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I—Miranda Fricker: The Relativism of Blame and Williams's Relativism of Distance

Miranda Fricker
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8349.2010.00190.x 151-177 First published online: 1 June 2010

Abstract

Bernard Williams is a sceptic about the objectivity of moral value, embracing instead a qualified moral relativism—the ‘relativism of distance’. His attitude to blame too is in part sceptical (he thought it often involved a certain ‘fantasy’). I will argue that the relativism of distance is unconvincing, even incoherent; but also that it is detachable from the rest of Williams's moral philosophy. I will then go on to propose an entirely localized thesis I call the relativism of blame, which says that when an agent's moral shortcomings by our lights are a matter of their living according to the moral thinking of their day, judgements of blame are out of order. Finally, I will propose a form of moral judgement we may sometimes quite properly direct towards historically distant agents when blame is inappropriate—moral-epistemic disappointment. Together these two proposals may help release us from the grip of the idea that moral appraisal always involves the potential applicability of blame, and so from a key source of the relativist idea that moral appraisal is inappropriate over distance.