Adam Piovarchy with a bookshelf behind him

Agora Speaker Series 2023 - Dr Adam Piovarchy

Signalling, Sanctioning and Sensitising: How to Uphold Norms with Blame

This talk presents a new theory of blame’s nature, arguing that it has the function of upholding norm compliance. Norm compliance is achieved by making agents competent with norms and motivated to exercise said competence, and blame achieves these through three effects. First, blame signals an agent’s commitment to a norm, which gives assurance to others that the norm will be complied with and enforced. Second, blame sanctions norm violations, raising the costs of violations and thus deterring them. Third, blame sensitises agents. It gives the target feedback on their conduct, which teaches them the nature of the norm, when it applies, and the weight that ought to be accorded to it compared to other norms. Additionally, by providing incentives to conform to the norm which the agent repeatedly tries to comply with, the agent gradually internalises the norm, coming to experience the norm as intrinsically motivating. This three-pronged story resolves a number of puzzles about the nature of blame and why it can take so many forms.