Moral Philosophy Seminar (Monday - Week 6, MT18)

moral philosophy

John Stuart Mill, in Chapter 5 of Utilitarianism, proposes a distinctive understanding of moral obligation and moral wrongness in terms of the appropriateness of blame. According to this sort of account, an action is morally wrong iff someone who performs the action would generally merit blame for doing so. An action is morally obligatory iff someone would generally merit blame for failing to perform it. In the talk, I will do three things:

1. Offer some reasons why this Millian blame-account of moral obligation is very attractive, helping us understand and avoid certain common objections to moral theories.

2. Argue for two departures from Mill’s specific version of the blame-account. First, Mill assimilates blame to punishment, whereas I suggest that blame is more accurately viewed as a form of protest. Secondly, Mill thinks that norms for appropriate blame are ultimately to be derived from the good or bad consequences of blaming people for performing certain action types. By contrast, on my view, the norms for appropriate blame are a matter of the fittingness of blame, and are not reducible to consequentialist considerations.

3. Outline my preferred fitting-to-protest account of moral obligation, by discussing a paper by Cheshire Calhoun, Responsibility and Reproach.


Members of the audience are invited to join the speaker and the convenor for drinks and dinner at a local restaurant following the talk (at their own expense). Please contact Ed Lamb in advance if you would like to attend a dinner (

Brian McElwee is a lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Southampton, having previously taught at Oxford, Warwick and St Andrews. His recent work has focused on how demanding morality is, what virtue consists in and what the most plausible form of Consequentialism is. He has published widely on these and other topics in journals such as The Philosophical Quarterly, Australasian Journal of Philosophy and Utilitas.