Blame and Forgiveness at Work

April 12, 2024 - April 13, 2024
Saint Mary's College of California

United States

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  • Elfenworks Center for Responsible Business
  • Legal Studies and Business Ethics Department, Wharton School


University of California, San Diego
University of Pennsylvania


Saint Mary's College of California

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Practices of blame and forgiveness are rife with moral risks: disproportionate, hypocritical, vicious, or counterproductive blame, and forgiving too soon, for the wrong reasons, or in ways that undermine self-respect, among others. Many of these risks are magnified in workplace and organizational contexts, given the distinctive forms of interdependence, authority, monitoring, and power they involve. Conversely, organizational contexts may also mitigate some of the risks, given how they can formalize procedures of due process and restorative justice and are putatively less “personal” than informal social contexts. Several contemporary moral controversies intersect with these issues: debates about “cancel culture,” sanctioning employees for social media posts and other off-work behavior, the appropriateness of anger at work and the spread of “mindfulness” practices, and the push for workplace democracy. While there is a large empirical literature examining blame and forgiveness in organizations and other commercial contexts, it has left open the normative and conceptual questions that the philosophical literature on blame and forgiveness has resources to address: When and why do workplace participants have standing to blame one another for wrongs done at, or outside, of work? Does it matter whether they act in their organizational or institutional role? When we forgive someone within an institutional context, such as the workplace, is its reach properly limited to that context and their role therein? Given the asymmetries of power and influence that are typical in organizations, are there differential burdens to lessen blame, apologize, and/or to forgive? How should we understand the distinction between punishment and blame in organizational settings? And is the propriety of blaming or forgiving someone at work sensitive to how they are blamed or forgiven outside of work? The papers at this workshop will address these questions in the context of broader conceptions of blame, forgiveness, and institutions.

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March 29, 2024, 11:00pm PST

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