Philosophy and Public Affairs (Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements)

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Thanks to an anonymous referee for raising this worry. It is important for our purposes that the variation in values justified by partiality is variation in fundamental or noninstrumental values; for if we hold fixed both the noninstrumental values and the information, we cannot get a different verdict. Construing the variation justified by partiality as variation in noninstrumental values is not forced on us.

But, while possible, this does not seem the most natural description of what happens. We need not deny that there is such a change in instrumental reasons, only that this is all that happens when our couple adopts Alfred.

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The more intuitive construal of the case holds that, once our couple adopts Alfred, his welfare rightly becomes noninstrumentally valuable to them, so that they should promote it for its own sake and not just because promoting it allows them to promote the welfare of their children, whoever they might be.

On the more natural construal, then, the change in values justified by partiality is exactly as we need it to be. Changes in values justified by partiality thus allow for the possibility that an action that is assessed negatively in light of the values that have a claim on the agent at the time of action later receives restricted retrospective endorsement. This seems to be exactly what happens in cases like Gauguin and Adoption. And this construal of the cases fits well with Harman's and Wallace's claim that the possibility of retrospective endorsement makes no difference to the action's status as right or wrong.

For, in assessing an action as right or wrong, we look not at how it fares relative to the partial values that have a grip on us , but at how it fares relative to the partial values that have a grip on the agent ; hence why I can recognize that you owe much to your children that I do not. By extension, what matters to whether the action is right or wrong is only which partial values have a grip on the agent at the time of action. However, whether an action was right or wrong is not the only thing we care about when doing ethics.

We might also wonder whether the agent should feel guilt or remorse about the action; and we might wonder whether we would be right to blame him for it. It is here, I claim, that restricted retrospective endorsement starts to matter: when it is available, blame and remorse would be inappropriate. This captures something intuitive about the cases. But, more importantly, it receives independent support from reflection on how partiality and blame interact in somewhat simpler cases, in which agent and evaluator are different people—or so I will argue.


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I claim that, while restricted 16 16 Since unrestricted retrospective endorsement will play no further role, I will henceforth omit this qualification. In this section, I will argue for the second part of the claim: that retrospective endorsement makes it inappropriate to feel remorse for the action; in the next section, I will show how to go from there to the claim that blame by other people would also be inappropriate.

I should note a reservation I have about presenting what I have to offer as an argument. Arguments are most obviously useful if their premises are, at least initially, more attractive than their conclusion—but I am not sure that this will be true of the argument I will present, even once I am done motivating the premises. In part, this is because I find the conclusion quite intuitive. But, while intuitive, I think the conclusion is also highly puzzling: it is hard to see how something like this could be true.

A different way of thinking of my argument is thus as offering something like an explanation of the conclusion, of showing how the conclusion can be integrated with more general principles that are at least somewhat attractive. With this reservation noted, here is the argument: 1 If X performs an action that receives a positive evaluation when assessed using Y's partial values and X's information at the time of action, then Y cannot appropriately blame X.

C So, if X can retrospectively endorse an action, X cannot appropriately blame himself for that action; in other words, X cannot appropriately feel remorse for that action. Premise 2 is motivated by an analogy between how I engage with my past self and how I engage with others, an analogy we appealed to above to support the thought that retrospective endorsement cannot affect whether an action was right or wrong.

This analogy is not so strong that 2 could not possibly be rejected; but it is strong enough to justify not saying more to defend it. The weight of the argument thus rests primarily on 1. I will defend this premise in three parts. Third, I will argue that this principle harmonizes well with attractive claims about the nature of blame.

A tempting thought is that, for blame to be appropriate, it is sufficient that the action was wrong—at least if the agent also has no excuse, and the person blaming knows about both the wrongness and the lack of excuse. If this were true, 1 would be implausible.

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But, tempting though it is, it is not true. If I wrong you without excuse, but later make amends and receive your appropriate forgiveness, it becomes inappropriate for you or others to continue blaming me for what I did. If I do wrong, but you are complicit in my action or currently engaged in similar behavior, you cannot take me to task for what I'm doing.

In these kinds of cases, the potential blamer knows that my action was wrong and that I have no excuse, but is nonetheless in no position to blame.

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Since there are cases of this kind, we cannot just dismiss the possibility that the cases described in 1 are among them. In showing that 1 is not absurd, these cases also reveal something worth stating explicitly: that to blame someone is not simply to believe that what she did was wrong or blameworthy. What more is required? Some say blame requires an emotion e. Scanlon , ed. Wallace, R.

Kumar, and S. For the second and third, see, respectively, G.

source link It may be wrong of me to blame my psychologically fragile friend for a relatively minor wrong, if I know that this will cause him to relapse into serious mental illness; but such blame need not be misplaced in the way in which it seems to be in the cases described above. The blame can be inappropriate in the relevant sense, even though the agent and action at which it aims are fully blameworthy. What I need to do next, then, is to provide some positive reasons to take that claim seriously. I will begin by telling yet another story. Islands : A loose acquaintance of yours, call him Omar, finds himself in a familiar philosopher's scenario.

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While spending his Sunday afternoon sailing around in his small boat, he receives the information that he can rescue either one child by taking his boat to the eastern island, or three other children by taking his boat to the western island; anyone on the island he doesn't immediately go to is sure to die. Omar is told who the children on the islands are.

The children on the western island are strangers to him; the child on the eastern island is your daughter. While Omar can just about picture her, he does not bear any special relationship to her or to you.

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So while you would obviously head east if it were you in the boat, and would be fully justified in doing so, Omar can give no adequate reason to do the same: he is required to go west, where he can save the greater number. If you do not share it, feel free to change the example appropriately: the important feature is that Omar is required to head west, whereas you would be required to head east if it were you in the boat. Knowing all this, you are waiting helplessly on the mainland, and have almost given up hope.

But you are in luck. As Omar thinks about the suffering of all the children, your daughter's suffering the only suffering to which he can put a face strikes him with more force, vividness, and detail than that of the other three. He thus abandons the greater number and heads east to save her.

As he pulls into the harbor and hands her over into your safe arms, you are, quite naturally, overwhelmed with gratitude. What Omar does in the story is wrong: he has no adequate reason for saving this one child when doing so requires that he let three others die. Moreover, Omar has no excuse for acting as he did: he was in full control of his decision his urge to save your daughter was not completely overwhelming!

Still, it seems to me that it would be very strange for you to blame him for doing what he did. After all, had you been in that situation you would have been moved by exactly the same considerations to do exactly the same thing. And you would have been right to do it. How then could you, of all people, blame him for what he did? If anything, you should be grateful that he sacrificed his moral obligations for your daughter's sake.

The state that is appropriate for you to be in is, admittedly, an odd one. You can judge that Omar did wrong. You can judge that he is blameworthy: when the parent of one of the other children, a neutral onlooker, or Omar himself, takes Omar to task for his behavior, you would not object that their reactions are unjustified.

But you cannot reasonably join them in blaming Omar: doing so is not your place. This is an odd situation. But, in a sense, it is nothing new: it is exactly the same combination of judgments that are called for when reacting to a wrong and unexcused action that you lack standing to blame, for instance, because you are guilty of similar wrongs. Islands thus shows that the partial values of the potential blamer can matter to whether the blame is appropriate. Moreover, a simple variant of Islands shows that, nonetheless, the information of the agent needs to be held fixed.

For imagine instead that, while Omar is told that he can reach either island if he heads there immediately, you know all along that the eastern island the one with your daughter on it is too far. It seems clear that, if you cannot blame Omar for saving your daughter in Islands , you cannot blame him for trying to save her in this variant either.

This suggests that what makes the blame inappropriate is not that you are, overall, happy about his decision, but rather that his action receives a positive evaluation from the combination of your values and his information. In other words, it suggests that 1 really is the lesson to draw from the example.

Perhaps this is essential to the intuition though I am inclined to think that, once we distinguish blame for an action and blame for a motive, it is not ; if so, the case really supports a more restricted version of 1 , which would, however, do just as well for my purposes. Of course, Islands is just an example—and an odd one at that. So it is worth emphasizing that the verdict in Islands , and 1 more generally, also meshes with theoretically attractive claims about blame. More generally, it seems that if your partial values support some action, it would be odd for you to desire that the agent have opted for a different one.

Unless, of course, you have additional knowledge about the consequences; but such knowledge needs, at any rate, to be screened off, if Sher's suggestion is to be compatible with the obvious appropriateness of blame in cases like Gauguin the Gambler. So Sher's view supports 1 quite generally. It is also natural to think that blame involves an element of protest. Coates and N. Togazzini Oxford: Oxford University Press, But it would clearly be inappropriate for you to protest Omar's saving of your daughter. More generally, if some action is supported by your partial values, and is the thing you would rightly do in those circumstances and given the same information, then it seems odd of you to protest it.

So the protest element also supports 1 quite generally. Finally, it is plausible that A can appropriately blame B for an action only if A's demand that B not perform that action would also have been appropriate. Or rather, since we need to control for the fact that A's demand might pass on additional information, A can appropriately blame B only if A could, knowing all and only what B knew at the time, have demanded that B not perform the action. Yet, again, there seems something deeply suspect with your demand that Omar leave your daughter to die and save the three other children instead.

More generally, if some action is supported by your partial values, if it is the thing that you would want the agent to do if you knew only what he or she knows, it would surely be unreasonable for you to demand that the agent not do that thing.

So the connection to demands also supports 1 quite generally. These theoretical considerations provide further evidence for my judgments about Islands and for 1 —but because they at best pass on the explanatory buck, they do little to explain why 1 is true. This is not a gap I can fill. But my sense is that 1 is true because to blame in a situation of this kind requires stepping away from one's partial values in a way that we regard as inappropriate.

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