Moral Ignorance and Blameworthiness

Elinor Mason

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Abstract / Description of output

In this paper I discuss various hard cases that an account of moral ignorance should be able to deal with: ancient slave holders, Susan Wolf’s JoJo, psychopaths such as Robert Harris, and finally, moral outliers (people who, despite a normal background, behave in odious ways). All these agents are ignorant, but it is not at all clear that they are blameless on account of their ignorance.
I argue that the discussion of this issue in recent literature has missed the complexities of these cases by focusing on the question of epistemic fault. It is not clear that all blameworthy morally ignorant agents have committed an epistemic fault. There are other important issues that pull us in various directions: moral capacity, bad will, and formative circumstances. I argue that bad will is what is crucial, and moral ignorance itself can be a form of bad will. I argue that we should distinguish between two sorts of bad will, and correspondingly, two sorts of blameworthiness. Ordinary blameworthiness, requires moral knowledge, and is based on akratic action. The other kind of blameworthiness, objective blameworthiness, applies when the agent is morally ignorant, and when this indicates bad will. Objective blameworthiness can be undermined by unfortunate formative circumstances.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Early online date31 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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