Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Miranda Fricker

Committee Members

Jeffrey Blustein

Hagop Sarkissian

Subject Categories

Applied Ethics | Epistemology | Ethics and Political Philosophy | Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in Communication | Interpersonal and Small Group Communication | Other Philosophy | Social Psychology


Blame, Moral Philosophy, Moral Responsibility, Blame and Forgiveness, Reactive Attitudes, Retribution


This dissertation argues that we can hold other agents morally responsible without expressing blame and, more strongly, that doing so is preferable. I first argue that blame is fundamentally retributive, and that blame’s retributive foundation is incipiently present even in civilized guises. As such, even though some forms of expressed blame are quite civilized, expressed blame always involves a risk of emotional damage, entrenchment, and escalation. To make things worse, I argue that anger is an exacerbating feature of blame’s retributive foundation. I then argue that, generally speaking, cases of public blame involve higher stakes than cases of private judgments of blame. This difference in stakes informs the warrant we have to make private judgments of blame, as compared to the heightened warrant we need to make public expressions of blame. Throughout the dissertation, I make repeated use of the idea that even if expressing blame to a wrongdoer is fitting for a given case of wrongdoing, it might not be appropriate to express that blame, due to the practical, epistemic, and ethical risks that expressions of blame invoke. Finally, I present three alternate modes of response to moral wrongdoing that allow us to hold wrongdoers responsible (construed as answerability) without expressed blame. I further argue for their context-dependent superiority to expressed blame. My hope with this project, more generally, is to expand the range of useful responses to moral wrongdoing one can take. Put simply, I aim to shift our default impersonal moral strategies of response to wrongdoing away from expressed blame and towards alternative practices.