Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 9, Issue 5, pp 563–576 | Cite as

Blaming Agents in Moral Dilemmas

  • Byron Williston


Some philosophers – notably Bernard Williams, Martha Nussbaum and Ruth Barcan Marcus – argue that agents in moral dilemmas are blameworthy whatever they do. I begin by uncovering the connection these philosophers are presupposing between the agent’s judgement of wrongdoing and her tendency to self-blame. Next, I argue that while dilemmatic choosers cannot help but see themselves as wrongdoers, they both can and should divorce this judgement from an ascription of self-blame. As I argue, dilemmatic choosers are morally sui generis in that their actions result in a diminishment of their personal integrity with no corresponding failure of character. It is this that makes them non-blameworthy wrongdoers. This way of seeing the problem should provide dilemmatic choosers with a novel conception of their own moral psychology, one that allows them to view their actions in a manner that is given neither to moral insensitivity nor to pathological self-accusation.

Key words

blame character integrity moral dilemmas wrongdoing 



In preparing this manuscript, I have benefited enormously from the comments of an anonymous reviewer at ETMP. Thanks for helpful comments are also due to Rocky Jacobsen, Gerald Callaghan, Tom Vinci, Peter Loptson and Sylvia Burrow.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wilfrid Laurier UniversityWaterlooCanada

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