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Tuesday, October 5, 2021 at 4:00pm to 5:00pm
Professor, Sage School of Philosophy
Narcissism, Mockery, and the Architecture of Praise and Blame
ABSTRACT: In the philosophical literature on responsibility, writers invariably pair “praise and blame” as the relevant symmetrical positive and negative responses to responsible agents. In their ordinary connotations, however, they seem anything but symmetrical: blame hurts and so seems to require desert, demands a lot in response (guilt, remorse, apology, repair), is typically emotional, can be private, is most often moral in nature, can be mitigated by excuse, and can be quite dangerous, as over-blame can damage people psychologically. Praise, on the other hand, seems to involve none of these things: you can be aptly praised for things you don’t deserve (e.g., a beauty mark), it demands nothing, it can be delivered with no emotions whatsoever, it has to be expressed (so isn’t private), it’s most often nonmoral, excuses don’t mitigate it, and overpraise is psychologically innocuous. So pairing praise and blame as a symmetrical pair seems quite wrongheaded, as they just aren’t.
My aim in this talk will be to reveal the hidden symmetries between praise and blame. We will get there by starting with the overlooked dangers in overpraise — it often generates narcissism in young people — and I’ll go on from there to reveal a kind of blame in mockery that we engage in all the time and that fills a crucial symmetrical role on the negative side of praise and blame’s overall architecture.