Rational Capacities and the Practice of Blame: A Skeptical Argument



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This thesis investigates the relationship between our rational capacities and the norms that govern our practice of blame. The conclusion it reaches is rather shocking: it is impossible to satisfy the conditions of blameworthiness. The argument that reaches this conclusion is what I call an internal criticism. Unlike other skeptical arguments about moral responsibility, the one advanced in this thesis does not depend on any metaphysical theses external to the theory of blame.

The thesis begins by looking at a position I call rational capacity compatibilism (RCC). My interest in RCC concerns the fact that it has done more than any other theory of responsibility to set out the relationship between our rational capacities and the practice of blame. I use the most well developed RCC view?that of R. Jay Wallace?as the backdrop for the skeptical argument that follows

I next defend a recent argument advanced by Gideon Rosen according to which an agent cannot be blameworthy for a given act if akrasia does not occur somewhere in the act's etiology. This serves as the first major premise in my skeptical argument.

Next, I turn to the second major premise of my argument, which is comprised of two controversial claims. The first is that akrasia results from a failure in one's rational capacities. The second is that an agent cannot be blameworthy for committing any act that results from a failure in his or her rational capacities. Together, these two claims produce the following premise: when an agent acts akratically she cannot be blameworthy for that act.

Now, for any given act, either akrasia occurs in that act's etiology or it does not. If it does not, then the agent in question is not blameworthy (first premise); but if akrasia does occur in the act's etiology, then the agent in question is still not blameworthy (second premise). It follows that for any given act, the agent who performs that act cannot be blameworthy for so acting.

I end with a brief discussion of what I call "the moral up-shot" of my skeptical argument: what does a world without blame look like? I suggest, contra the main party line (often associated with P.F. Strawson), that blame is not a requirement for significant and meaningful interpersonal relationships, nor is it a necessary component of morality.