Mihailis Diamantis (Iowa)

Discretion in Blaming

3 May 2021 | 12:00 EST | 17:00 BST

Philosophers of law typically utilize concepts and arguments from philosophy to enhance legal understanding. This Paper reverses that distinguished trend, drawing on legal practice to improve philosophy. It seeks inspiration from judicial sentencing discretion to introduce the novel philosophical thesis that ordinary people have discretion in deciding how to blame each other.

Blame sounds like a simple enough concept. It is the characteristic response through which people express negative judgments and condemnation of wrongdoing. Yet philosophers have struggled for millennia to understand blame and how severely it is appropriate to blame any given wrongdoer. The philosophical quandary has only deepened in recent decades as a paradox about blame—“the problem of moral luck”—has come to salience. Most philosophers agree that we have full control over how morally culpable we are and that we do not have full control over how much blame we deserve. For example, two people who drive home drunk are, ceteris paribus, equally culpable. However, luck may intervene. If one has the misfortune of striking a pedestrian on the way, it is appropriate to blame him more. The paradox of reconciling equal levels of culpability with unequal levels of appropriate blame stands unresolved.

The law can help. One close legal analogue to blame is criminal sentencing. The many problems that plague philosophers of blame would sound foreign to sentencing judges. This Paper identifies why. Philosophers of blame seem unknowingly and almost universally to assume a hidden, false premise. While sentencing judges have wide discretion, philosophers implicitly assume a much more rigid picture of blame. They seem to think that the facts about a wrongful act fix a single appropriate severity of blame in response. Abandoning that premise would mean acknowledging that philosophy of blame cannot answer all questions . . . after a point, people have discretion to choose how to respond to wrongdoing. However, by acknowledging that we, like sentencing judges, have discretion in how we respond to wrong, philosophers could develop a more nuanced, intuitively-appealing, and paradox free account of justified blame.

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Crescente Molina (Oxford)

Promises and Commitments

7 June 2021 | 12:00 EST | 17:00 BST

When we promise, we voluntarily impose an obligation on ourselves. What is more, we grant others exclusive control over such obligation. Thus far, authors have assumed that these facts about promising must be true for all the cases in which we assume obligations towards others at will: (i) the voluntary imposition of obligations on ourselves must entail (ii) granting the obligee exclusive deontic control over the obligatory matter. Yet this is not true. We can do (i) without (ii). This happens when we create what I call commitments. This essay develops the notion of a commitment. I contend that commitments shape the structure of important moral phenomena such as some of our loyalty obligations, and that they shed light on the justification and scope of contract law. Furthermore, I argue that the existence of commitments invites us to rethink the way we understand the structure of moral obligations.  

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Felipe Jiménez (USC)

Dworkinian Positivism

5 July 2021 | 12:00 EST | 17:00 BST

According to the one-system view, law is a branch of political morality. This paper assumes this claim as true and interrogates its implications for the concept of law that legal participants ought to adopt. As I argue, there is a relatively direct path from the one-system view to an argument that prescribes the positivist concept of law on normative grounds. Even if jurisprudential questions ultimately depend on moral considerations, the latter might still weigh in favor of a version of positivism. The positivist view, I will argue, is more consistent with reasonable disagreement and democratic authority than non-positivist views, and it offers a clearer view of the situations under which law should be resisted and reformed. Positivism is also more consistent with Dworkinian integrity than nonpositivism. We ought to adopt the positivist concept of law, precisely because of the moral considerations that the one-system view sees as continuous with legal theory.

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