SOPhiA 2017

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Scanlon on Blame and the Moral Relationship
(Ethics, English)

Moral wrongs are blameworthy. According to Contractualists, an action is morally wrong just in case it is disallowed by principles that no one could reasonably reject. But, unlike proponents of other moral views, Contractualists cannot explain why moral wrongs are blameworthy by claiming that they are "bad" or "irrational" in any teleological sense. It may be best for everyone, or rational for oneself, to do what some other person could reasonably object to. Contractualists must provide some other explanation.
In recent work, T.M. Scanlon has argued that an action is blameworthy just in case it impairs a relationship with another person. Call this the blameworthiness thesis (BT). To explain the nature of moral blameworthiness, Scanlon further proposes that there is a distinctively moral relationship that we share with all rational agents. Call this the moral relationship thesis (MRT). According to Scanlon, BT and MRT together explain why moral wrongdoings are subject to blame, dissent, and objection.
However, given BT, for any person to be blameworthy for a moral wrongdoing, he must have some relation with the injured party. Given the plausible claim that anyone can be blameworthy for committing a moral wrongdoing against anyone, Scanlon must explain how any two persons are party to a moral relationship. To do so, he rejects the view that a relationship is necessarily constituted by the attitudes of those who are party to it. Call this the attitudinal constraint (AC).
Rejecting AC presents Scanlon's view with a number of problems. First, it seems to conflate the notion of an interpersonal relation with that of an interpersonal relationship. Second, it seems to locate the justification for our practices of moral blame in moral principles rather than facts about substantive relationships. Third, there is no obvious reason to reject AC, other than the fact that doing so is required for Scanlon's view to give the right predictions.
I argue that Scanlon's view can avoid these problems by accepting AC. It can do so by appealing to a modified version of BT. On this view, A's action is blameworthy just in case it impairs a possible relationship with some other person B that there is sufficient reason for A and B to have. Call this the modified blameworthiness thesis (MBT). I argue that MBT gives more accurate predictions about which actions are blameworthy, and is easily accommodated by Scanlon's own account of impairment.
Since we ought to accept MBT, there is no reason to reject AC. If blameworthines does not depend on the impairment of a relationship one actually has, the fact that one does not have the attitudes that constitute it does not imply that one is not blameworthy. This gives proponents of Scanlon's view the resources to develop a much more plausible account of MRT. To do so, they need to explain which attitudes might constitute the moral relationship. I conclude by suggesting what I consider a particularly interesting option.

Chair: Jonas Blatter
Time: 10:35-11:05, 15 September 2017 (Friday)
Location: SR 1.007

Alexander Heape 
(University of Oxford, UK)

Alexander Heape is doctoral student in philosophy at the University of Oxford. He works on trust and its relation to topics in moral theory, practical reasoning, and blame.

Testability and Meaning deco