SYNTHESIS: Philosophy of blame

John Winstead

Blame is in barest and most abstract form a proposed solution to a problem. What type of problems do we usually assign blame for?

The conditions seem to be: the problem must cause harm and the problem must be believed to have been avoidable

Usually, the second condition comes in the form of a moral agent being the factor that could have avoided the problem. Though, of course, sometimes we blame objects out of a quirk of our folk psychology e.g., being frustrated with a computer.

When talking about moral responsibility, philosophers tend to focus on blameworthiness qua moral agents. It is incomprehensible to blame objects. It seems analytically false that objects are even the sort of things that can be blameworthy.

But we blame objects anyway.

It’s that quirk of our folk psychology that persists passed what is obvious, that is, what we intellectually know, and ends up reflected in our everyday actions unnoticed.

Blame is not the sort of thing that is bound to being rational. It allows for contradictions and impossibilities. I do blame my computer for not working, because it should. I’m not using a quirk of language. I hold my computer accountable and will get a new one if it keeps up.

There is nothing illogical about that.

Confronting the true nature of blame is unsettling because it gestures at the same fact most everything else in the universe gestures toward; we are not really that great.

We are illogical and irrational and so is our blame.

By attempting to clip blame of its real contradictory power, blame has been rendered sterile and dead, a mere category of reason.

But blame, before it is “blame,” is frustration and anger. These are not intellectual activities. They are much more human than that. Frustration and anger universally signify the lack of immediate power to enact one’s will. Some wills are easy to enact — that is — we have the immediate power to enact them. Fixing a computer is an example. Others are much more difficult to enact and require more power.

“How do you get more power?” is the next natural question, but then we’re not talking about blame anymore.