Kant Lecture Series with Dr. R. Jay Wallace (UC Berkeley) - Discussion

Fri May 19th 2023, 3:30 - 5:30pm

Drawing Moral Lines - Discussion

The reactive attitudes—including resentment, indignation, and guilt—have figured prominently in modern work on our moral practices; they seem central, in particular, to our practices of accountability and blame. In recent work, I have suggested that the reactive attitudes are refinements of angry disapprobation, and that they have an oppositional character, introducing friction into our social relations. In these lectures, I shall develop this theme and explore some of its implications for the theory of reactive blame.

1. Resentment and Social Friction: Reactive Blame and its Vicissitudes

The first lecture will take up the oppositional nature of reactive blame. The frictions that it introduces into social relations can be traced, in part, to our dependence on the attitudes of others. But they are also due to the specific dispositional profile of anger, which inclines the subject to confrontation rather than withdrawal. I connect this dimension of reactive anger to its value as a social practice: a system of accountability that is organized around these reactions expresses an ongoing commitment to the relational norms at the core of interpersonal morality. I also suggest that there is an agential dimension to reactive blame, which makes it fitting to think of it as a form of social power.

2. The Politics of Grievance and Other Pathologies of Influence

Power is of course inherently fraught, giving individuals a tool that can easily be abused. In the second lecture, I explore some of the distinctive pathologies of this social formation, and discuss the prospects for overcoming them in our shared lives. One example is the politics of grievance that is salient in contemporary western societies, which invites a Nietzschean analysis. Another involves scripts that discount or deny the legitimacy of reactive blame when it is experienced by members of oppressed or marginalized communities. But is a morally defensible form of interpersonal power really possible? Social frictions might seem to introduce the wrong kind of reason for complying with relational moral expectations. I address this challenge in the conclusion to the talk.

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