• Professor, Philosophy

Research Statement

My Current Research Project:

Misplaced Blame   

Questions of blame have been central to Western philosophy since its inception. In contemporary contexts, they include: 1) What is blame?  Is it a “reactive attitude” (i.e., an emotion), a disposition, a judgement? 2) What is the function of blame? Is it to communicate attitudes? To regulate behavior? 3) When is blame appropriate? For instance, what capabilities must one have to be eligible for blame? Who has standing to blame specific wrongdoers? 4) Given its harsh nature, is blame valuable? If it is, do our “blaming practices” need “civilizing?” 5) What is the connection between blame and moral responsibility?  For instance, is it ever appropriate to withhold blame from those who are morally responsible?

These conceptual and normative questions have dominated contemporary philosophical discourse around blame. In considering them, theorists imagine, almost without exception, cases where blame lands correctly—where someone has in fact committed a wrong and where blame is therefore, prima facie, fitting.  This is a stunning oversight given that the political dimensions of blame are in plain sight and are perhaps more visible than ever: certain people are apt to be blamed even when they are morally innocent, while others tend to escape blame even when they deserve it.  This phenomenon is surely a form of social injustice. Yet social and political philosophers, like theorists of blame, have evaded discussing it.

Here is an example of the phenomenon I wish to address. It is a statement from a Bill Cosby fan made in response to Cosby’s indictment for aggravated indecent assault for drugging a woman and raping her:

"The issue is determining what constitutes ‘rape’ . . . I don’t think that making a series of questionable decisions leading to you having [an] intoxicated relation with someone and later regretting it or feeling like you were assaulted constitutes as rape. I think a lot of people—both men and women—would be able to lock partners up if this was a valid basis to charge someone with sexual assault."

Although the fan purports to address the concept of rape, his remarks suggests that it was the victim’s own fault that she was drugged—it was the result of her bad decisions—and that Cosby did not actually assault her. Rather, the fan insinuates, she falsely accused him of rape out of regret.  My aim is to subject these types of cases to philosophical analysis. This will make two scholarly contributions: first it will provide a theoretical framework for understanding the normative dimensions of a pressing social problem and, second, it will fill a gap spanning the philosophical literatures on moral blame and social justice.  My hope is that my work will spawn further conversation between political philosophers and theorists of blame about the politics of blame.

In my proposed book, I will analyze five seemingly disparate social phenomena that, I argue, are aptly characterized as social practices of misplaced blame.  They include victim-blaming, gaslighting, scapegoating, tone-policing, and what I call blame-immunizing. I argue further that these practices are distinct from the blaming practices identified by traditional theorists of blame.  Those practices—expressing opprobrium toward wrongdoers, requesting an apology, excusing those with good intentions—function to place blame where it belongs and hence lay the groundwork for repair and reconciliation.  Inappropriate blame, under these practices, results from violating the practices’ norms.  By contrast, under practices of misplaced blame, inappropriate blame is the point. The norms of these practices, which are often perverted versions of acceptable blaming norms, typically govern wrongs committed against the powerless by the powerful. They place blame on morally innocent members of subordinated groups and withhold it from blameworthy members of dominant groups.  In so doing, they reinforce systems of oppression.

Research Keywords

  • Gaslighting, John Rawls, self-respect, social contract theory, distributive justice, disability, gendered division of labor


  • Victim-Blaming as a Practice of Inequality, presented at the Philosophy, Politics and Economics Society Conference. Conference Paper, Refereed, Presented, 11/04/2023.
  • Invitation by the prize committee to provide comments on the winner of the Gaus Memorial Prize for the best graduate student paper at the Philosophy, Politics and Economics Society Conference. Other, Presented, 11/03/2023.
  • Varieties of Gaslighting, presented at the Hypatia 40th Anniversary Conference. Conference Paper, Refereed, Presented, 09/07/2023.
  • Stuctural Gender Injustice and Rawls's Social Ontology, presented at the International Social Ontology Society Annual Conference. Conference Paper, Refereed, Presented, 08/19/2023.
  • Structural Injustice and the Basic Structure. Presented at A Theory of Justice: 50 Years Later, University of Virginia Law School. Invited Talk/Keynote, Presented, 12/2021.


  • Cynthia A. Stark (2023). Structural Injustice, Equality of Opportunity and the Basic Structure. Springer. Published, 11/2023.
  • Cynthia A. Stark (2023). Varieties of Gaslighting. Suny Press. Accepted, 11/2023.
  • Cynthia A. Stark (2023). Political Liberalism and Structural Gender Injustice. Oxford. Accepted, 09/2023.
  • Cynthia A Stark (2022). Misogyny, “Himpathy,” and Sexual Harassment. Roman and Littlefield. Published, 11/2022.
  • Cynthia A Stark (2022). Gaslighting, Dignity and Self-Respect. Routledge. Published, 01/2022.
  • Cynthia A Stark (2021). Will the Pandemic Transform the Gendered Division of Labor?. Perspectives: The Official Magazine of the University of Utah College of Humanities. Published, 11/2021.
  • Cynthia A. Stark (2021). Moral Desert, Rawls’s Justice as Fairness, and the Gendered Division of Labor. (pp. 168-186). Caring for Liberalism, Routledge (Studies in Contemporary Philosophy Series). Published, 01/2021.
  • Cynthia Stark (2020). Why Luck Egalitarianism Fails in Condemning Oppression. Feminist Philosophy Quarterly. Vol. 6, Article 1. Published, 12/2020.
  • Cynthia Stark (2020). Political Liberalism and Male Supremacy. Journal of Applied Philosophy. Vol. 37, 873-879. Published, 11/2020.
  • Cynthia A. Stark (2020). Luck, Justice and Institutions. Moral Philosophy and Politics. 235-260. Published, 05/2020.
  • Cynthia A. Stark (2019). Self-Respect. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Published, 12/2019.
  • Cynthia A. Stark (2019). Gaslighting, Misogyny and Psychological Oppression. The Monist. Vol. 102, 221-235. Published, 10/2019.
  • Cynthia A. Stark (2018). The Presumption of Equality. Law, Ethics and Philosophy. Vol. 6, 7-27. Published, 09/2018.
  • Cynthia A. Stark (2013). Luck, Opportunity and Disability. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy. Vol. 16, 383-402. Published, 12/2013.
  • Cynthia A. Stark (2012). Rawlsian Self-Respect. Oxford University Press. Vol. 2, 238-261. Published, 03/2012.
  • Cynthia A. Stark (2012). There's Something About Marla: Fight Club and the Engendering of Self-Respect. Routledge. Published, 03/2012.
  • Cynthia A. Stark (2010). Abstraction and Justification in Moral Theory. Hypatia. Vol. 24, 825-833. Published, 10/2010.