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Reformatory blame

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It is argued that “blame” is an ambiguous and misused term leading to ineffective, harmful consequences, such as hate, guilt, revenge (retaliation, or retribution), or punishment for its own sake. A clarification of blame is given by showing that it is an open-context, value term and, so, meaningless in itself. For intelligibility, it must be reduced to naturalistic and pragmatic terms. The definition almost universally given is based on the fallacious beliefs that (1) we can change the past, and (2) we can have done otherwise than we did. But “can” here is seen also to be used in a pseudo-scientific and subjunctive, rather than in a factual sense. It is shown that retributive blame makes no sense because, as Marcus Aurelius said, we must accept what is and we can only do what is within our power. We cannot change past behavior, but we can try to change present behavior. For effectiveness and intelligibility, we are forced to substitute rehabilitative blame for retributive blame. Thus, in the prevention and elimination of such negative emotions as guilt, inferiority, hatred, revengefulness, a thorough understanding of the term “blame” is required.

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Correspondence to Warren Shibles.

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Shibles, W. Reformatory blame. Journal of Rational-Emotive Therapy 5, 266–281 (1987). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01073817

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  • Public Health
  • Negative Emotion
  • Harmful Consequence
  • Past Behavior
  • Factual Sense