nonmoral guilt

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9 Nonmoral guilt HERBERT MORRI S Most of us share the belief that we sometimes are and someti mes are not guilty. To deny it would seem to flout common sense. But, of course, philosophers h;l\e done precisel y They ha,e offered ar-guments w demonstrate the radical view that none of us is. or indeed ever could be, guilty- art,'l. tments. for exampl e. that cast doubt upon our ever possessing free choice or our h;l\ing an idenl i1 y that extends over time. Were we to take seriously such views. the ;tpp ropriateness, even rationalit}' of OUJ' e1e r feeli ng gui Jt v \I' Oldd a(So lJe thrown intO doubt, for this feeling generally arises because of a belief in one's gui lt. A shared assumption appears w underli e the opposing r iews of common sense and these philosophers. Guilt reguires "culpable re-sponsibility for wrongdoing ... Thus, if one larked free choiLe or if one acted under a reasonable mistake of fact or if anothe r. not oneself, were responsible for wrongdoing. one would not be Common sense proceeds on the assumpt ion the requircmem is someti mes satis-fied ; the philosophers dispute it. From the fact that we defeat attributions of guilt by citing absence of culpability. it is easy to c:ondude that the criteria for guilt . summa-rized by rhe phrase "culpable responsibility tor wrongdoing-. impose constraints (I call them moral constraims") on the concept's applica-tion. Fai lure to satisfy these constraints implies absence of moral guilt, which is then assumed to be the only genuine guilt (apart from a formal concept of guilt such as we find in law). On this view, which I take to be commonly held, one's feeling guilty, despire ones not being guilty, would be inappropriate.1 Such a view provides a hegemony over the whole sphere of guilt for moral guilt alone. My principal aim here is to challenge this ,iew. I believe it provides 1 J oel Femberg puts it yuitc: 'Guilt consists in till' intl!lllional transgression of prohibition. a ,iolation of a boundan. or legal todc. bv a definite vol uman act" (citing H. K. Lvnd. Ou Shllml' mul tlw Srarclt for ltlmtil_,). In Feinberg. Du111g and Dt. different from a morall y guilty p ractitioner or \"OOdoo. Such a person is aware of the bel ief that is held - name I). that one can bring about d eath in a certain way - whi le ror Freud and Professor Fi nga rctt e. bv defini tion one is eithe r a n infanl - that is. a moral ly innocent agent - o r one is an adult who is unaware of the unconscious magical bel ief. 1'\onnall y, however. if" l a m unaware that by doing.'( I shall bring about l'. even if it is the case that I wish for r. it is nOL the case that I am morally guilty in bri nging about}' hy doing X. It "o uld H Ou lfl""''bliit_v ( l!lli/ ). pp. \"c\\ York: Basic !I lhid .. P R9. 230 1-1 ERBER' ! 1\!0RRI S appear to be a consequence of Professor Fingareue's reliance on Freud's views or psychic reality that infants and one's unconscious were the subjects of moral guilt. But this will not do. So far . then. no persuasive argument has been presented that merely to wish for evil for another is a basis for moral guih . and a number of reasons have been offered why such wishes do not p rovide such a basis. Freud's explanations for why one might feel guilty over wishes might make one's having the feeling understandable, though not necessarily appropriate. and such a would not be grounded upon a true belief in one's moral guil t. We need, I think, a new start. Someone says, '' I feel gui ll )' whenever I think of killing her." or "I am bothered by my conscienct' whenever ! think of being unfaithful." The confession may surprise us. but not the feelings reported in it. We might eve n be tempted to say. "Well. I should hope you're feeling gui lty! What 111i ghr explain such T wo somewhat differenl t)' pes of ment. The au lhors wish w th;mk the panicipants. part icubrl) .\ll'ar Nelson. Barry Fdd. Ul f (;iiranson. Le na Holnllp'isl, .111d Len nan ..\ ql'isl for Lht:ir conLrii>LIIinn< w the disrussion. T he authors are gratt.:ful also to :VIichad \!oote. Ferdi naml Schoe man. Richard Singer , and P. 0 . Tr askman for t heir helpful w mmcrus on lht manuscripl. 1 On jnstitication and excuse generally, see J. L. Austi n. "A Plea for Excuses." Pruafti ing-' of the AI7Stutdiau Socirt.v 57 ( 1957): l. reprinted inj. L. Auslin. Philo.!ophical Papm (Oxford: Oxford Universit y Press. 1961). chap. 6: H. L.A. Han, Puni.1hmmt and Rr spmmbllif.'' (Oxford: Oxford Universit v Press. 1968). chaps. I and 2: Eric D'Arc,. Huma n Arts (Oxford : Oxford Press, 1963). chap. 2: Jerome llall. tJf thr Criminal Lnw, 2nd ed. (Indianapolis: Bobbs-\1errill. 1960). 2 On justification as imol\' ing situations where the outcome is rig-ht in Lhe ci rcum-stances. see George Fletcher. Rethinking Crimirwl Lnuo (Boston: Liule. Brown. I 759. 769- 73. :I On justific:tlion as involvi ng si tuations where the tlUlCOillt' is permissible bul not necessaril r desi rable in 1he ri rr umstances. see J oshua Dressler. ":-.i cw Thoughts About t he Concept o( J usli fication in the Criminal La": :\ Critiq ue ol Fletcher\ T hinking and Rethinking," Law H.t' 1!1flt ' :W ( 19ll4): l j I.