Philosophy Club Meeting

February 08, 2022
Submitted By: Brian D. Skelly

Please join us at our next online meeting of the University of Hartford Philosophy Club this Wednesday, Feb. 9 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. using this Webex link

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Meeting Number (in case calling in): 171 628 0135   

Brian Skelly will present for discussion his paper: "Judging Praise and Blame - A Reflection on Inner Virtue". 

It is hard to talk about praise and blame, in particular about what warrants judgments that some moral agent S merits praise or blame for some action or choice. It does not make sense to consider them as direct correlates of our choices, with blame ascribed to us for all our incorrect moral choices and praise for all our correct moral choices. For this excludes the possibility of innocent error. The fact that we often do this to others is puzzling, since we surely do not want others to judge us this way. In fact, we know better than to do this, but we do it anyway, under the assumption that the one being judged must have known better. How hard can it be to know what is the right thing to do? And if you know and don’t abide by it, how should you not be blamed? This raises two issues for discussion: first, how hard can it be to know what is right to do? Secondly, how hard can it be to do the right thing once we know what the right thing to do is? 

I know my job as a moral agent, that is, as one who is endowed with rational awareness, is to try my best to figure out what is wrong and choose and abide by the right. This provides me at least with a basis for building a theory of praise and blame. Perhaps I am praiseworthy to the extent that I try my best to be virtuous: to choose and abide by what is right - and am blameworthy to the extent that I fail to do so. But there are complicating factors in making such judgments.  

One complicating factor is that we cannot easily observe the interior thoughts of others and have difficulty even scrutinizing our own inner thoughts.  

A second complicating factor is that there may be and usually is luck involved, both bad and good. Should not luck be factored in when assessing praise and blame? Or are we to alternately pat some people on the back and scorn others largely on their lot in life?  

A third complicating factor, especially in the first person, is self-deception. To assess blame properly, we must know how to handle self-deception. This is an especially thorny problem in that we ourselves may well be complicit in many if not most of the cases of being deceived by others. 

Let us settle first on our basic theory of praise and blame, then attend to the complicating factors. Let it be understood throughout that the task as conceived here is not one of recommending how we are to communicate judgments of praise and blame, but only how we are to conceive them in truth-oriented thought. Without being able to do this, we will become liable to misjudging and misconceiving the characters of others and ourselves.  

If it is correct that we should be praised always and only to the extent that we have tried our best to be virtuous and blamed always and only to the extent that we have not tried our best, it follows that we should not be praised simply for moral success: choosing and abiding by the right - and blamed simply for moral failure. This in turn will require us to distinguish between virtue and praiseworthiness on the one hand and lack of virtue and blameworthiness on the other. For when we judge effort, we ignore outcome; and when we judge by outcome, we ignore effort. According to the theory proposed here, we must do the former in judging praise and blame. (See attached for full document).

An ongoing weekly tradition at the University since 2001, the University of Hartford Philosophy Club is a place where students, professors, and people from the community at large meet as peers. Sometimes presentations are given, followed by discussion. Other times, topics are hashed out by the whole group.     

Presenters may be students, professors, or people from the community. Anyone can offer to present a topic. The mode of presentation may be as formal or informal as the presenter chooses.    

Please be a part of us as we continue this great tradition live and online.


Brian D. Skelly, Philosophy