Thursday, January 09, 2020

The Accountability Theory of Condemnation

This is the last post in a series that examined theories of condemnation that compete with that proposed by desirism.

I am using the following text:

Dill, Brendan and Darwall, Stephen (2014). "Moral Psychology as Accountability" in Moral Psychology and Human Agency (D'Arms, Justin and Jacobson, eds.). Oxford.

So far, I have looked at:

The Egoistic Theory of Condemnation: the theory that people condemn others because they seek some personal gain - compensation, cooperation in the production of a public good, satisfaction.

The Deterrence Theory of Condemnation that explains condemnation as a threat that will give people a reason not to perform those actions that will result in condemnation.

The Retributivist Theory of Condemnation which attempts to explain condemnation as an attempt to inflict retribution on the guilty party in proportion to the wrongness of their crime.

The theory that the authors defended was one that they called the accountability theory.

the accountability theory views punishment as a means to the end of getting the perpetrator to hold himself accountable for his wrongdoing (p. 48)

This theory is still going to encounter the problem that we have come up with before. This is the problem of the condemnation of historical, fictional, and hypothetical individuals. It would be quite difficult, as I understand it, to hope to get Hitler to hold himself accountable for the Holocaust. Similarly, given Trump's psychology it is highly unlikely that he will ever hold himself accountable for anything either. Yet, we condemn both of them.

This problem also occurs in the case of third-party condemnation. This applies to cases like those where the people of the household condemn others who are not present and who may never hear of the condemnation. Clearly, this form of condemnation cannot hope to cause the condemned to take responsibility for his actions. Yet, the condemnation of historical, fictional, and hypothetical figures is quite common, as is the condemnation of people who are not present and who cannot hope to made to hold themselves accountable by these actions.

1 comment:

David Cortesi said...

As with many other purportedly external activities (like prayer, for instance) the real benefit of condemnation is in the mind of the condemnor. It doesn't matter that the condemnee is dead (like Hitler), incorrigible (like Trump) or simply out of ones reach (or indeed, even imaginary). The act of condemnation settles accountability in the mind of the person doing the act and so relieves stress. It resolves ambiguity; it absolves the condemnor of any possible blame (e.g. for inaction); it satisfies. Formally and firmly placing blame on a third party provides a satisfying psychological benefit, irrespective of its moral basis.