceptable, then I don’t yet see any furhter pro rationalist force to the argument.

  47. Doug,
    I confess I have not read everything above so I may be repeating thought you have already responded to.
    I think the line of thought you press is very interesting. I take it that to make your main point you don’t need to take a stand between your A and B Possibilities. Your point hinges on saying that whatever one has most (or sufficient) reason to do, one cannot be blameworthy for doing that thing (let’s just assume everyone is aware of all the reasons that there are to avoid worries about whether the blame is subjective or objective, etc.).
    The point is that if I admit that you had most reason to do what you did, then I ought not blame you for what you did. I can try saying it is moral blame (and that you did not heed the moral reasons), but if I admit that the moral reasons are not the most weighty reasons here then it does seem that I am both saying you behaved as you ought and that you did not do so. Or I am saying that the latter ought is a moral ought and so you did not have most reason to obey it, but I will blame you for failing to do so anyway. This too seems very awkward.
    So the threat I see this argument as posing is to force the anti-rationalist to either join the rationalist or to quit thinking blame is appropriate to people that behave immorally but within reason. One could, I suppose, take the heat out of the thought that one is blameworthy for acting immorally by understanding it merely to say that one violated a moral standard (as one had most reason to do). So the thought would be: the morality system did not like what you did. But that gives up the thought that I blame you, for I admit that you did not have good reason to behave as morality recommended.
    If I am on the right track (and Doug correct me if I am misunderstanding the central point), then what I see this argument as doing is upping the stakes for rejecting rationalism. The anti-rationalist must admit that blame is inappropriate to immoral behavior within reason. And perhaps this is a high price to pay. But that is what interests me. How high is this price? But if this price is acceptable, then I don’t yet see any furhter pro rationalist force to the argument.

  48. Hey Doug,
    You asked, ” why, then, do you keep talking about “dubious assumptions about the links between blame and permissibility” as opposed to about dubious assumptions about the links between blame and sufficient reason?”
    Good question. I should have been more careful. I tend to think that there’s a tight connection between permissibility/reasons and only indirect connections between permissibility and blame. I think (1) is much more plausible than (2). The cases of blameless wrongdoing aren’t obviously cases where we can say that the agent is morally responsible for the wrong since the excusing conditions or exempting conditions undermine the conditions necessary for holding the agent responsible for the relevant deed.
    Here’s my initial reaction to the argument for (2). The argument for (2) above involves this assumption:
    (14) It makes no sense to hold an agent responsible for doing x because she was, in the given situation, capable of appropriately responding to the relevant reasons and then blame her if she does in fact appropriately respond to the relevant reasons and thereby chooses to do x. If agents are accountable in virtue of having a certain capacity, then we can’t blame them for acting as they are led to act by exercising that capacity in a completely flawless manner.
    There might be a bit of unclarity to the notion of “appropriately respond to the relevant reasons”. Suppose by that you mean conforms to the relevant reasons (i.e., does what the reasons require). Then I think it does make sense to blame her even if she appropriately responds to the relevant reasons–if her response nevertheless shows her to be willing if not eager to act against the good (as in the Spike case). If, however, you say that “appropriately respond to the relevant reasons”, you mean comply (i.e., conform by acting for those very reasons out of a love for the good), then I’d agree that blame would be inappropriate.
    On that second reading, however, I’d reject:
    (12) One has control over one’s action only if one has the capacity to recognize the relevant reasons (moral and non-moral) and respond to them appropriately.
    I think having the power to conform to the relevant reasons is enough for control. (I don’t think complying with reasons is something _done_.)
    I wouldn’t deny this:
    (13) If one has sufficient reason to do x and does x in light of this fact, then one has responded to the relevant reasons (moral and non-moral) in an entirely appropriate manner.
    But, I think as stated it obscures a crucial issue. If we rewrite it as follows:
    (13′) If one has sufficient reason to do x and that is what one does, then one has responded to the relevant reasons (moral and non-moral) in an entirely appropriate manner.
    I’d say that this is true where ‘entirely appropriate’ is understood in terms of permissibility, but not where ‘entirely appropriate’ is taken to rule out blame, fault, criticism, etc…
    I don’t understand why you are so certain that he is blameworthy for performing x and not something else. And, thus, I don’t understand why you are so certain that there is something wrong with (2). If you’re not sure what precisely Spike is blameworthy for, then why do you think that you’ve given a counter-example to (2)?
    As I had hoped to stress earlier, I’m happy to talk about blaming people for what they did but I have a hard time thinking that this talk ought to be taken too literally. However, the example I’ve described and the example Mike gave strike me as examples where we’d say (speaking loosely, but naturally) that Spike was blameworthy for doing what he did although we would not say that he should have acted otherwise. Since it’s not the case that he should have acted otherwise, I can’t see how he could fail to have sufficient reason for what he did. But, one of the things I had also hoped to stress in the parenthetical comment above was that these were the remarks of someone who finds the idea of blaming someone for an action somewhat obscure if taken too literally. You might want to take the remarks with a grain of salt. I’m not convinced that (2) is false. It’s just that I’m not yet seeing that it’s true and thought I’d let you know what reservations someone might have when presented with the argument.
    Anyway, here’s the general worry about (2). For (2) to be true there would have to be cases like the Spike case where the agent is blameworthy for doing the deed and not (just) having acted from certain motives or on certain intentions. It seems that whenever someone offers such a case, however, they can offer the same sort of description of your case that you’ve offered of mine. They can say that blame is sensitive to motives, intentions, etc… and that it would be odd to blame then in addition for the action that ensued. But, if all of the relevant cases can be properly described in this way it seems that (2) would be false since the agent would not be responsible for the action but something else (i.e., having a bad character, not resisting the temptation to act from the motive of malice, etc…).

  49. Doug,
    Perhaps I am realizing that what I was trying to say is just what Dale was pressing right off the top. Think about a bogus normative system, I’ll choose ettiquette but grant me that the system is bogus. Then suppose that that normative system says that one ought not to X. Then perhaps it is trivially true that one is blameworthy from the point of view of ettiquette for X-ing. But surely no agent ought to blame anyone for X-ing just because ettiquette said they should. But I don’t think there is any contradiction in my saying what you did was blameworthy according to some normative system and yet I think you acted as you should. As I am thinking of it, you are thinking of the anti-rationalist as in their own voice morally blaming someone for the action–not merely the thought that the action is blameworthy according to a standard. I see a kind of contradition in my blaming you in my own voice for your moral violation and saying that you have most reason to do what you did. But I don’t see a contradition in my saying that morality says you acted badly and so you are blameworthy from that point of view, yet I say you acted as you should.

  50. Doug,
    Perhaps I am realizing that what I was trying to say is just what Dale was pressing right off the top. Think about a bogus normative system, I’ll choose ettiquette but grant me that the system is bogus. Then suppose that that normative system says that one ought not to X. Then perhaps it is trivially true that one is blameworthy from the point of view of ettiquette for X-ing. But surely no agent ought to blame anyone for X-ing just because ettiquette said they should. But I don’t think there is any contradiction in my saying what you did was blameworthy according to some normative system and yet I think you acted as you should. As I am thinking of it, you are thinking of the anti-rationalist as in their own voice morally blaming someone for the action–not merely the thought that the action is blameworthy according to a standard. I see a kind of contradition in my blaming you in my own voice for your moral violation and saying that you have most reason to do what you did. But I don’t see a contradition in my saying that morality says you acted badly and so you are blameworthy from that point of view, yet I say you acted as you should.

  51. Doug,
    Perhaps I am realizing that what I was trying to say is just what Dale was pressing right off the top. Think about a bogus normative system, I’ll choose ettiquette but grant me that the system is bogus. Then suppose that that normative system says that one ought not to X. Then perhaps it is trivially true that one is blameworthy from the point of view of ettiquette for X-ing. But surely no agent ought to blame anyone for X-ing just because ettiquette said they should. But I don’t think there is any contradiction in my saying what you did was blameworthy according to some normative system and yet I think you acted as you should. As I am thinking of it, you are thinking of the anti-rationalist as in their own voice morally blaming someone for the action–not merely the thought that the action is blameworthy according to a standard. I see a kind of contradition in my blaming you in my own voice for your moral violation and saying that you have most reason to do what you did. But I don’t see a contradition in my saying that morality says you acted badly and so you are blameworthy from that point of view, yet I say you acted as you should.

  52. Hi David,
    I think that, as you point out here and in your earlier post on this topic, it is awkward to blame S for doing x while admitting that x is what S had most reason to do, all things considered. And that does seem like a high price for the anti-rationalist to pay. How high? I’m not sure. Nevertheless, I didn’t mean to be merely repeating this point, which you and others (e.g., Darwall) have already made. My intent was to add to this debate by arguing that there is the following further cost associated with anti-rationalism. It seems unfair, inappropriate, and possibly even incoherent to hold that S is subject to being blamed for doing x in virtue of having a certain capacity (viz., the capacity to adequately respond to reasons) while also holding S to be blameworthy for having done x when it was S’s exercising this very capacity (and in a completely flawless manner) that led S to do x. It doesn’t seem to make sense to hold S subject to blame in virtue of S’s having a certain capacity and then blame S for acting as S is led to act in exercising this very capacity in a completely flawless manner. Yet, if my assumptions (11)-(13) are correct [Update: see my latest comment below for my most recent formulations of (11)-(14)], then it seems that the anti-rationalist must accept this implausible view, for the anti-rationalist holds that S can be blameworthy for doing what she has sufficient reason to do. Accepting this implausible view seems to me to be yet another cost that the anti-rationalist must bear.
    By the way, I don’t find the idea that there are various kinds of blame all that plausible. I think that I only have the feelings of guilt and resentment with respect to immoral actions, not with respect to acts that are rude, illegal, or anything else. I suspect that blameworthiness is uniquely tied to immoral action.

  53. Hi Clayton,
    That was extremely helpful to me. Thanks. I’m seeing things much more clearly now, or so I hope, at least. So to be a bit more rigorous, I should lay out my argument for (2) as follows (and thanks for the suggestions on how to make things more clear):
    [Update: You can skip this version and proceed to the latest version given in my latest comment below, although please do see what’s below the argument here.]
    (11) A necessary condition for being morally responsible for one’s actions is having control over one’s actions.
    (12) One has control over one’s action only if one has the capacity to recognize the relevant reasons (moral and non-moral) and respond to them appropriately.
    (13′) If one has sufficient reason to do x and that is what one does, then one has responded to the relevant reasons (moral and non-moral) in an entirely appropriate manner. This is because one has appropriately responded to the relevant reasons if one has done what the relevant reasons require. And if one has sufficient reason to do x and that is what one does, then one has done what the relevant reasons require.
    (14′) It makes no sense to hold an agent morally responsible for doing x because she was, in the given situation, capable of appropriately responding to the relevant reasons and then blame her for doing x if in doing x she has in fact appropriately responded to the relevant reasons. If agents are subject to blame in virtue of their having a certain capacity, then we can’t blame them for acting as they would be led to act if they were to exercise that capacity in a completely flawless manner.
    Therefore, we can’t blame someone for doing what she has sufficient reason to do: that is, (2) S would be morally blameworthy for doing x [under conditions sufficient for S’s being morally responsible for doing x] only if S did not have sufficient reason to do x.
    And what you would reject is (14′). You think that Spike is blameworthy for having dispatched with the would-be assailant, whereas I think that what he is blameworthy for is whatever actions (or omissions) that resulted in his lapsing into such a bad character, such that he now enjoys dispatching with people. So we disagree about which actions/omissions Spike is blameworthy for. Is this a fair assessment of our disagreement? And here I would want to rely on moral phenomenology and say that, putting myself in Spike shoes, what I would feel guilty for is having allowed myself to become someone who enjoys dispatching with people, but I would not feel guilty for having dispatched with the would-be assailant.
    Now there is one thing that I didn’t understand, and that was your last paragraph. Can’t I just give you the following case that’s not like Spike’s case at all? Suppose that Smith takes advantage of some old lady, charging her thousands of dollars more for his car than he knows that it’s worth. Assume that Smith has decisive reason not to take advantage of the old lady, as the moral reasons he has to refrain from doing so are weightier than the self-interested reasons he has to acquire the additional thousands. Assume that Smith has the capacity to recognize these relevant reasons and respond to them appropriately (that is, to do what the relevant reasons require of him). Nevertheless, he fails to appropriately respond to the relevant reasons, as he takes advantage of the old lady. So he is blameworthy for taking advantage of the old lady. Here, I want to say that he is blameworthy for this action because this was an action that he had control over and in performing this action he failed to exercise that control in an appropriate manner. In the Spike case, by contrast, Spike didn’t fail to exercise control appropriately in dispatching with the would-be assailant. He failed to exercise control appropriately only in failing to act as he needed to develop a descent character. Now Smith might also be responsible and blameworthy for certain other actions (those that led to his having a bad character — although it could be that this was just an instance of a lapse of character, a case of giving into temptation), but he is in addition responsible and blameworthy for taking advantage of the old lady.

  54. Dear David and Clayton,
    In thinking about this some more, I now think that I should formulate my argument for (2) as follows:
    (11′) A necessary condition for being morally responsible for one’s actions (and, thus, for being subject to blame) is having control over one’s actions.
    (12) One has control over one’s action only if one has the capacity to recognize the relevant reasons (moral and non-moral) and respond to them appropriately.
    (13″) If one has sufficient reason to do x, then one could easily be led to do x if one were to exercise this capacity (i.e., the one referred to in (12)) in a completely flawless manner. And let us say that one could easily be led to do x if one would be led to be ambivalent with respect to some set of act alternatives that includes x.
    (14″) If agents are subject to blame on the condition of their having a certain capacity, then we can’t blame them for acting as they could easily be led to act were they to exercise that capacity in a completely flawless manner.
    Therefore, (15) we can’t blame someone for doing what she has sufficient reason to do.
    (16) If we can’t blame S for doing what S has sufficient reason to do, then S would be morally blameworthy for doing x under conditions sufficient for S’s being morally responsible for doing x only if S did not have sufficient reason to do x.
    Therefore, (2) S would be morally blameworthy for doing x under conditions sufficient for S’s being morally responsible for doing x only if S did not have sufficient reason to do x.
    In defense of (14″), I would say that it makes sense to hold S responsible for doing x on the condition that S has a certain capacity only if S’s exercising that capacity in a completely flawless manner would lead S not to act in a blameworthy manner. But the capacity in virtue of which one can be held responsible for one’s actions is the capacity to recognize the relevant reasons (moral and non-moral) and respond to them appropriately (or so, at least, Fischer has argued), and this capacity would lead S not to act in a blameworthy manner only if one is never blameworthy for doing what one has sufficient reason to do.
    I’m about to go on a mini vacation for the next three days in celebration of our tenth wedding anniversary, and if I want there to be an eleventh anniversary, I’ll need to refrain from blogging during that time. Now I have the capacity to recognize the relevant reasons and respond appropriately to them, but let’s hope that I exercise this capacity in a completely flawless manner. If I do, you won’t hear from me for while after 7 AM PST today. Of course, all should feel free to object away. I’ll respond on late Friday or early Saturday when I return.

  55. Doug — In answer to your last post before I left: my problem with what you’re saying is that phrases like “relevant to” and “in virtue of” have a natural interpretation that’s a bit looser than the one you seem to be relying on.
    You write: I want to claim that in whatever sense of ‘appropriately responding’ that’s relevant to determining whether an agent is morally responsible for her actions, it doesn’t make sense to hold the agent morally responsible in virtue of her having the capacity to appropriately respond to the relevant reasons and then blame her for acting as she is led to act in exercising that very capacity in a completely flawless manner.
    But surely both general reasons-responsiveness and sensitivity to moral reasons are “relevant” to responsibility, though only the latter is sufficient for it. And we hold people morally responsible (partly but not solely) “in virtue of” their having the general capacity. I take the case we’re considering to be one where the *general* capacity is exercised “in a completely flawless manner” but the specifically moral capacity is not. Do you deny that that’s possible? Or do you deny that moral blame depends on exercise of the specifically moral capacity? If the two capacities are distinguished in the way I suggest, with the moral understood as presupposing the general rational capacity, then blame makes perfect sense.
    I think I disagree with both (13) and (14) in the steps you distinguish. But I don’t think distinguishing steps adds clarity, when these and other equivocal turns of phrase occur throughout.

  56. Hi Pat,
    As you suspect, I would deny that there can be cases “where the *general* capacity is exercised ‘in a completely flawless manner’ but the specifically moral capacity is not.” I think that exercising the general capacity of appropriately responding to the relevant reasons in a completely flawless manner requires being appropriately responsive (i.e., appropriately sensitive) to the relevant moral reasons.

  57. Doug — OK, but I think that what you’re saying here is essentially just that you accept moral rationalism. Of course I’d raise the same issues about your interpretation of “flawless” — just to question the argument you gave for moral rationalism at the outset, assuming it’s supposed to rest on assumptions that don’t presuppose it. I acknowledge that you can maintain the position consistently.

  58. It seems to me that one thing that is missing from this very interesting thread is any discussion of what blame is. This would provide a basis for considering what the relation is between blaming someone for an action and blaming them for an attitude, and how much difference there is between the two. It would also provide a basis for discussing the relation between blame and an agent’s reasons. On my own view, for example, in which blame is a response to what one judges to be an action that indicates attitudes which impair one’s relation with the agent, one might argue that a relationship worth having could not require an agent to do something other than what he or she has most reason to do, and hence could not be impaired by an agent’s acting on his or her conclusive reasons. I am not certain that that is correct (even on my view) and I am not trying here to push my own view. I mention it as an example of how a view about blame would undergird particular answers to the questions Doug raises. Perhaps a view of blame which understood it simply as moral evaluation, or as a kind of sanction, would support different answers, or would support them in different ways. The point is just that it would be good to ground the discussion in some account of blame.

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