Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Assessing Blame

Posted by Michael Dickens on August 1, 2009

DISCLAIMER: This post is entirely speculation and logic. I have no real evidence to back it up. If you accept my conclusions, you are fully responsible for the outcome.

This comes up in my daily life all the time. When an event occurs, who is to blame? It’s time we get some answers.

Let’s say Alice robs a bank. Bob, the teller, has a gun under his desk (don’t ask why) but does not try to stop Alice. So is it Alice’s fault that the bank got robbed, or Bob’s? Or is it Alice’s mother’s fault for having a child who would go on to rob a bank?

Sometimes in life, we want to place all the blame upon a single person. But that is not always possible. What to do, what to do?

The one who is to blame for an event is the one who, if he had acted differently, could have changed the outcome of the event. The problem is, there are usually many people who could have changed the outcome of the event. So this can be refined: the person who most recently could have changed the outcome of the event.

Of course, there are other subtleties, some of which are very important. For example, there is a clause involving what we can call “expected behavior”. Let’s say Alice and Bob work in a coal mine. Alice does what she has been doing every day for years. Bob decides to try something different. There is a cave-in. Whose fault is it, then? Can Alice be blamed? She was just doing what she is supposed to do. But Bob was meddling.

Assessing blame is not an easy task; this post can hopefully provide a good starting point.


2 Responses to “Assessing Blame”

  1. phynnboi said

    Look for intent and direct agents.

    Alice’s mother (ostensibly) chose to have and raise Alice, but did she intend for Alice to become a bank robber (and, thus, groom her for it)? If not, then reasonably, she shares no blame.

    Bob did not shoot Alice, but was Bob directly robbing the bank (i.e., in cahoots with Alice)? If not, then reasonably, he shares no blame.

  2. […] revisit an old post of mine on assessing blame. This is similar to assessing moral responsibility. I assert that the one who is morally […]

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