Responsibility and the shallow self
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Contemporary philosophers of moral responsibility are in widespread agreement that we can only be blamed for actions that express, reflect, or disclose something about us or the quality of our wills. In this paper I reject that thesis and argue that self disclosure is not a necessary condition on moral responsibility and blameworthiness: reactive responses ranging from aretaic appraisals all the way to outbursts of anger and resentment can be morally justified even when the blamed agent’s action expresses or discloses nothing significant about his or her “deep self,” judgments and cares, or the quality of his or her will. I argue that the self-disclosure requirement on responsibility overestimates the extent to which our blaming practices and responsibility judgments are responsive to agents as opposed to actions, and that this mistake has the potential to distort both our reactive responses and our understanding of blamed agents’ characters.
KeywordsMoral responsibility Blame Deep self Self disclosure Resentment
I have benefited from, and enjoyed, discussing this paper with Susan Wolf, Vida Yao, Thomas Hill, Douglas MacLean, and Ram Neta. I am also grateful for the feedback of an audience at the 2016 Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress, and for the helpful comments. I received there from Daniel Miller. Finally, I am thankful for the careful reading and stylistic wisdom of Pamela Reis.
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