The Puzzle of Victim-Anger

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Virginia Tech

In this paper I raise a puzzle that I call 'the puzzle of victim-anger' that is parallel to Bernard William's puzzle of agent-regret. Suppose a truck driver is driving down the street when a child happens to walk in front of them. Through no fault of their own, the driver hits and kills the child. It is well understood that the driver will, and probably should, have some sort of guilt-like response, called agent-regret. However, it would also be unsurprising to find out that the child's parents were angry at the driver for killing their child, and this observation has been largely overlooked in the literature on agent-regret. This anger is totally intelligible—we might even feel deeply alienated by a parent who didn't feel it in the wake of their child's avoidable death. Nevertheless, it's hard to see how this anger could be rationally defensible: aren't the parents just lashing out at an innocent party? In this paper, I show how the traditional philosophical account of anger fails to yield a satisfactory solution to this puzzle. As a result, I reject the traditional account and offer my own positive account of anger in its place. According to my positive account, anger functions to shift the conversational dynamic in order to call attention to the target's obligations to repair the harm they caused.

Ethics, Responsibility, Anger, Moral Luck