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Objective and Subjective Blame after War

31 July 2017


When soldiers come home from war, some experience lingering emotional effects from the choices they were forced to make, and the outcomes of these choices. In this article, we consider the gap between objective assessments of blame and subjective assessments of self-blame, guilt, and shame after war, and we suggest a way of understanding how soldiers can understand their moral responsibility from both of these vantage points. We examine arguments from just war theory regarding the objective moral responsibility of combatants and consider the role moral luck plays in our assessment of moral responsibility. We then use P.F. Strawson’s account of the reactive attitudes to demonstrate the limitations of focusing excessively on the objective stance to determine the blameworthiness of soldiers. We argue that we should think about blame alongside moral emotions like guilt and shame, which will allow us to better understand subjective blame and the experiences of soldiers who blame themselves after war. We claim that objective determinations of heroism or responsibility do not adequately capture the complexity of moral emotions for soldiers returning home after war. As part of a shared moral community, civilians owe veterans more than automated responses based on the civilian experience.


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