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GRP Biennial Spring Workshop 2016

Gothenburg, May 5-6 2016

Venue: Room T302, Olof Wijksgatan 6

Open for outside participants; contact Per-Erik Milam if you are interested.


Macalester Bell (Bryn Mawr College)

Christopher Franklin (Grove City College)

Neal Tognazzini (Western Washington University)

Ben Vilhauer (City College of New York)

Sofia Jeppsson (University of Gothenburg)

Ben Matheson (University of Gothenburg)

Per-Erik Milam (University of Gothenburg)


Thursday 5th May

10.00-12.00 Macalester Bell (Bryn Mawr College) ‘Hypocrisy and Blame’

12.00-14.00 Lunch

14.00-16.00 Benjamin Matheson ‘Solving Structuralism’s Regress Problem’ Comments by Christopher Franklin (Grove City College)

Friday 6th May

10.00-12.00 Per-Erik Milam ‘Responsibility and Forgiveness’ Comments by Neal Tognazzini (Western Washington University)

12.00-14.00 Lunch

14.00-16.00 Sofia Jeppsson ‘Desert Doubts, Contractualism and Restorative Justice’ Comments by Ben Vilhauer (City College of New York)


Macalester Bell: Hypocrisy and Blame

Most philosophers writing on the ethics of blame hold that blame is morally appropriate only if the blamer is not hypocritical in his or her blame. To blame another for something that one has done oneself is thought to undermine the appropriateness of one’s blame, even if the target is blameworthy. For many, a hypocritical blamer lacks the standing to blame. According to these philosophers, successfully challenging a blamer’s standing by pointing to his or her hypocrisy completely undermines the person’s attempt to blame. Someone without standing cannot make the “blame move” in the practice of blame, and such a person is disqualified from blaming. In this way, appeals to standing can be quite efficient: rather than dealing with difficult and messy questions of culpability, one can swiftly dismiss another’s blame, and effectively silence a would-be blamer, by pointing to his or her past history of wrongdoing.

I will argue that the standard account of blame and hypocrisy should be rejected. Hypocrisy does not undermine persons’ standing to blame. In fact, we make a deep mistake insofar as we think of blame as something that has standing conditions at all. I argue that the received position, which advocates dismissing the blame of some members of the moral community, independent of the claims made through their blame, utterly fails to respect persons as valuers. In defending these claims I will try to explain why so many are attracted to the standard view.


Benjamin Matheson: Solving Structuralism’s Regress Problem

Structuralism is the thesis that an agent is morally responsible for an action only if that action stems from a properly structured psychology. An agent’s psychology is properly structured if and only if her actions stem from or express authentic psychological states. The structuralist must therefore provide an account of authenticity. In this paper, I propose a new structuralist account of authenticity, and consequently a new account of the conditions on moral responsibility. I motivate this account by showing how it has the unique resources to tackle a longstanding, though misunderstood, problem for structuralism – viz. the regress problem. Part of my project is not just to respond to the regress problem, but also to clarify the problem itself. As we shall see, once properly understood, the problem is much more wide-reaching than has been appreciated.


Per-Erik Milam: Responsibility and Forgiveness

One of the least controversial claims made about forgiveness is that, in order to forgive, one must view the offender as morally responsible for their offence. The main reason for the widespread acceptance of this responsibility condition is that it avoids conflating forgiveness and other similar but distinct phenomena. For example, when we excuse we cease (or never begin) to view the offender as responsible. We affirm that, in some sense, the offence wasn’t their fault. Forgiveness is different. When we forgive we continue to view the offence as their fault, but cease to blame them anyway. In order to capture this phenomenon—why we change our attitude, in response to what, and what the change entails—we require a change condition in addition to the responsibility condition. Together these conditions describe how we attribute responsibility throughout the forgiveness process. Despite (or perhaps because of) the intuitive appeal of the distinction between forgiveness and excuse, little has been said about the substance of these conditions and what they might imply. The result has often been a narrow focus on particular blaming attitudes, especially resentment, and a failure to consider the nature and scope of the responsibility attributions involved in forgiving. The aim of this paper is to articulate responsibility and change conditions and to consider their implications for current debates about responsibility and forgiveness. I characterise forgiveness in terms of three necessary conditions and argue that, in order to forgive, one must hold the offender responsible (i.e., blame them). I defend a responsibility condition according to which one must continue to view the offender as having been responsible for the offence, but also a change condition that describes the how and why one’s responsibility attributions must change. Finally, I consider the implications of these conditions for how we should understand, evaluate, and reform our practice of forgiving. I close by describing what forgiveness might look like in a world where everyone accepts responsibility skepticism and I suggest that, while forgiveness would be impossible, something like it could perform many of the same functions.


Sofia Jeppsson: Desert doubts, contractualism and restorative justice

Justifications for the criminal justice system have traditionally relied on the assumption that offenders can deserve to be punished, but this assumption is problematic for several reasons. We might doubt the existence of moral responsibility, the possibility of knowing if and to what extent someone was responsible for what she did, or our ability to accurately match punishments with crimes in a retributivist system. Deterrence theory might seem an attractive alternative, but has been criticized on the grounds that it licenses treating people as mere means to our ends. Ben Vilhauer argues that we do not treat people as mere means if we treat them in a way to which they would rationally consent if placed in a Rawlsian original position, behind a veil of ignorance. Behind the veil, Vilhauer argues, we would choose to create a criminal justice system aimed at deterrence, but a mild and humane one.

It has been argued, however, that a system of restorative justice is better at giving closure to victims and preventing recidivism. For these reasons, the contractors might prefer to create a system of restorative justice – but I argue that they would also create a more traditional criminal justice system as a back up.

Prima facie, doubts about responsibility and desert might seem relevant for restorative justice as well, since offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their crimes. I argue that this is no real problem, since a minimum level of the kind of responsibility that even sceptics agree exists on part of the offender plausibly suffices for the taking of responsibility to make sense. Other often discussed problems with restorative justice are solved if partaking in the process is truly voluntary; if the offender can choose to opt out and have his case treated by the back up system instead, and the back up system is sufficiently humane for this to be a real choice on his part.

The need for a back up system which does not only handle especially dangerous, persistent or uncooperative offenders, but to which any offender can choose to defer his case, gets further support from the following two considerations: the contractors do not know, behind the veil, the details of their psychology; nor do the know their conception of the good. For all they know, they might have a very strong sense of integrity, and abhor being pressured to reveal their innermost feelings in front of others or pressured into emotional breakdowns. For all they know, they might also end up committing crimes motivated by their conception of the good. The state might legitimately punish people who break its laws for moral reasons, but it has no business converting people with a different conception of the good to mainstream morality if their conception is already compatible with justice. I conclude that the contractors might choose to create a system of restorative justice rather than a mere deterrence system, but one from which it is possible to opt out.

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