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Is Blameworthiness Forever?



Many of those working on moral responsibility assume that once blameworthy, always blameworthy. They believe that blameworthiness, like diamonds, is forever. In this article, we argue that blameworthiness is not forever; rather, it can diminish through time. We begin by showing that the view that blameworthiness is forever is best understood as the claim that personal identity is sufficient for diachronic blameworthiness. We argue that this view should be rejected because it entails that blameworthiness for past action is completely divorced from the distinctive psychological features of the person at the later time. This is because on none of the leading accounts of personal identity does identity require the preservation of any distinctive psychological features, but merely requires some form of continuity. The claim that blameworthiness is forever should therefore be rejected. We then sketch an account of blameworthiness over time, and consider two objections.



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This paper was inspired by a discussion led by Matt King on the Flickers of Freedom blog ( We have benefited from audiences at the University of Gothenburg and the 2018 Eastern APA. Thanks especially to Sofia Jeppsson, Per-Erik Milam, Christian Munthe, Shyam Nair, Ángel Pinillos, David Shoemaker, and several anonymous referees.



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Journal of the American Philosophical Association
  • ISSN: 2053-4477
  • EISSN: 2053-4485
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