Where Does Blaming Come from?
5 Pages Posted: 16 Feb 2006
In an earlier essay, Cognitive Foundations of the Impulse to Blame, (68 Brook. L. Rev. 1003 (2003)), I argued that blaming comes cheaply for people since the elements of the scenarios that most easily trigger blame are commonly used in cognitive processes that have little to do with moral attribution: causation, the recognition of bad outcomes, and sensitivity to the minds of others. I relied in part on an ingenious experiment designed and run by Joshua Knobe, which demonstrates that people are highly sensitive to the differences between good and bad outcomes in their conceptualizations of the world. In his response to my essay (available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=831284), Knobe uses much of the same material, including his own experiments, to argue that I've gotten it wrong. He argues that people are primarily involved in the business of moral attribution, and the other cognitive processes are the derivative ones. In this brief reply, I agree with Knobe that my analysis does little to explain asymmetries between our blaming, on the one hand, and giving credit, on the other, even though they both engage more or less the same conceptual primitives. However, Knobe's larger point is not supported in its strong form, the result of which is that our exchange leaves interesting questions unanswered.
Keywords: blame, moral, attibution, cause
JEL Classification: K10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation