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UMM Home > Faculty Center> Thursday Afternoon Seminar Podcast > February 1, 2007

February 1, 2007

Seminar of February 1, 2007 Tammler Sommers

"The Two Faces of Revenge: Moral Responsibility and the Culture of Honor."

Retributive emotions and behavior are thought to be adaptive for their role in improving social coordination. However, since retaliation is generally not in the short-term interests of the individual, rational self-interest erodes the motivational link between retributive emotions and the accompanying adaptive behavior. I argue that two different sets of norms have emerged to reinforce this link: (1) norms about honor and (2) norms about moral responsibility and desert. I observe that the primary difference between these types of revenge motivators lies in where the normative focus is placed after an offense. In the first form of retribution, the normative focus is on the offended party. In the second, it is on the offender. Next, I show how each class of norms is well tailored to the particular features of the environment in which these varieties of revenge behavior emerge. Finally, I examine some philosophical implications of these observations. I argue that my account, if correct, poses tough challenges for all theories that defend, or rely upon, on the existence of a robust (desert-entailing) form of moral responsibility.