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Some of us think that "retaliatory emotions" are not to be so easily dismissed and that they in fact are the foundation of justice. cf.


I just wanted to say that I think this is a brilliant post that puts pressure on just deserts theories of punishment. Since I agree wholeheartedly with the approach to crime and punishment you're pushing for here (and elsewhere), I don't have much to add. I would, however, like to hear from those who disagree with you. In my experience, while many philosophers of action and moral philosophers are happy to theorize at arm's length from the downstream consequences of their views, they often go quiet when the tires of their theoretical commitments hit the pavement of the real world.

At a minimum, it would be nice to hear from the retributivists in our community here at Flickers (who are usually more willing than most to address the practical implications of their views). After all, if giving offenders "what they deserve" ends up being criminogenic--and there is plenty of evidence that it is, as you point out--this is something that retributivists need to address lest they're simply whistling in the winds of abstraction. Similarly, if the downstream consequence of adopting a just deserts approach to crime and punishment is that a large proportion of the people who are punished are mentally disordered, this too should be openly accepted or explained away.

One way of doing the latter is to suggest that the mentally disordered aren't as deserving and hence should not be punished as harshly. But then it looks like the just desert theorist has to counsel punishing those who are more disordered and dangerous less harshly than the less dangerous offenders who are not disordered. That, too, is fine, as far as it goes I suppose. But that's a bitter pill to swallow,too, as far as I can tell.

p.s. Tomkow, I don't think Hanna was suggesting that retaliatory emotions can be "easily dismissed." She has written two thoughtful and detailed posts after all. But rather than pointing to something else that you've written elsewhere, it seems like it would be more productive if you engaged with her thoughts directly here on the blog.

Hanna, really nice post. I suspect your first one and the big response to it sucked the wind out of the sails a bit, but I hope to hear more from others. I will only say briefly (in part as a response to Thomas too) that I am a 'cagey compatibilist' who thinks retributive responses and practices can be justified *to the degree* to which the agent possesses the requisite capacities (for freee will) and had the requisite opportunities to exercise them (neither of which is precluded by determinism or physicalism), but that we have increasing evidence that people have these capacities and opportunities to lesser degrees than we (and the legal system) typically think, and this is especially true with many criminals. Hence, many criminals (and patients) deserve less blame (and punishment) than often presumed. The approach you lay out seems largely compatible with this view.

This view is, I think, also compatible with using various consequentialist justifications for telishment and treatment, for instance, keeping dangerous people quarantined to protect others, even if those people may not deserve to be treated harshly. In practice, this might mean that the white-collar criminals in minimum security deserve to be treated like they are in a supermax facility (since they more freely chose to do wrong), while what Thomas calls the "most disordered and dangerous" deserve to be treated less harshly even if they must be kept maximally secure.

Fascinating stuff, Hannah, thanks.

So I would like to get clear on both your adoption of the D'Arms/Jacobson talk, as well as the point of the overall post. For them, an emotion is fitting to the extent it represents its object accurately, so fear is fitting just in case its representation of the dog as a threat is accurate (i.e., the snake IS a threat). If so, the dog *merits* fear, i.e., one has reason to fear it. Nevertheless, there may be other reasons not to fear the dog, e.g., it can smell it and so will attack you if you do. But these are reasons of the wrong kind, at least when it comes to the *fittingness* of the emotion.

Now insofar as I understand you, you are saying that, while the anger of the PD prisoners is validated by the therapists, i.e., viewed as understandable (even if irrational), the actions in light of their anger are not. This seems right. But then these aren't reasons not to *feel* the anger, correct? Rather, these are reasons not to do the violent things in response to their anger, which is about something else (and so not a right or wrong kind of reason w/r/t the emotion). As you say, the anger is (merely) instrumentally problematic, and telling them not to feel anger would just be counterproductive. What you want to do is block the typical connection between their anger and the bad things they do. This is a respectful way of proceeding, it seems to me.

But then I wonder why the therapists don't show themselves a similar sort of respect? (This is a deliberately provocative way of putting it, but the point will be clear shortly.) For what you're counseling in your own case is not that you merely block the typical connection between your anger and your expressions of it in blaming ways; rather, you seem to be counseling the *elimination of anger*, for moral reasons. But these are the wrong kind of reasons, at least w/r/t fittingness. So why not do precisely what is being counseled, namely, view your feelings of anger in response to these patients as perfectly fitting, while recognizing that it would be counterproductive to *express* them? This means affective blame would still be felt, as it were, but not expressed. Note that I am not saying there's a *moral warrant* for these emotions, only that they remain perfectly fitting.

I hope I'm not misrepresenting your view here, and if I am, I apologize.

What Eddy said, minus the compatibilism.

Hello Hanna,

thanks for these stimulating posts.
One theme that seems to recur in your discussion is the importance of changing our attitudes towards the offenders. This is a very important point; also, I’d say, it seems to be a realistic goal (say, at least partially achievable) insofar as it concerns a limited number of people (for example prison officers) that can be educated and trained to react in certain ways during their interactions with prisoners. You add, however, that change would be important to pursue within ‘society at large’. This goal seems to be far more difficult to achieve. What I have in mind is some work on this topic done by Darley and Robinson (see for example their ‘The Utility of Desert’ and ‘Intuitions of justice: implications for criminal law and justice policy’). To put it very bluntly (I do not have the pretention to do justice to the complexity of their views) they argue that people’s intuitive judgments about punishments are A) in line with retributivism and B) plausibly difficult to modify. They also maintain (this is the provocatively interesting thesis they defend) that neglecting those judgments in the administration of the law may cause a drop of compliance of citizens with the law itself; this is why, they say, there is some utility in desert. Do you know the work I am referring to? If that is the case, what do you think about it?

Hi everyone, and thanks so much for these comments.

Eddy and Justin: You are absolutely on the mark, in that the position I’ve put forward really is supposed to be a way of marrying what’s right about just deserts models (responsibility as a condition, proportionality as a limit) with a rehabilitative ideal ( helping people lead better lives, reducing crime). It’s not unique in aiming for this: many if not most humanistic approaches that walk “the pavement of the real world” (as Thomas so nicely puts it) recognize a need for a blend of both models. What I hope the Responsibility without Blame framework offers is a particularly sharp way of saying what this marriage means in theory, as well as clinically-informed, real-world tools for walking the pavement in practice. Your views seem very much in line with this. The difference between us as I understand it is just that you are more focused on the (very real) possibility that people may be significantly less responsible than we often take them to be, and so the degree of punishment (as traditionally conceived) inflicted should be reduced accordingly, while I am more focused on how, no matter the degree of responsibility, we often have very good reason to depart from the traditional conception of punishment, and work to conceive and enact whatever degree of punishment is appropriate in a non-blaming way. As a result, we’ll say something slightly different about what to do with white-collar criminals versus what to do with violent offenders – what I want in both cases is a punishment proportional to degree of responsibility plus severity of crime, but one that is fashioned to achieve rehabilitative ends, which means it needs to be individually tailored, ideally in quite specific ways (and not just in terms of security, although I absolutely agree that is a really important question in any sentencing process – I only wish we had better and less bias-prone ways of assessing risk).

This brings me directly to Thomas’ comment and in particular his question to retributivists – which is exactly the question I would like them to address! So thank you, Thomas, for asking it. We have thus far spoken of how retributivist practices both entrench criminality and also punish disproportionately those who are both mentally disordered and come from backgrounds of severe psycho-socio-economic adversity. We haven’t even yet mentioned other empirical considerations, like race. Some very interesting if sobering recent work by Michael Bang Petersen and colleagues suggests that, holding constant severity of crime, we choose between retributive or reparative forms of punishment based on the Association Value of the offender to us. Some of the factors that are relevant to Association Value are predictive of future risk, e.g. offending history. But others are not, e.g. features that define a person as in-group or out-group, such as social and ethnic minority status. If this is right, fashioning criminal justice systems according to retributive principles in effect opens the door to discrimination against all marginalized groups – a prediction we might think confirmed by the shocking proportion of ethnic minority as opposed to white offenders in US and UK prisons. I would like retributivists to address why the value of their theory, as put into practice, is worth these costs.

Stefano: I don’t know the work you mention, so thanks very much for the reference and I’d love to hear more about it. It’s clearly in tension with Petersen’s findings (along with other evolutionary psychologists) which would suggest not only that our intuitions are complicated (reparative as well as retributive) but also that we could modify our retributive intuitions by aiming to address the many ways we out-group and marginalize people: in other words, increase someone’s AV, and you may find you change the kind of punishment we instinctively favour.

David: thanks for this great objection! It is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been worrying about (as I said, I’ve only just started trying to articulate the clinical attitudes to emotions, and not yet sure how to do so, let alone if all the pieces fit consistently). So, first, yes, you’ve got exactly right the way I’m adopting D’Arms and Jacobsen’s view and the way I articulated the clinical attitude. And that does open the position up to the objection you raise: why not take that attitude to ourselves, not just our patients? So here’s the start of a multi-pronged answer (but I welcome a retort):

First, I think we genuinely believe blame is ‘fitting’ (to use your terminology) less than most people do in similar circumstances. This is connected to the fifth point I made in our earlier exchange, about how to establish a non-blaming culture. It’s not that we don’t believe blame is sometimes fitting, but there’s a very strong commitment to withholding judgement until we’ve really explored the background and context. Second, to some extent, we do take this attitude towards ourselves. If a patient inclines towards violence when angry, in the ideal world they might be angry less, but if they are angry, the way forward is to validate it and help them not act on it. Same with us. If we find that we are blaming a patient, that is not ideal, but if we do, the way forward is to make sure that as staff we have a context where we can say how we feel and get support with that, so that we are better able, as you suggest, not to express it to the patient. I was kicking myself earlier for not including the importance of regular and good supervision as part of how a non-blaming group culture is created. In supervision, we do treat ourselves much as we treat our patients, but we don't do that in clinical work with them. Third, however, I think there are two kinds of reason to try to go further, and avoid not just expressing blame, but feeling it. The first, most obvious, is pragmatic: if you can do it, it’s more reliable not to feel blame as a way to avoid expressing it, then to feel it and undertake not to express it (emotions being what they are). Connected to this is the further fact that blame is pervasive, in that it tends to negatively affect so many dimensions of one’s feelings, judgements, and actions towards others, and so if you are having to mask it consistently, the possibility of being genuine and authentic with patients – which is really important to the therapeutic alliance – is likely to be lost. (Another way of putting this is that I do think clinicians need to be able to act a part at times, but it can’t all be acting.) The other reason is harder to state clearly, but here’s a first shot. Patients with PD typically have very poor emotional regulation, because of their past. Clinicians (hopefully!) have a great deal more. It is therefore possible to ask more of them – they are more psychologically robust, and they have chosen a job which has this kind of emotional self-regulatory demand as a core task. So, this doesn't make the demand on us a moral demand (as opposed to a role relative demand) but it does make it right to demand more of us, as it were. But all that said, you’re right to point out an inconsistency: although I’d be happy just to convince everyone to think about changing their attitudes towards their retributive emotions, I really believe in the value of trying to change these emotions themselves. And that’s not quite how I’ve articulated the clinical attitude.

Eddy (and Justin),

You both counsel a mixed theory of punishment. But it's not the traditional mixed theory put forward by Hart and Rawls whereby the institution of punishment gets a consequentialist justification while the implementation of punishment in particular cases is justified via the proportionality constraints of retributivism. Instead, in what seems to me to be a post hoc attempt to salvage desert in the face of the real world consequences of adopting a just deserts theory of punishment, you adopted a mixed theory at the level of implementation while at the same time acknowledging that many (if not most) criminals deserve less suffering than we give them--even some of the most dangerous criminals. Your solution is to "telish" the mentally disordered yet nevertheless "blameworthy" criminals on consequentialist grounds (as opposed to the criminally insane--who presumably shouldn't be punished at all) while punishing the truly blameworthy on desert-based grounds. But then it's not clear to me what role desert is playing on your model--especially given the ubiquity of mental disorders among criminals (even white collar criminals). All you need, so it seems to me, is that the criminals were causally responsible for the actus reus and had the sufficient mental states to be apt targets of punishment. Both of those conditions can be satisfied (as Bentham pointed out a long time ago) even if people have no free will and no moral desert.

So, why not just be consequentialists if you're just going to fall back on telishment for the majority of offenders anyway. It's like you two are defending an ever shrinking circle of retributive desert. But why do that if you're already comfortable with telishment, funishment, etc.? I understand why retributivists like Moore and Morse would bite the bullet and say we should give the mentally disordered but responsible lighter sentences as proportionality requires (since they're consistently retributive). But I don't get how and why you two (and others) make the move you make (other than the fact that it allows you to claim to still care about desert, retribution, etc.--at least in theory).


Nice questions. Here's how I see this working (I won't presume to speak for Eddy). Think about Ross's brand of deontology (and other brands in the neighborhood of his). For Ross, consequences matter. That an action A will have the best consequences of any alternative is a strong consideration in favor of A. But it's not the only consideration that matters. Considerations about justice, fidelity, gratitude, etc. also matter, and sometimes these other considerations might suffice to justify doing something that does not have the best overall consequences. There is no single "right making feature" of actions on his view. Sometimes consequentialist considerations will win out, other times they won't.

Now, just apply this sort of thinking to punishment and, bam, you've got a mixed theory of punishment (though, as you say, not of the sort that Rawls and Hart counseled). But it's not a post hoc attempt to salvage desert. It's simply an acknowledgement that numerous factors can go into justifying a particular practice or institution. Desert is just one among many such factors when it comes to punishment. Other considerations might include deterrence or rehabilitation, etc. In cases of conflict, it may be that we have to forgo giving people what they deserve in favor of some greater good, such as rehabilitation. This is especially true if, as I think Eddy and I both believe, it turns out that many offenders are much less deserving than we might have initially thought. But it is not clear to me that we must always forgo meeting out desert, even in cases of conflict. If, for example, it turns out that rehabilitating the likes of Bernie Madoff conflicts with giving him what he deserves (assuming, of course, that he's sufficiently responsible for his bad behavior and deserves punishment for it), I think we should abandon attempts at rehab and instead aim for justice.

Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Hannah. Your pragmatic point, especially, is a good one. But I do wonder, then, about therapists who go back into the "real world" who have successfully eliminated or dampened their blaming emotions. But before I say why, let me ask you a question: are you taking the blaming emotions to incorporate a judgment of blameworthiness? You suggest this a few times (e.g., when you say, "It’s not that we don’t believe blame is sometimes fitting, but there’s a very strong commitment to withholding judgement until we’ve really explored the background and context."). Part of my attraction to a D/J account adapted to responsibility is that the kinds of responsibility *sentiments* we might have (including admiration, regret, pride, anger, and gratitude) are independent of judgment; rather, they directly evaluate the object (e.g., quality of will) as good or bad independently of judgments of blameworthiness.

At any rate, my worry, then, is that therapists might successfully train their "retributive" emotions away, but in so doing lose a powerful and dramatic means of communicating demands for acknowledgment to others with whom they interact. It's important that offenders take up others' perspectives, to feel how they made those others feel, and to come to feel guilt, apologize, and work their way back into the interpersonal relationship (even if we're talking about strangers). This is all part of the way we ordinarily educate and reeducate the sensibilities of those in our moral community, by drawing attention to wrongdoing/slights, but demanding that offenders *empathize* with those they've wronged/slighted, and so spreading the empathic glue that bonds a community. Once someone (a therapist, Stoic, or Buddhist) has successfully dampened or eliminated these emotions themselves, I worry that they will have lost a key communicative method for the bonding and binding of one's moral fellows. They themselves then become something of an outsider. If I'm right, this would make therapeutic work like yours a tremendous sacrifice.


You say that "in the ideal world [the PD patients] might be angry less, but if they are angry, the way forward is to validate it and help them not act on it." Do you work on their anger at all? If so, do you do that by recommending they try not to justify their emotions?

(I have this feeling that what you're suggesting to us is not exactly what gives you your success with them, but I'm having trouble figuring out what exactly the difference is. I think the answers to the questions above might help me capture the difference -- or convince me that this particular feeling is inappropriate!)

And have you investigated the emotional effect of your therapy on those who've successfully completed it? Do they feel anger less often than before therapy? Do they feel less angry when they do feel anger? Does their anger not last as long as it did? When they fail and react in a way counter to what they've been taught, do they feel less self-justified than they did (if they did -- do PD patients generally feel justified in their problematic reactions)? Do they feel bad about the failure and/or what they did to the other person?

Hi Hanna,
Delighted that you are hosting this month. Have found your work very enlightening, particularly your superb “Responsibility Without Blame” in PPP of 2011. So I was looking forward to your posts, and they have been even better than I anticipated. Would have commented on the first post, but last week was the crazy beginning of the semester, with lots of interruptions, and every time I found a moment to comment, I found that Justin or Eddy or Derk or Thomas had raised the issue I would have pursued, except much more clearly. Incidentally, Thomas, many thanks for bringing Hanna into these discussions! Your work on the importance of maintaining the “therapeutic alliance” seems to me of great importance, not only in psychological therapy, but also in other medical contexts (which is why it seems so dangerous to have the medical community making any judgments whatsoever about who does or does not “deserve” a kidney or liver transplant); and I particularly like your work on how that is done (how the negative reactive emotions can be controlled and mitigated). And your comments on the horrific conditions that our criminal justice system has produced are splendid; and even if we can’t make the large “culture shift” that you mention, your work to modify the worst elements of that system is very important (I think the culture shift is not impossible: as you mention, the Nordic community seems to be moving in that direction – and it seems to me that there was a culture shift that started with Reagan and Thatcher, and if there can be a shift in that vile direction, why couldn’t there be a shift back in the opposite direction; but as you note, that’s a big question). What I would really like to understand better is the sort of “responsibility” that remains (and that you regard as quite important and beneficial) after blame is eliminated. You say that “responsibility is still a necessary condition for the just imposition of consequences, and proportionality still an important limit. Equally crucial is the fact that the wrongdoing is condemned, and the law upheld, by the demand for accountability and the imposition of consequences in response to blame.” That sounds very much like traditional responsibility, shorn of the strong negative emotional reactions. But in your first post, you speak of “taking responsibility,” and you say that “in the clinic, we treat responsibility as real and indeed essential to our purposes but we are anti-blame because blame, unlike responsibility and accountability, is instrumentally counter-productive to effective treatment. . . .” The latter claim seems to me precisely right (not only for clinical treatment but universally); and that seemed to me the view you were promoting in your PPP article. But as you were using “responsibility” in that article, my impression was that you were thinking in terms of what (H.L.A. Hart would call) “role responsibililty,” as opposed to the responsibility of just deserts. That is, you were celebrating the value of the role responsibility in which people “take responsibility for” following their treatment programs, controlling their anger, managing their lives” (just as, in Hart’s example, a captain might have role responsibility for the management of a ship); but in order to facilitate people effectively taking responsibility for their own lives, it is very important to avoid blaming them if they fail; rather than blaming, we try to foster the person’s ability to effectively control and “take responsibility for” his or her behavior (the individual may need a stronger sense of self-efficacy, to use Bandura’s idea). But it is very important to distinguish this very valuable taken or role responsibility from the destructive blame of moral responsibility.
Sorry to have gone on at such length, but you deserve all the blame for that: your work is very stimulating, and I have learned a great deal from it, and so I’m genuinely eager to get a clearer view of your perspective.
By the by, there is a marvelous article by Neil Levy (I think the title is “punishing the addict”) in Thomas Nadelhoffer’s excellent new anthology on punishment; and it seems to me (but Neil would be a better judge of this) that it is a very nice fit with your approach to therapy (and you would be a better judge of that). In any case, it’s an article that Flickers folks might well enjoy.

Hi David, Thanks again for this conversation! First, no, I don’t take any emotion to incorporate a judgement or belief. I am decidedly non-cognitivist as that is articulated within the philosophy of emotions. I do not believe that personal-level truth-directed or evidentially constrained mental acts or mental states are either necessary or sufficient for emotion. I do of course believe that emotions are responsive to representations. But these come in many varieties and, importantly, information-processing levels . I started using the term ‘blameworthiness’ in part to try to use shared terminology to express my view, but as I said in my first post, I don’t like to use that term because it’s so misleading given what I want to argue. So I think our view of emotions is broadly similar, from what you’ve just written.

You’re right that it’s important to share in a culture with others, and so that there is a real risk here. When I speak about Responsibility without Blame to friends and family of people with PD, the first question they ask is whether they should adopt this stance. The answer I give is that there is no easy answer here for lots of reasons, one of which is that doing so can mean that the relationship is no longer ‘normal’ relative to our culture, even if it is more helpful to their friend or family member. That’s a loss, to be sure, for both parties. However it would be less of a loss if our culture was different, and the clinical attitude to responsibility versus blame more part of the fabric of things. I think we have become increasingly a blaming culture: maybe it can’t be eradicated and maybe that would not even be ideal within ordinary life (as opposed to clinics and correctional services) but I think we can shift down and become less blaming, and that would be a clear good.

However I don’t think communication is a problem: it’s perfectly possible to demand acknowledgement and talk to people in real terms about what they’ve done, in absence of strong negative reactive attitudes. And I’m also disinclined to think we want people to feel guilt, which has a tendency to compound bad behaviour in many contexts, rather than remorse, which is typically much more actively committed to making things good again.

But both empathy and sympathy are essential to moral community, you’re right to point that out. We use these all the time in the clinic: no dampening of them! The point, for me, is that they need to be developed in people who do wrong to others in a way which is forward-looking and reparative, as opposed to backward-looking and therefore de-motivating. Too much allowance and legitimization of negative reactive attitudes blocks that.

My thanks again for this conversation. I was hoping someone would pick me up on this theme!

Hi Mark, thanks very much for these questions. As I said to David, I’m really glad to be picked up on these themes, some of which I’m only just starting to get clear on myself.

Yes, we work on the anger. There are many ways we do this, and I would not want to hazard a guess what the main mechanism of change is. But one key thing we do is indeed help patients not always try to justify their emotions. Patients with PD often do have a very strong tendency to feel justified – they can easily feel entitled, and critical or condemning of others (which of course is how people often respond to them – it’s a bad cycle). So suppose there’s an issue in the group, and one member says or does something that inflames another. We would encourage the person who is angry to say that they are angry directly – that might be important for them to do as a way of learning a new way of coping with anger, e.g., talk about it, but equally it might be important for the other group member to hear, as a way of learning the impact of their actions on other people. But at the same time, we would facilitate this conversation within a framework which asks the inflamed person to “own” their anger and “take responsibility” for it, as we say, which involves things like: (1) Allowing that the other person’s perspective is equally valid and that the mere fact that they are angry does not mean the other person has done something wrong (it’s OK to be angry and people are angry, even when others have not really done anything they shouldn’t have). (2) Recognizing that anger may be a natural reaction but is not therefore an inevitable one. (3) Exploring aspects of themselves and their past which may contribute to their anger in the moment. People have such different emotional responses, e.g. confronted with aggression, one person gets angry and self-righteous and aggressive, while another feels vulnerable and is overcome by fear. Who’s right? We’d say neither. Both responses are understandable, especially when you start to unpick how they connect to personality and past. Should the person who behaved aggressively not have done so? No question. But perhaps they were angry or scared too, for understandable reasons. So let’s look at the broader context. Strong negative reactive attitudes and a self-justificatory attitude towards them usually gets in the way of that. Does that help make sense of it?

This overall technique – alongside other aspects of therapy, no doubt – does modify emotions. We certainly don’t help everyone by any means, but many patients end up feeling anger or whatever emotion is problematic for them less, and less strongly. We’re currently doing a general-outcome RCT but it’s not completed yet so I can’t point you to ‘hard’ evidence, but in any case the particular point you are interested in will be hard to measure, because emotional change rather than behavioural change can only be established by by first- and second-person report, notoriously ‘unhard’ evidence. What I can tell you based on my first-personal experience is that it is just amazing to see the change in many patients, and that they feel it themselves, too.

Hi Bruce, Thanks for your much too kind comments! If I’ve understood what you’re worried about right, I can reassure you. If I were to divide up the land here using my own preferred terms and with crude boundaries, it would go like this: First and foremost, there’s an agential notion of responsibility. We’ll need to cash out what this means by specifying some set of conditions e.g. choice, control, reason-responsiveness, intention, etc. (But I don't think this notion of agential responsibility is the same as role responsibility: it’s rather what enables you to act so as to fill your role responsibilities, whatever these are. I wouldn't want to claim comprehensive knowledge of Hart, but I believe it's more akin to his capacity responsibility.) However, whichever notion of agency we go for, this is the basic notion of responsibility, and it applies to all actions, good, bad, neutral. Second, there are actions which harm other people. The motivation and mental states behind these actions can be complicated, and figuring them out can help us see how responsible someone is for the harm and hence how accountable they are for it. Third, there is the process of holding people responsible and to account for that harm, which is important for many reasons: maintaining moral, social and legal order, protection of others, the perpetrator’s own learning and growth and development of prosocial behaviour and feeling, to name a few. Then there are our reactive attitudes, how we feel about the person who did harm, and whether or not we bring these to bear on our interactions with them, especially when holding them to account. No mention, as you see, of a distinctive form of responsibility which is ‘moral’ or of ‘blameworthiness’. I’m inclined to cash these out via the idea of agential responsibility for harm in absence of any or sufficient excuse. So I think this position is in ways very similar to yours, as I understand it, although there are no doubt some differences. I imagine that you may have balked when I wrote that it's important to condemn wrongdoing? If so, I think you’re right I shouldn’t have put it that way, because it does invite the idea that wrongdoers deserve condemnation in a blaming way. What I meant is that it's important to uphold the moral, social, and legal order, and we do that by holding people accountable to law and other rules and norms.

Thankyou, Hanna, that was very helpful. So far, the more I hear about your therapy, the better I like it.

I think my concerns were at least partly a terminological issue -- you've got a catchy name for your therapy, but it doesn't carry its proper meaning to me. That's at least partly my fault, since it's clear that there are a lot of terms I use differently, including "affective" and "blame".

However, when you combine the purely emotional reactions together with the further "blaming" reactions (such as the punishments themselves, and the beliefs "my emotional reactions are justified" and "this person deserves very harsh treatment") -- as you do when you separate out only "detached blame" -- I think you are blurring your message.

As a therapist you need the anger to be strictly under control -- it would be counterproductive to the treatment to let any bit of it leak out. But the patients are supposed to "own" their anger and try to understand where it comes from, and how others might come by theirs. In the end the patients will (hopefully) feel less anger, but this reduction seems to come naturally from coming to understand where anger comes from, how counter-productive it is, and that it does not, in fact, need to be justified. The division of blame for patients is slightly different than the detached/affective division for therapists. So the question is, are we in the outside world therapists or patients?

I can see why you want us to be therapists -- and why it's in our best interest to be therapists. But given the way our countries treat criminals these days, it might be more apt to treat us as patients.

Thanks again for your thought-provoking, nuanced, and in many ways inspiring posts and views. I agree with much of what you say, and surely we often do over-react with negative, counterproductive emotions, such as anger, and our penal institutions are horribly inhumane and self-defeating, and so forth. All of this is agreed. Also, we often "get on our high horses" about lots of these issues, which is unattractive.

But still. I'm wondering about the following. What do you think the proper reaction is to the Boston Marathon bomber (the one who is alive, and let's just stipulate that he is indeed the one who did this). I mean, he planned it meticulously in order to maximize suffering; apparently he did not want to kill, but to maim runners --to hurt them, to cripple them, to cause suffering for the rest of their lives. And he wanted to hurt and cripple innocent bystanders, kids, elderly, anyone who was there. And he succeeded, perhaps even beyond the wildest dreams. I have read about the horrible suffering of those undergoing grueling rehabilitation--the physical and psychological damage caused is not easily even described.

They guy doesn't appear to be insane--he was described as quite normal by his colleagues at the university he attended, and so forth.

Should not hate him? Not feel anger and indignation toward him? Is it inappropriate for his victims to resent him?

Also, how about the five men in India who brutally beat and repeatedly raped a young woman who suffered horribly and died subsequently? The men took a metal rod to her to maximize the pain and damage they were causing. (I will suppress further details.) Before she died, she expressed the hope that her murderers would suffer for what they did to her; her parents also expressed this hope. Was it inappropriate for the victim and her parents to resent them? To be angry with them? To hate them?

It can seem so cool and progressive and admirable not to hate--to encourage us to "hate the sin, not the sinner". But I actually think that there is a deep wisdom in Peter Strawson's view that certain individuals are indeed *appropriate* targets for reactive attitudes, such as indignation and resentment. Further, I believe that (constrained suitably and in an enlightened way) punishment does indeed appropriately express the states condemnation--even resentment. It is a symbolic expression of a reactive attitude, and it can be appropriately targeted toward individuals on the basis of their behavior.

Again, this is not to say that anger is always or typically suited to its target, or that resentment, indignation, or hatred is appropriate whenever some or most think they are appropriate. And it is certainly not to suppose that our penal institutions are ideal or even minimally good.

But then again I *do* think that certain persons, based on what they've done, *deserve* to be resented, and even hated; and I do think that any account of punishment that leaves out a retributive component may be leaving out something essential. One can agree with all of the thoughtful things Hanna says writes, and all of the thoughtful things written by Bruce and Derk and Thomas N about the excesses and cruelties and stupidities of our existing practices, but still worry about totally expunging the retributive reactive attitudes.

To elaborate. (Well, first, to apologize. Sorry for the typos in my previous post--I'm a terrible proofreader. In this case: please hate the sin, not the sinner!)

Ok. A few additional thoughts. I think it is an important and interesting question whether we could still have the web of interpersonal relationships we care so much about without the reactive attitudes. The Strawsonians argue that we need the reactive attitudes, although some (including Gary Watson) argue that we should prune out the retributive reactive attitudes. It is a hard question, and I'm not sure how I end up on this. Seth Shabo has an interesting defense of Strawson in the Phil. Review recently; Pereboom would argue against this view and Per Milam has an interesting reply in his recent dissertation under the supervision of Dana Nelkin at UCSD.

There's also something else, which is hard to articulate. I think our responses to wrongdoing directed at us are in some sense "deep" and "natural". Of course, for some purposes, it is useful to begin one's analysis with salient cases of egregious wrongdoing. For example, I really think it is appropriate to hate Hitler, and not just what he did, and so forth. But as we all know, there were many Nazis and their supporters whose evil was more "banal", and ordinary life is full of cruelty, self-absorption, and thoughtlessness. We don't need to focus solely on egregious wrongs to see that these responses are deeply human. Now some will say that they do not reflect our "better" selves, and maybe this is in some sense right. But an account of moral responsibility that does without these deep and natural responses threatens to be, well, inhuman in a certain way (again, difficult to articulate or defend).

Hi John

Thanks for these very challenging comments. Like you, I’m not yet sure what to think about some of these issues, and I don’t want what I say below to be thought of as my final, committed view. But I am going to try to address your challenge, best I can.

In your first comment, you raise what are clearly the very hardest kinds of cases for any non-retributive view. The brutality, cruelty, and wanton destruction of the actions is horrifying . The perpetrators seem to take pleasure in it. There are no contextual or life history factors we know of which even begin to help us get a grip on why they have done this, or make us feel empathy or compassion, undercutting our sense of entitlement to blame: no background of childhood abuse and damage, to allow us to see them as people who were victims while children in our midst, prior to becoming perpetrators as adults; no sense of “there but for the grace of God go I”. Relatedly, there is no psychological sense or reason to be found here, we cannot understand what could possibly be going on, what motive there could be; and yet, they are not psychotic. These cases are, of course, the exception and not the norm in criminal offending behaviour, and we can specify what makes them distinctive, as I just did. As a result, one way forward would be to concede they are different and so warrant a different response, so long as this is within a context of agreement about how there is a real and genuine need to change our existing practices and our attitudes to those practices, to deal better with the norm of criminal wrongdoing – and the normal criminal himself or herself – in our society.

However, I do think that, if we take this route, then we need to be real about which reactive attitudes we’re talking about. Although philosophers often talk about resentment, I don’t believe it is likely to figure much if at all in any real and genuine reactive response to this kind of wrongdoing: no one resents their rapist, no one resents the person who opens fire in a school full of children. Resentment belongs in the realm of petty misdemeanours (and so too potentially does indignation, if indeed it is the third-party analogue of resentment). It’s not really likely to involve much anger either, at least in a form which recognizably connects to our more ordinary experiences of anger. Again, that would seem to minimize the offense, not really reckon with the horror of it. I think the reactions we’re considering justifying and accommodating will be much stronger, and we need to acknowledge that: sheer and utter hatred, loathing, bitter fury, outrage, repugnance, total and complete condemnation of the perpetrator.

So, I don’t at all rule out this kind of concessive response to the hard cases. The pragmatic worry, of course, is that allowing it will bleed into our conception of what our normal practices and attitudes should be towards more ordinary wrongdoing and criminals, and I think it would be very important to guard against that: hard cases don’t make good policy and law. But I do want to think about the possibility of saying something slightly less concessive, even in these hardest of cases.

How do we know that there are no contextual or life history factors and that no psychological sense or reason can be made? I’m not here invoking scepticism that there could be none. Rather, what I’m suggesting is we look to the process of how we discover what they are, if indeed there are any. One of the important ways we can find out about context and psychology is to talk to perpetrators and try to engage them in a reparative process – to invite them to own up to their wrongdoing, explain it as best they can (whether that links to current context or past trauma and abuse, or not) apologise or truly repent, show remorse, make such amends as are possible, commit to not doing it again, show us they mean what they say. If we do embark on this process, we need not of course believe everything we hear. Equally, we can also use other means and sources of knowledge to try to make sense of things, too. But, the slightly less concessive position I would like to suggest is that, even in these hard cases, we should extend an invitation to perpetrators to have this dialogue. Why? Because a core ideal to strive for within a humanistic, liberal society is one of inclusiveness, where respect, equality, and the opportunity for all to be members of our community, is considered a basic good and guiding principle. I don’t think the perpetrators in these hard cases are owed this invitation to dialogue by right, any more than I think we by right are entitled to blame them. But I think extending it is something we have good reason to do, given our other values and commitments. Of course, if we do make this invitation, it may go nowhere: there may be no acknowledgement, no remorse, no attempt to move forward in a different vein. Then, perhaps it’s right to hate. I’m more comfortable with that, at this point in the procedure. But – and I guess here’s the rub – I think it will certainly go nowhere if we start the process with hate. So, even in these hard cases, I think there’s scope for suspension of these attitudes, for a period, to see whether that leads to a place where reparative work can be done.

If you’re interested in hearing what to my mind is just an extraordinary Radiolab interview with a man whose daughter was brutally raped and murdered, and who initiated a dialogue with the perpetrator and ultimately offered him a form of friendship and forgiveness, you can listen here: - it’s truly an astonishing story. However, although the crime was severe, important contextual and life history factors emerged in the dialogue between the men – so we don’t here have a really hard case, of a perpetrator who meets the conditions I specified above. The point is, we wouldn’t know any of this, if the victim’s father hadn’t asked.

This is getting too long, but bear with me just a little more. Some important caveats:

1. It’s crucial to remember that the suspension of these attitudes is still within a context where we are holding responsible and accountable, and indeed punishing in so far as you will follow me in allowing that punishment can be understood as imposing serious consequences for the crime, but without reactive attitudes attached. (We also, of course, need to think about future security and safety in these hard cases.)
2. I don’t think we should ever ask such suspension of attitudes/demand a dialogue with perpetrators from victims and their friends and family. That would be wrong in my view (even though it does happen, as I understand it, in certain forms of restorative justice). People have different roles, and what’s right to ask people in some roles is totally wrong to ask people in other roles. The ‘people’ to ask this of is the criminal justice system, and, possibly additionally, our wider community or society at large, whatever exactly this ‘us’ or ‘we’ amounts to.
3. As well as not demanding this of victims, we also need to care for them, deeply, and with compassion and commitment. It’s of course normal and understandable to hate people who have harmed you, and want to harm them in turn. I’m in no way saying victims shouldn’t feel this way. But I’m not sure it actually makes anything better, e.g. helps people mourn for what they’ve lost, and also move forward and heal. Quite often, retributive emotions stand in the way of that process. I also don’t think that caring for victims means that ‘we’ or the criminal justice system must do the hating for them (although of course we may often find we share in it, as part of feeling for them). Finally, it’s important to remember, again, that on the model I’m proposing perpetrators are being held responsible and punished. They are not being “let off” – e.g. they’re going to prison – and so in a very real and concrete way we are not failing to think about victims and what has happened to them.
4. I do think we still need a clear, positive understanding of what ‘desert’ means and why or in what sense our reactive attitudes are things people ‘deserve’. I know some but not all of the work you mention – thank you for the references. But however intuitive it is that the perpetrators in these hard cases deserve our hatred, it shouldn’t be left simply as an intuition– we need an account that elucidates and justifies. You’re right that these reactions are deeply human of course, and so there is something to be lost if we abandon or change them, something potentially of real value, in its human-ness. But then we’re back to deciding between different goods: untempered human retributive emotions when wrongdoers 'deserve' them, or more chance for rehabilitation and repairing our community, and therefore less offending. You may deny the dichotomy, but I believe it is empirically real. If forced to choose, I choose the latter – which does not commit me to denying that the former is of value as well.

This has been an incredibly long reply. Thanks to everyone who is still with me. Special thanks to John, for the question.
As I said in my first post, I need to take a week off in-between posting – that week is now here. I’m really sorry to leave this conversation at this point, and please don’t hesitate to continue the discussion without me. But I won’t be back to join in again until next weekend (Thomas has kindly agreed to let my stint as Featured Author spill over into February). So until then ...

"But however intuitive it is that the perpetrators in these hard cases deserve our hatred, it shouldn’t be left simply as an intuition– we need an account that elucidates and justifies."

Agreed, we can't simply say that such hatred is, as John points out, deeply human and natural, and therefore suppose it's justified. I'd suggest that the (very natural) hatred is what drives the intuition of desert, and then we look around for a deeper justification, but there isn't one. It's simply that the perpetrator is the proximate cause of the hateful act and we're built for good evolutionary reasons to respond hatefully. The reactive attitudes point us in a useful direction to ensure our safety. But it isn't as if there is some further fact about the (sane) offender beyond the offense that makes him deserving.

"How do we know that there are no contextual or life history factors and that no psychological sense or reason can be made? I’m not here invoking scepticism that there could be none. Rather, what I’m suggesting is we look to the process of how we discover what they are, if indeed there are any."

Aren't there always? It's just that some contextual and life history factors are more hidden than others. When they come to light it shows the offender as entirely their result, therefore in no sense causa sui. And this realization can trigger a mitigation response on the part of the victim, lessening the hatred and desire for retribution. When this happens I don't think something humanly important is lost, but rather gained.

Of course, when in the grip of retributive emotions the last thing victims want to hear about is the causal story behind the offender. But were it generally accepted that there always *is* such a story - if everyone were a determinist - then the chances of getting trapped in such emotions and their often brutal sequelae would be reduced.

One of the topics that recur in Hanna’s discussion is the connection between criminal behaviour and some forms of psychopathology. I do not have the quote at hand, but I think she somewhere said that most criminals suffer of some psychopathological syndromes (primarily psycopathy, I suppose). As testified by an interesting exchange following the publication of a paper on the topic by Neil Levy few years ago, whether psychopathy should be accepted as an excusing factor is itself controversial. It is certainly true, however, that the perpetrators of the most gruesome crimes often have personal stories of poverty, deprivation and abusive childhood (no need to mention the all-present Robert Harris case). Hanna suggests that awareness of these factors should lead us to modify the most hostile of our reactive attitudes. It seems to me, however, that there comes a point at which we may well want to switch, as it were, from modus ponens to modus tollens. Suppose that we discover (and it wouldn’t be implausible) that Hitler’s adult behaviours have been determined by the mistreatments he received during his childhood. Should this lead us to dismiss the anger and hate we feel for him? I do not think so. The atrocity in his actions was too much. Moreover, there are people who survive their abusive childhood without becoming adults that harm other people. Having an abusive childhood is not a sufficient condition for becoming a violent criminal.
Of course Hitler represents an extreme case – even more extreme than those mentioned above by John. The point, however, is more general: it is not the rarity but rather the diffusion of unfavourable developmental conditions in cases of criminal behaviour (but also in cases of people who grow up without becoming violent criminals) that may push us to reconsider and downsize its excusing and anti-retributive import upon reflection.

Thanks Hanna and Tom.

It is an interesting question whether achieving closure through expressing certain reactive attitudes, such as resentment and hatred, actually helps in achieving a psychologically healthy recovery from victimization. I think it is an empirical issue, and I'm not sure how it comes out. If it really is a deep and natural kind of human response, then I suppose there would be some downside to seeking to suppress it, ignore it, or keep it bottled up.

It was an important clarification from Hanna that she would not ask the victims and/or their families to suppress the attitudes, but only the criminal justice system. So I take it this is compatible with a Strawsonian framework for our interpersonal relationships. But is there a tension between such a framework in the context quite generally of interpersonal relationships, but sequestering this from our criminal justice system and the state's symbolic role?

I wonder, for instance, if there would be less violence against women in a nation like India if the government were strong and clear in its condemnation of such horrific and cruel behavior. Similarly with the government of South Africa. Again, perhaps it is an empirical question whether the symbolic communication by the state in such circumstances should include an expression of resentment--that is, whether the expression of resentment tends to work better to deter the relevant behavior than mere moral disapprobation.

Thanks for these posts and your work on these subjects! I'm up to my neck with things to do and only peeking yet I can't help making a few comments.

First, to be clear, I'm not at all critical of your view, as I understand it. I just have a few questions about your way of expressing it. I think the view is spot on, especially the pragmatic point that our overly blameworthy culture and excessively punitive penal system are likely doing more harm than good. Certainly we’re in need of a new approach.

Second, I'm curious about the accuracy of the phrase "responsibility without blame." Actually I love the phrase, I’m just trying to understand it. If I understand your response to John, the phrase is hyperbolic. You’re not really critical of blame; you're critical of overt blame, or excessive punishment, or maybe state sanctioned blame. Someone might believe, for instance, (a) that all morally responsible actions are either praiseworthy or blameworthy, and (b) that excessive punishment or even overt criticism is always wrong. One would merely need to accept that some manifestations of blame were acceptable (silent sneering, mild admonishment) while most others were not. One could believe all this without rejecting any of your substantive views, as I see it.

I’m just trying to widen your net and show that folks who think that moral responsibility is essentially connected with praise and blame might still accept most if not all of what you are saying. Do you think that is right?

Third, I just downloaded “Psychopathology and the Ability to Do Otherwise” and I’m looking forward to reading it. I heard your Philosophy Bites interview and I think the point that most “addicts, agoraphobics, kleptomaniacs, neurotics, obsessives, and even psychopathic serial murderers” who “are all purportedly subject to irresistible desires” do not lack the “ability to do otherwise,” as most (but not all) contemporary philosophers understand that expression. This is a very important point since the best (non-question-begging) argument for the contemporary understanding is a kind of generalization argument. Hopefully a post on this topic is forthcoming. Thanks again.

Thanks for this comment ... and sorry for my long silence! I'm about to post again about addiction at last. As for the phrase "Responsibility without Blame", the discussions after my last two posts made me realize I should distinguish more sharply between responsibility without our typical reactive attitudes, and responsibility without our typical second-order attitude towards our typical reactive attitudes - the former being the ideal towards which to strive, the latter being a good place to start. One reason I haven't always distinguished these sharply is because I've offered an account of blame as a kind of second-order attitude of entitlement to our reactive attitudes (if you're interested see my paper Irrational Blame ). But I'm committed to thinking that it's important to cash out what 'blameworthy' means via forms of accountability that do not involve our reactive attitudes. My pragmatism makes me keen to avoid black-and-white extremes so I don't want to rule out every small sneer, but the basic picture is to try to counsel avoidance and certainly not put forward philosophical positions which fashion constitutive links between responsibility, accountability, and sneers!

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