Praise and Blame

Praise and Blame: Moral Realism and Its Applications

Daniel N. Robinson
Series: New Forum Books
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Praise and Blame
    Book Description:

    How should a prize be awarded after a horse race? Should it go to the best rider, the best person, or the one who finishes first? To what extent are bystanders blameworthy when they do nothing to prevent harm? Are there any objective standards of moral responsibility with which to address such perennial questions? In this fluidly written and lively book, Daniel Robinson takes on the prodigious task of setting forth the contours of praise and blame. He does so by mounting an important and provocative new defense of a radical theory of moral realism and offering a critical appraisal of prevailing alternatives such as determinism and behaviorism and of their conceptual shortcomings.

    The version of moral realism that arises from Robinson's penetrating inquiry--an inquiry steeped in Aristotelian ethics but deeply informed by modern scientific knowledge of human cognition--is independent of cognition and emotion. At the same time, Robinson carefully explores how such human attributes succeed or fail in comprehending real moral properties. Through brilliant analyses of constitutional and moral luck, of biosocial and genetic versions of psychological determinism, and of relativistic-anthropological accounts of variations in moral precepts, he concludes that none of these conceptions accounts either for the nature of moral properties or the basis upon which they could be known. Ultimately, the theory that Robinson develops preserves moral properties even while acknowledging the conditions that undermine the powers of human will.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2531-8
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. viii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-46)

    There is a scene in Book XXII of theIliad, much discussed by those seeking to comprehend the complex meritocracy of the Homeric world. The epic is nearly concluded. Troy has been defeated and many of the Achaians have already set sail for their homeward journeys. Patroclus has been honored, his bones cremated by his dear lamenting friend. Now is the time for celebration and the holding of games. A great chariot race is staged and concludes with honors and prizes. At this point, however, the modern reader is perplexed to discover that these are not to be awarded simply...

    (pp. 47-107)

    Moral ascriptions are not rigidly tied to consequences. Rather, they typically carry with them the assignment of responsibility such that nonmoral ascriptions are employed where no responsible agent can be identified. Outcomes might be regarded as “tragic” or “fortunate,” “pleasing” or “disgusting,” without the added moral weight of responsibility. But to judge the actions leading to such outcomes as “laudable” or “condemnable” is to assign responsibility. This very assignation entails an appraisal of the actor’s competence, the actor’s overall psychological makeup. Ceteris paribus, an action is laudable when it expresses laudable aims competently realized in the face of opposing forces...

    (pp. 108-145)

    What is it that qualifies events or conditions as “luck”? Robert Kane offers this definition of what he calls “the luck principle”:

    If an action isunderdeterminedat timet, then its happening rather than not happening attwould be a matter ofchanceorluck, and so it could not be afreeandresponsibleaction.¹

    The plays of Sophocles and Euripides feature persons caught in these webs of their own characters, of things done to them, of lives that thus seem fated. They seem somehow to be “chosen,” and in ways that defeat their every effort. Oedipus,...

    (pp. 146-178)

    In different ways the constitutive-luck and the moral luck arguments against incompatibilist freedom miss something important about moral experience. Constitutive luck focuses on the “givens” in our biogenetic resources and thus can only awkwardly accommodate the radical changes in perspective, conduct, motivation, desire, and emotionality taking place over the course of a lifetime and in response to the experiences of a lifetime. The sense in which being seven feet tall is “constitutively” lucky must be different from the sense in which one was not highly motivated to study medieval iconography until one heard a great lecture on the subject. The...

    (pp. 179-204)

    There are general precepts that guide the administration of justice, the resolution of disputes, the award of damages in instances of injury, the setting of penalties for serious offenses. The precepts often have identifiable scriptural roots, even when expressed in the less righteous idiom of statutory law. The precepts are so general and so venerable that they tend to be immune to scrutiny. That is, questions about them seem to answer themselves, but only when the questions, too, are general. Consider just these two fundamental precepts:

    1. Punishment should fit the crime.

    2. No one should benefit from his own...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 205-220)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 221-226)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 227-227)