Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2004)
Joel Feinberg observed that ‘moral responsibility… is a subject about which we are all confused.’ (1970: 37) Perhaps nowhere is this confusion more evident than in our understandings of praise and blame. This entry will contrast three influential philosophical accounts of our everyday practices of praise and blame, in terms of how they might be justified. On the one hand, a broadly Kantian approach sees responsibility for actions as relying on forms of self control that point back to the idea of free will. On this account praise and blame are justified because a person freely chooses her actions. Praise and blame respond to the person as the chooser of her deed; they recognise her dignity as a rational agent, as Kantians tend to put it. This approach sharply contrasts with two further ways of thinking about the issues. One is utilitarian, where praise and blame are justified in terms of their social benefits. Another, more complex approach is roughly Aristotelian. This approach situates practices of praise and blame in terms of our on going relationships with one another. This approach stresses the importance of mutual accountability, moral education , and assessments of character in terms of the many vices and virtues.
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