The Path of Motivated Blame and the Complexities of Intent

Psychological Inquiry, Forthcoming

Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 14-14

26 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2014

Date Written: April 21, 2014


Much headway has been made in recent years on topics in moral psychology, including: the foundations of virtuous and evil behavior, the source of moral rules and standards, the mechanisms by which conscience operates, the nature of psychopathology, the extent to which and circumstances under which moral judgments are intuitive as opposed to a product of careful reasoning, and the nature of strong moral convictions and moral disagreement.

One topic that has been recently receiving more systematic attention is the psychology of blame. In their recent paper, Malle, Gugliemo & Monroe (2014) provide a comprehensive model of blame and a wide ranging discussion of evidence supporting the model. The model provides a powerful account of moral judgment of blame, but it also has some limitations and areas where clarification is needed. First, the model goes too far in its effort to minimize or even banish the role of motivation in blame judgments. It would be surprising indeed if blame was immune from being part of the wide ranging domain of motivated cognition. Second, even relatively simple instances of blame often necessitate breaking down an event into several acts and outcomes, and identifying different mental states with respect to those events and outcomes that occur within the mind of a single actor. This more fine grained analysis is necessary to illustrate how the Path Model of Blame operates according to its own terms, and also to reveal how the model needs to be extended and enriched to account for many everyday morally-charged acts.

Keywords: psychology, criminal law, blame, motivated cognition

JEL Classification: K10, K19

Suggested Citation

Nadler, Janice, The Path of Motivated Blame and the Complexities of Intent (April 21, 2014). Psychological Inquiry, Forthcoming, Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 14-14, Available at SSRN:

Janice Nadler (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - School of Law

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-3228 (Phone)
312-503-2035 (Fax)

American Bar Foundation ( email )

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611

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