Defending a Functionalist Approach to Blame

In this paper I argue that the nature of blame ought to be identified with its function rather than a mental state.  Any adequate account of blame must meet two desiderata.  First, it must be consistent with blame’s intension.  The intension of C consists in those judgments and inferences that competent speakers are disposed to make regarding C that would indicate a mastery of the term C.  I call this the intensional desideratum.  Second, the account must apply to the set of instances of C.  I call this the extensional desideratum.  I argue that non-functionalist accounts of blame fail to adequately meet one or both of these constraints.  I then argue that a functionalist approach adequately meets these constraints.  It follows that we ought to explain the nature of blame in terms of its function rather than its associative mental states.

A Defense of Formal Contractualism

In this paper I argue in favor of formal contractualism (Darwall) over substantive contractualism (Scanlon).  The latter grants that all persons share equal moral dignity and attempts to ground a contractualist moral principle on this fact.  Rather than taking this fact for granted, formal contractualism attempts to establish equal moral dignity through argument.  I argue in favor of formal contractualism by (1) demonstrating how it offers a better explanation of the contractualist principle’s normative force by giving a more satisfactory answer to the moral skeptic and (2) defending it against a number of objections made by substantive contractualists.  In the course of undertaking (1) I also offer a unique explanation of contractualism’s moral normativity by appealing to a metaethical framework developed by Ruth Chang.

Moral Criticism and the Right Kind of Reasons

The reason why a person performed an action is an important consideration for moral judgment.  If a person accidentally harms another, but had benevolent intentions, we often do not blame him. Many believe that the rightness of an action depends on the reason why the person performed it.  Additionally, evaluating a person’s character often involves identifying the reason why she performed or tends to perform morally relevant actions.  For example, if someone tends to do good only for self-interested reasons, this speaks poorly of his or her character.  These considerations suggest that whether or not a person acted on the right kind of reason plays an important role in our moral evaluations.  But how do we determine what the right kind of reason is in a morally relevant case?  I’ll call this the right kind of reasons (RKR) problem.  I first argue that theories of what makes an action right are unhelpful for resolving this problem.  I then argue that we ought to identify the right kind of reason by attending to moral criticism.  Part of the point of criticizing an action is to identify a practical reason that an agent flouted.  The practice of criticism, then, tracks the reason agents should have observed.  This suggests that criticism tracks the right kind of reasons. An account of moral criticism, then, may reveal a way of identifying the right kind of reasons for morally relevant actions. I suggest that the right kind of reason for moral action in any case is the reason targeted by moral criticism.

A Formal Grounding of Moral Dignity

This project attempts to provide an argument for universal moral dignity. I suggest that we ought to understand moral dignity as an authority to issue demands for recognition. I establish that all persons share this authority – and so moral dignity – by showing that universal dignity is a condition for the possibility of the practice of blaming. There are two major steps in my argument. The first is to establish that blaming is a kind of practice that functions to communicate certain demands and appraisals through negative reactive-attitudes. Since blaming has a communicative function, it is appropriate to examine it under the lens of speech-act theory. In the second step, I sketch out a framework for understanding the normative function of speech-acts. I then use this framework to show that equal authority to issue demands for recognition is a precondition for the practice of blaming. Assuming that this practice is justified, this establishes that all persons share moral dignity in their capacity as communicative moral agents.