The Puzzle of Hypocritical Self-Blame

I want to introduce what I think is a new puzzle and get your feedback. I might have an answer, but I’m curious to hear what others think first, about whether this is a (new) puzzle and about what might resolve/dissolve it.

If I blame you for a wrong I myself have also committed, I am a hypocrite. If we are married, for example, and you know I’ve just cheated on you, yet I blame you for cheating on me, you may properly say, “Who are you to blame me?” My hypocrisy undermines my standing to blame you. This doesn’t mean I lack any reason to blame you (you did cheat on me!); it just means that there are stronger reasons against it all-things-considered (what those reasons are is the subject of lots of recent writing).

Turn, then, to self-blame. If self-blame were just like or analogous with other-blame, as most responsibility theorists seem to think, then there should be the following serious puzzle arising out of its reflexivity: Given that the blamer and the blamed are one and the same person, self-blame should always ground a legitimate charge of hypocrisy. After all, if the blamer is one and the same person as the blamed, then the blamer himself is guilty of having done precisely what he is now blaming the blamed for. So every time I blame myself for hurting someone, I (the blamed) should be able to demand of myself (the blamer), “Who are you to blame me?” But this is just silly. No such questions of standing ever arise for self-blame. This seems to suggest that there’s actually a real difference between self- and other-blame.

I don’t think that this oddity has been pointed out before. It resonates, in a way, with Plato’s remark in the Republic that the notion of self-control, taken literally, is “ridiculous,” as the “stronger self that does the controlling is the same as the weaker self that gets controlled, so that only one person is referred to in all such expressions” (430e-431a). Plato’s solution was to render the phrase intelligible by distinguishing between different parts in the soul of a person, so that a self-controlled soul is one in which the naturally better part of the person (rationality) controls the naturally worse part of the person (appetite).

So too, in trying to explain away the puzzle of hypocritical self-blame, we might try to distinguish between different parts of the soul, a (naturally better?) blaming part and a (naturally worse?) blamed part. Such a division of the psyche won’t fly with most people today, of course, especially given how it seems to require tiny little blaming and blamed homunculi. Furthermore, while there is something phenomenologically plausible about there being a wrestling match between reason and desire that takes place in the face of temptation, there is no such phenomenological wrestling in self-blame. Indeed, when I blame myself for something, the thorough unity of blamer and blamed is what feels most striking.

Alternatively, then, we might appeal to Al Mele’s (1987) explanation of self-deception, a phenomenon which on its face is also paradoxical: In self-deception, I have somehow brought myself to simultaneously believe both p and not-p. Mele’s solution is that in such cases I might have caused myself to be deceived unintentionally and, further, this can be a function of motivated irrationality, a desire to believe something against evidence that I might easily have absorbed and deployed in my belief-formation were it not for the desire in question.

Nevertheless, self-blame isn’t, or isn’t necessarily, irrational, and it’s not necessarily a function of motivated reasoning. If I have deliberately hurt someone, then I do have a reason to blame myself (as does anyone). Indeed, we often talk as if self-blame is both rational and appropriate. Yet surely we don’t think the self-blamer is a hypocrite. So what gives?


30 Replies to “The Puzzle of Hypocritical Self-Blame

  1. Awesome post! Love it. Here is a first pass at a way to solve this puzzle. I don’t think it is quite right to say that if I blame you for a wrong that I have committed, I am a hypocrite. If I blame myself too, and if I think others would be right to blame me, then I am no hypocrite to blame you. I think the charge of hypocrisy gets it force from an unwillingness to endorse and comply with the norms on the basis of which we blame (that is, when the hypocrisy is about blaming). So in the case of self-blame, if it is sincere, you do so commit, and all is cool. Anyway, that’s a first reaction.

  2. Although I’ve worked on philosophy of hypocrisy, I hadn’t thought of this puzzle before; thank you for posting about it.

    My own theory of hypocrisy focuses on the agent’s current attitude dispositions towards the normative status of actions (or beliefs, etc.). On my theory, there are (at least) two ways to appear hypocritical, without actually being hypocritical, that are relevant to the puzzle you pose. First, an agent could, because of a lack of willpower, fail to live up to a standard to which they genuinely subscribe. This is a possibility in both your adulterer example and in cases of self-blame. The adulterer might genuinely hold that adultery is seriously wrong but have failed to live up to that standard. So long as the adulterer holds that their own transgressions against this norm are as bad as anyone else’s, the adulterer can blame themself and others without being a hypocrite. (Just as, for example, a smoker can genuinely believe smoking is bad, blame themselves and others for smoking, still be a smoker, and not be a hypocrite.)

    Second, an agent can have a change of attitudes over time. If a self-blamer violated norm X at a time when they thought that doing so was permissible, then came, at a later time, to believe that it was impermissible, they could blame themselves in a way that is non-hypocritical.

    Absent either of these considerations, it seems to me that self-blame just doesn’t occur. Specifically, if neither of the above exceptions are present, then we must be in a scenario in which the agent violated norm X while believing that doing so was permissible and, in the present moment, still believes it to be permissible. (It must be this way: if the agent formerly believed the action to be impermissible, then they must have been suffering from weakness of will at the time.) So we have a scenario where an agent currently believes that their violation of norm X was permissible but also blames themselves for violating norm X? …? That’s not genuine blame.

  3. Wonderful post! Can this be partly addressed by means of unstable valuations or preferences over time? In the evening, I feel tired and find myself preferring junk food over exercise, ruining my diet. The next morning, I condemn myself for having made that choice, in light of my perky morning mood and different preference rankings (I prefer both I exercise now over I eat junk food now, and I exercised last night over [counterfactually] I ate junk food last night). This wouldn’t handle akratic self-blame simultaneously with committing the blameworthy act, but that’s weird for other reasons, perhaps.

    Perhaps it’s relevant that I’m not as hungry right now as I would be if I hadn’t eaten junk food last night. My values change as a result of my sin, making the sin seem less attractive. Even more compelling might be a sex case: In the heights of sexual desire I value the sexual act over the act of restraint. After the sexual act, my sexual desire falls and now I think the act of restraint would have been the better choice — but I *only* think that because I satisfied my sexual desire earlier. In a case of this sort, something in the vicinity of hypocrisy might be occurring.

  4. As a co-editor of PEA Soup, I feel an obligation to reveal that Captain Jackass above is actually Michael McKenna’s “super”-hero alter-ego. (We don’t do anonymous or pseudonymous here, Cap’n, so I have to be the stern and joyless adult in the room, even though I don’t want to be.)

  5. Once we distinguish between blame as a judgment involving belief and affect, and blaming someone in the sense of expressing the blame publicly and holding them accountable the air of paradox, I think, disappears. It is sometimes (though by no means always) hypocritical to express blame publicly and to hold to account another when you yourself are guilty of the same fault. There seems, however, nothing inappropriate in judging someone to blame for a fault of which you yourself are guilty. Indeed, since private blame judgments are, in my view, no more under direct voluntary control than are beliefs, it seems hard to see how, if I think behaving this way is blameworthy, that I could refrain from blaming you. When I blame myself, it is usually private blame that is at issue. I am blameworthy for phi-ing and I do blame myself for it. More puzzling perhaps is public self-flagellation or penance. Dr. Johnson sat in Uttoxeter market place in public penance for the way he had treated his father, and he wanted people to know that he was blameworthy, so there was no question of merely private condemnation here. However, I don’t think this is paradoxical either. The reason I lose my standing to blame another if I am as guilty is that I thereby imply a position of superiority to the other. But that implication is cancellable in many ways. Suppose I say to you: Look I am as bad as you, if not worse, about phi-ing, but you really ought not to have done it and you should be ashamed, as indeed I am then I am not a hypocrite. Now in the case of Johnson’s penance he does not even have to say that, for by that very act he is confessing that he wronged his father; he cannot lose his standing to blame himself, and so needs to take no measures to avoid that implication.

  6. Captain McKenna: Right, the charge of hypocrisy only sticks if the blamer is unrepentant. And as Avi rightly points out, it is very difficult to imagine the psychological possibility of being unrepentant while blaming myself. So let’s say self-blamers are repentant. But now we are playing whack-a-mole, as a different puzzle arises, and self-blame becomes, I think, self-effacing. Suppose I persist in blaming you when you are fully repentant: you’ve acknowledged your wrongdoing, you’ve apologized, you are remorseful, etc. It seems my reason for blame has been removed, and that I’m just (wrongfully) beating you up at that point. Everything that blame demands has been met, so blame is unfitting (I’m putting this boldly and provocatively, but no matter). So when I have reasons for blaming you, I am, via expressing my blame to you, trying to express those reasons: You didn’t properly acknowledge me, say. For you to recognize and feel the force of those reasons is for you just to begin feeling guilt or remorse, I think. But then return to the reflexive case. In blaming myself, I’m apparently *eliminating the reasons to blame myself*, as I must have already recognized the reasons to feel guilt and remorse in recognizing the reasons for self-blame. If I nevertheless persist in blaming myself, I’m merely beating myself up (wrongfully). So self-blame is either self-effacing or immoral.

  7. Avi: I agree, mostly. I think self-blame is a very strange animal, and to understand it we have to move away from the model of other-blame. I’m interesting in reflexive cases that are basically synchronic: I harm you and immediately recognize the harm and blame myself, say. Diachronic cases (and this anticipates my response to Eric) can be effectively analogous to other-blame, but only in virtue of my having come to be analogous to another person relative to my earlier self’s shenanigans. This addresses your second sort of case (in line with what you seem to think, I believe). But I have a very hard time conceiving of psychologically possible versions of self-blame in the synchronic cases. Perhaps your weakness case is one; it’s very intriguing and you may be right. But notice that these are best described as cases in which I fail to live up to some ideal (self-set or not). Other-blame is typically for failing *others*, betraying people, and so forth, and so less about living up to standards. But at any rate, very little of what blame others for has to do with weakness of will, and yet those non-weakness cases would be the sorts of things we couldn’t seem to blame ourselves for.

  8. Eric: Yes, some diachronic cases will be handled as you suggest, but as I mentioned to Avi, I’m interested in the more synchronic cases: I immediately recognize that I did something terrible to you.

    But there’s also something really important in what you’ve said, namely, your cases of self-blame are *non-moral*. Notice that we’d never blame others for eating junk food, unless they’d promised us not to do so (or unless we’re in some very close relationship, but those are cases where there’s an implied promise, I think). This fact matters, for I can clearly get angry with myself for failing to live up to some self-set standard (athletes do this all the time). But that sort of self-directed anger, I think, *has a very different function* than it does in cases of other-blame. For one thing, it’s forward-looking, trying to rouse us to do better next time, to stick to our commitments. Other-blame is quite thoroughly backward-looking (with some exceptions, e.g., children). These are other clues that self- and other-blame are just different beasts.

  9. In April I saw Patrick Todd and Brian Rabern gave a talk on exactly this paradox at the “Who are we to blame?” workshop in Edinburgh. I think they have a paper on it but couldn’t find it

  10. Thanks, David. I’m not entirely sure I follow you. There’s no distinction between blame and blaming when it comes to the reflexive case, given full epistemic access. So to the extent that I actually blame myself (not just judge myself blameworthy), I’m blam*ing* myself, i.e., I’m expressing that blame (there’s no such thing as private blame in a case of self-blame, i.e., blame where the blamee doesn’t know about it or it’s unexpressed), and that’s the kind of case for which hypocrisy is, as you say, sometimes applicable. And I’m not sure how it wouldn’t be applicable in just such a case (unless as below).

    Dr. Johnson seemed quite the virtue signaler.

    But seriously, I think I agree that *how* one blames matters to whether it’s hypocritical. When we’re both sinners, we both need to be washed in the blood of the lamb. When I tell you that, with full knowledge of my sinnerdom as well, I’m not being a hypocrite (this was in part, I think, McKenna’s point above).

  11. Interesting post!

    ‘Paradigmatic self-blame’, I think, cannot be just like or analogous with other-blame. By “paradigmatic self-blame”, I mean guilt (the emotion) or an attitude similar to it—one that represents its target ‘de se’ (rather than ‘de re’ or ‘de dicto’), and so is immune to error through misidentification.

    I *do* think there can be cases of hypocritical self-blame, but the cases I have in mind are ones of ‘non-paradigmatic self-blame’. They involve a blamer blaming himself de re—e.g. ‘that guy in the video who is running a red light’. If I’m the blamer, and unbeknownst to me, ‘that red-light running jerk’ is me, and I am an unrepentant reckless driver (as we can suppose I am), we have a case of hypocritical self-blame. But this case relies on the self-blame in question being ‘non-paradigmatic’, and so, vulnerable to error through misidentification, unlike paradigmatic (i.e. de se) self-blame.

    I think the above points to only one of several important differences between self-blame (paradigmatically understood) and other-blame (+ ‘non-paradigmatic self-blame’) –in addition to having different types of contents (in virtue of different modes of presentation), they seem to have distinct phenomenologies, and action-tendencies– so I hope theorists of responsibility come to reject the assumption that self-blame is usefully understood on the model of other-blame. (I don’t deny though that certain features of other-blame may be explanatorily prior to certain features of (paradigmatic) self-blame.)

  12. People who blame themselves for certain behaviours, or attitudes, and who then fail to (genuinely try to) change their respective behavious or attitudes, are sometimes deemed to be hypocritical. (Is this implausible?) If so, then perhaps the self who blames is not the same as the self who is the target of the blame. The former is a successor of the latter – a different, and, hopefully, better self. This thought is in the vicinity of Chirs Bennett’s thought that when we apologise we engage in a form of dissociation, understood as act through which the wrongdoer distances themselves from their wrongdoing. (Perhaps blaming ourselves involves a similar mechanism.)

  13. David S: I had missed McKenna’s ‘first pass’. Yes, that was my point about self-blame

  14. Dave,

    You can be annoyed with Todd & Rabern if I can be annoyed with you, since I’ve been working on this ‘puzzle’ for awhile now but never got around to writing up a paper. It should get addressed in Ch 3 of my ‘book’ (in scare quotes because it doesn’t exist yet).

    Two questions. First, do you think the puzzle is more general than just being about blame? Consider how impossible it might be to make promises to myself. Suppose A promises to pick B up from the airport. B can release A from the promise (“I think it’ll be easier to grab a cab because my flight got in early…”.) If I made a promise to myself (“I’ll start getting up early to exercise”), I could easily release myself from that promise/obligation (“Don’t worry about it, Matt, you don’t have to get up”). Knowing that, however, means the mechanism of promising myself looks dubious. If I know you’re going to release me from a promise, my promise doesn’t look entirely in good faith. So much more so if I’m the both the promisor and promisee. Even more broadly, it might seem puzzling how I could be accountable to myself. We might try this with some diachronic self-stages, supposing I hold my “past self” accountable. But that also looks weird, since my past self is also right here right now doing the blaming.

    This leads into my second question, is this puzzle generally about all blame or only particular conceptions? As you know, I’m a blame monist, so the fact that I can blame myself non-morally without hypocrisy is evidence that the moral puzzle can be solved. But I can see how certain forms of moral blame, like thinking about it in terms of holding others to account, might be more conducive to the puzzle than others. I’ll just note here that I don’t find blaming others for eating junk food to be inappropriate in principle (I’m not sure the eating junk food is the right act type, but whatever). Consider also that I routinely blame athletes for their mistakes or misses even though I couldn’t do any better. One might think that’s in the neighborhood of the hypocrisy puzzle (“Who are you to blame me for missing that shot? You’d have missed, too!”)

    Finally, in shameless self-promotion, I’ll add that if the puzzle doesn’t disappear, I *think* my approach to hypocrisy has an elegant solution. Since I argue that the trouble with hypocrisy is that the blamer’s priorities are out of whack, and the charge of hypocrisy serves to reorient their attention to correcting their own behavior. These reasons wouldn’t apply in the case of self-blame, however, since to blame oneself, one is *already* focusing on one’s own wrongdoing, and we might plausibly think such focus is naturally connected toward revising one’s future action or correcting one’s own behavior. So the reason you’re not a hypocrite in the self-blame case is that you’re already looking at what you’re supposed to be looking at.

    Oof, apologies for the length…

  15. Consider these two claims:
    (1) It’s hypocritical and, thus, inappropriate for me to blame someone else for a wrong that I have often committed.
    (2) It’s neither hypocritical nor inappropriate for me to blame myself for a wrong that I have often committed.
    These two are could be in tension only if ‘blame’ is being used in the same way in both claims. But the use of the word ‘blame’ is ambiguous. Sometimes we use the term ‘blame’ to mean ‘perform an overt action that expresses a reactive attitude such as indignation or resentment’. Other times, though, we use the term ‘blame’ to mean ‘possess a reactive attitude such as guilt, indignation, or resentment’. Now, it seems most natural to understand claim 1 as using ‘blame’ to mean ‘perform an overt action that expresses a reactive attitude such as indignation or resentment’. By contrast, it seems most natural to understand claim 2 as using ‘blame’ to mean ‘possess a reactive attitude such as guilt, indignation, or resentment’. So it’s not clear that there is a puzzle here.

  16. Dan: I totally agree that self-blame is too different from other-blame for us to understand the one in terms of the other. That’s one of the upshots of this puzzle, I think. But I heartily disagree that paradigmatic self-blame is guilt (and this point goes to Doug too, as well as a ton of other theorists); rather, guilt is a *response* to blame, both self- and other-.

    Doug, perhaps “blame” is ambiguous in this way. I tend to think it’s not, as I just noted. But if it is, then there’s no hope for a unified treatment of blame (as I know you and many others want). If it isn’t, then self-blame has to have some kind of analogous content to other-blame, and the best hope is a kind of anger. If that’s how we are to construe self-blame (as analogous to other-blame in its content), then it’s hard to see why the puzzle doesn’t arise. There are, then, two ways to dodge it: (a) in “self-blame,” the term “blame” just means something totally different than it does in “other-blame,” or (b) the anger of self-blame is just of a totally different type than the anger of other-blame. I choose (b).

  17. Matt: Reflexivity is indeed a problem for a variety of attitudes and actions, but I suspect it’s for different reasons. In the self-promising case, there seems something off about it in virtue of the fact that promising seems to require the binding of two independent wills. Whereas in other reflexive cases (perhaps self-blame), the problem is that the activity is coherent only to the extent there is a lack of epistemic access to another’s attitudes (and there is no such lack in self-blame).

    As to your second question, I think this puzzle actually reveals, as I’ve suggested above, that blame isn’t monistic, sorry. Self-blame and other-blame are two very different things, with different functions and different paradigmatic emotional content.

    Third, I think your solution to hypocrisy is along the right lines, but for the very reasons you give, self-blame, if it’s supposed to be like other-blame, can’t get off the ground, as it’s really just the dawning of guilt/remorse. But to the extent we engage in self-blame all the time, it can’t be like other-blame.

  18. Thanks, Dave, that’s helpful. Could you maybe say a bit more about what you think self-blame looks like? I would’ve thought it looks a lot like other-blame; but maybe we just have different intuitions or vastly different starting points.

    I think some further characterization of self-blame would also be helpful to address a methodological point, which is that the more self-blame diverges from other-blame, the less reason we have to see self-blame as blame at all (which often strikes me as an under-addressed worry amongst pluralists about blame).

  19. Matt: Blame, first of all, is very capacious, potentially targeting a huge variety of objects in spacetime. Manuel Vargas and I have a paper coming out that argues that, if anything unifies blame, it is its function, not any particular content. Nevertheless, many people do agree that there is a kind of paradigmatic emotional core to blame. If so, it’s anger. To the extent that self- and other-blame are both types of blame, they are both types of anger: but they are different types. I’m hesitant to lay all of my cards out on this public table just yet, but the oblique story is that I think the anger of other-blame involves a certain kind of backward-looking confrontational anger, whereas the anger of self-blame involves a kind of forward-looking motivational kind of anger, studied by psychologists under the name “self-talk.” I thus think the reason the puzzle of hypocrisy doesn’t arise for self-blame is that “self-talk” doesn’t have anything to do with a difference in normative status or the blamer’s priorities being out of whack or anything like that. But that’s about all I’m willing to say (publicly) at this point. Those interested in a draft of what I’ve written up on this topic can feel free to email me.

  20. I’m wandering in late to the discussion, but I’m curious, David, about what you said upthread, in your response to Captain McKenna, re: the puzzle of self-effacement.

    Quoting, to spare you the scrolling:

    “Suppose I persist in blaming you when you are fully repentant: you’ve acknowledged your wrongdoing, you’ve apologized, you are remorseful, etc. It seems my reason for blame has been removed, and that I’m just (wrongfully) beating you up at that point. Everything that blame demands has been met, so blame is unfitting…. So when I have reasons for blaming you, I am, via expressing my blame to you, trying to express those reasons: You didn’t properly acknowledge me, say. For you to recognize and feel the force of those reasons is for you just to begin feeling guilt or remorse, I think. But then return to the reflexive case. In blaming myself, I’m apparently *eliminating the reasons to blame myself*, as I must have already recognized the reasons to feel guilt and remorse in recognizing the reasons for self-blame. If I nevertheless persist in blaming myself, I’m merely beating myself up (wrongfully).”

    I’m wondering whether the 2nd half of the paragraph is right. In other-blame, the wrongdoer feeling remorse is part of how she removes the reason for blaming her. But it’s only one part. Apologizing, making amends, etc., are other parts. So, if you’ve wronged someone else, wouldn’t you have reason to feel remorse at least until you’ve apologized, made amends, secured forgiveness, etc.? More tentatively, depending on the wrong, mightn’t a certain degree or duration of remorse be warranted?

    (I can see how self-blame for actions that only affect oneself is a different beast, but….)

  21. Dave: I don’t think that anyone thinks that we can give an account that unifies every ordinary use of the word ‘blame’. After all, the word ‘blame’ is clearly ambiguous. For it is at least ambiguous between a use that’s essentially tied only to causal responsibility and a use that’s also or instead tied to moral responsibility. So, I think that, at most, people like myself want to give a unified account of a certain disambiguation of the word ‘blame’ — the one that is central to our holding ourselves and each other accountable. And it seems that the sense that’s tied to the *possession* of certain reactive attitudes is more central than the sense that’s tied to the *overt expression* of those attitudes. So, I’m not worried that if ‘blame’ is ambiguous in the way that I suggest above, then there can be no hope for a unified treatment of the sense of blame that is central to our holding ourselves and each other accountable.

  22. Kerah: Thanks for the question. There’s a THEORY lurking behind those words. I think what my angry other-blame demands of you (an offender) is acknowledgment of how you made me feel from my perspective. You hurt me. So in coming to empathically acknowledge me, you feel unpleasantly in thinking over and over about the loss in value you caused me. That’s just remorse. We take apologies and compensation to be sincere only to the extent that they express remorse. If not, they don’t count to mollify blame in the least.

    In the self-blame case, then, I’d have to be demanding acknowledgment from myself for reasons pointing to my lack of acknowledgment of someone which I already empathically recognize as such. That’s just the dawn of remorse. So self-blame of that sort is self-effacing.

  23. Doug, I don’t agree with this: “And it seems that the sense that’s tied to the *possession* of certain reactive attitudes is more central than the sense that’s tied to the *overt expression* of those attitudes.” Indeed, if we’re in the zone of *holding* accountable, why wouldn’t it be the opposite? Holding more centrally involves expressing, I would have thought. Regardless, though, I think the puzzle of hypocrisy can be generated *even if* we’re talking about the mere possession of reactive attitudes: I’m hypocritical for simply being angry at my wife for cheating on me if I’m a serial cheater.

    And let me be the first to wish you a happy birthday.

  24. Sorry for the following late intrusion. I’m a total newcomer to this blog. But I’m writing my PhD on the wrong of hypocrisy, so will offer a comment in a rush of excitement! It’s great to find a healthy debate on a topic that remains fairly underdeveloped. I think Captain McKenna’s and Matt King’s comments are along the right lines, and have a couple of thoughts to support that diagnosis.

    Many of the suggestions so far focus on what the best account of *blame*. However, I think we can better understand the problem of standing to self-blame by trying to figure out the best account of *standing*: What grounds standing in general, or the lack of it, and what are the normative implications of deficient standing?

    My first thought is about what exactly we lack standing to do. In hypocrisy cases, we often say, ‘So-and-so lacks standing to *blame*’. But I take it many of us really mean something more specific: something more like, ‘So-and-so lacks standing to blame… *and* fail to acknowledge her similar culpability’. Hence why, where we do acknowledge, we considerably restore our standing, and avoid hypocrisy, or at least avoid morally problematic hypocrisy. This view of what the hypocritical blamer lacks standing to do explains why she does not lack standing to self-blame. She doesn’t have the option that she would lack standing to choose – i.e. the option to blame-and-fail-to-acknowledge.

    Some disagree; some think that no amount of acknowledgment avoids hypocrisy, or restores standing. Call this view Harsh. I think Harsh is unattractive, partly for the following reason: Often, the *morally best* thing for a similarly culpable blamer to do is to blame-and-acknowledge. Harsh implies, strangely, that we will always lack standing to do what is often the morally best thing to do.

    My second response to the puzzle is that standing norms in general seem to be other-regarding, or interpersonal; and this is why they don’t apply straightforwardly to self-blame cases. We can see this by looking beyond hypocrisy to other contexts where the blamer seems to lack standing. For example, many judge that I have diminished standing to blame someone for cheating on their partner when I am a total stranger to that person and her partner. That idea doesn’t quite extend to self-blame – I am not normally estranged from myself in the relevant sense.

    Alternatively, suppose I blame you when responsible for token-identical wrongdoing. I entrap you into culpably committing the wrong, for example; or we commit the wrong together. In these cases, my standing to blame(-and-fail-to-acknowledge) seems more seriously undermined than in mere hypocrisy cases. But clearly, these distinctions in standing can’t extend to self-blame. I suspect that the reason why the extension to self-blame seems strained is that standing-relevant factors – entrapment, complicity, our relationships with others, victimhood, etc. – make a moral difference to the blame that is best explained by interpersonal considerations. Same goes for hypocrisy.

    Anyway, thank you, David, for this puzzle! It has already been really instructive for me to think about, as you can see.

  25. Thanks Dave, that’s helpful. I can see how the puzzle might get generated if we accept that guilt is something distinct from, and posterior to, paradigmatic self-blame. But this strikes me as counterintuitive. I’m thinking of guilt as characterized by the pained (though not necessarily endorsed) acknowledgment of what I did; my having this painful attitude seems not to depend, logically or psychologically, on having first been blamed, by anyone.

    To help see how you’re thinking about this: do you also think that pride (for one’s praiseworthy action) is a response to a distinct (somehow prior) attitude of self-praise (self-crediting)?

  26. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Kartik. I agree that acknowledgment is the key to rendering angry blame unfitting (or inappropriate in some other, less rationalistic way, like failing to let it go makes the blamer a mere asshole). This is why, as I remarked quickly above somewhere, that were self-blame truly like other-blame in this respect, it would be self-effacing, as the reasons for blaming oneself *are just* the reasons for acknowledging one’s having wronged another. Your point about the norms for other-blame are well-taken as well.

  27. Dan: In saying that guilt is a response to blame, I’m not at all suggesting that guilt is *only* a response to blame. I can surely feel apt guilt without anyone (including myself) having blamed me first, e.g., when I simply come to recognize that what I did was a slight of someone. So the same would go for pride: it’s distinct from, and *sometimes* caused by, praise (including of the self-praise variety), but need not be. Sorry I wasn’t clearer about this before.

  28. Could there just be an empirical and/or epistemic issue here? I can blame myself despite being reformed enough to recognize that my behavior was blameworthy because my blame hasn’t “caught up” to my recognition. That’s just how blame works, in the form of emotions like guilt. But perhaps there SHOULD be some overlap of blame and recognition, too, in order to provide sufficient evidence that the repudiation of the action and the quality of will behind is wholehearted.

    Also, you suggest that the silliness of responding to self-blame with “Who are YOU to blame?!” suggests a problem for the coherence of self-blame. But why not just say it suggests a problem for standing-based objections? Everyone always has full standing to blame anyone who acts wrongly. There might be pragmatic considerations about when to express that blame that result from you being equally blameworthy, but that’s purely a matter of being an effective blamer, not a matter of standing.

    A: “Who are YOU to blame me?!”
    B: “I’m a moral agent recognizing your wrongdoing.”

    A: “Who are YOU to blame?!”
    A: “I’m your conscience and a moral agent recognizing your wrongdoing. (Also stop talking to me and go back to just non-reflectively feeling my commands in the form of guilt and acting accordingly.)”

  29. Thanks David! I agree that where the blamee acknowledges her own blameworthiness, blame (I’d say angry or otherwise) is in some sense deficient. But I don’t think it follows that there are no moral reasons to blame, or to self-blame. E.g. though it’s true that in the act self-blaming, we must at least partially recognise our wrongs, we might still need to give ourselves a ‘kick up the ass’ occasionally to help ensure that we sustain the right corrective responses in future. Recognising the moral implications of what we’ve done is one thing; incentivising ourselves to sustain the right responses another. The latter may involve unpleasantries, but those may sometimes be outweighed by the need to comply with our corrective duties. (Of course, the less we need reminding, the more these harms become gratuitous; but where that’s true, it seems unproblematic to me that self-blame would be inapt.)

    To maintain an important difference between self- and other-blame, though, I don’t think we must deny the above. All we need to say (as you do) is this: Where it responds to moral reasons, self-blame guarantees the blamee’s acknowledgement, whereas other-blame does not. That seems right, and holds independently of whether self-blame is self-effacing or immoral.

    I saw you agreed that the blam*er*’s acknowledgment of similar culpability helps restore standing. However, there might be a difference between how we understand this idea. A lack of standing, you suggested, normally implies:
    a. Overall, I shouldn’t blame.
    My thought is that we lack standing to choose to the option to [blame and fail to acknowledge]. That suggests an alternative conclusion:
    b. Overall, I shouldn’t [blame and fail to acknowledge].
    This view allows that I should blame, but that I should also acknowledge. I think we should allow for that.

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