On Blame and Punishment: Self-Blame, Other-Blame, and Normative Negligence

Law and Philosophy: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10982-021-09436-4

28 Pages Posted: 15 Oct 2020 Last revised: 18 Jan 2022

See all articles by Alec D. Walen

Alec D. Walen

Rutgers School of Law; Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - Department of Philosophy

Date Written: January 15, 2022

Abstract

Punishment should, at least normally, be reserved for blameworthy actions. But to make sense of that claim, we need an account of blame and of why it might license or even call for punishment. Doug Husak, in whose honor this paper is written, rejects quality of will theories of blame as relevant to criminal punishment – what I call ‘criminal blame’. He offers instead a reason-responsive account of blameworthiness, according to which blame applies to wrongful actions chosen by agents who knew that what they were doing was or was likely to be wrong (they saw the reasons not to do it), and who nonetheless acted wrongly because of weakness of will. I agree with Husak about quality of will theories, but I argue that weakness of the will is often exculpating, and that when it is not it is because of normative negligence with regard to the reasons to steel one’s will. Thus, I argue his reason responsive account fails too. I offer instead an account of blame the key idea of which is that criminal blame is normatively appropriate as a way of communicating the importance of self-blame. Self-blame properly responds to normative negligence. Moreover, it comes with the emotion of guilt in which an agent experiences a kind of suffering for her unexcused wrongdoing. Punish- ment, based on criminal blame, reinforces the importance of guilt for maintaining a community of mutual respect.

Keywords: Blame, punishment, character, guilt, Husak, akrasia, negligence, retributivism

Suggested Citation

Walen, Alec D. and Walen, Alec D., On Blame and Punishment: Self-Blame, Other-Blame, and Normative Negligence (January 15, 2022). Law and Philosophy: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10982-021-09436-4, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3681644 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3681644

Alec D. Walen (Contact Author)

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Rutgers School of Law ( email )

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