Ignorance and Moral Responsibility: A Quality of Will Approach
Doctor of Philosophy thesis
My central aim in the dissertation is to defend an account of the epistemic condition of moral responsibility that distinguishes culpable ignorance from non-culpable ignorance. The view that I defend is that ignorance is culpable just when an agent flouts or ignores moral reasons that underlie her epistemic norms or obligations. This view is a quality-of-will theory of moral responsibility that emphasizes the agent’s reasons-responsiveness. It holds that only relevant epistemic obligations are those that require acts of investigation or reflection. In the dissertation, I examine extant theories of culpable ignorance and suggest that they all fall short in some important respect. Then, I propose and defend an account in which epistemic norms play a leading role. I analyze the nature of epistemic norms and their normativity, and I argue that agents who ignore or flout actional investigative norms and then act on subsequent false beliefs are connected to the wrongness of their action in a way that establishes their blameworthiness. I also argue that epistemic norms that require agents to hold certain beliefs or make certain inferences are not relevant to culpable ignorance. Finally, I explore the implications of my view for certain interesting cases of moral ignorance. I discuss ignorance that results from an agent’s social or historical circumstances, ignorance that stems from pure moral deference, and ignorance that is explained by epistemic difficulty of getting certain moral facts right. There are two striking outcomes of my research. The first is that reflection on the epistemic condition shows that one cannot think deeply about moral responsibility without also engaging issues in epistemology relating to the nature and normativity of belief, and issues in normative ethics relating to what our moral obligations actually are. The second striking outcome is that bringing these rather disparate topics together, as I attempted to do, reveals that much of our ignorance is actually non-culpable, and that many of our beliefs about the blameworthiness of ignorant agents are unwarranted.
moral responsibility; culpable ignorance; epistemic norms; quality of will; epistemic condition