Don't Know, Don't Care?

This paper concerns responsibility for moral ignorance: ignorance of facts about which acts are right or wrong, what things are valuable or disvaluable, what obligations we owe to others, and so on, arising from ignorance of the moral significance of non-moral facts rather than from ignorance of those facts. The existing literature on this topic falls into two camps. Some take a “voluntarist” approach to moral responsibility and use it to argue that we are rarely, and perhaps never, blameworthy for moral ignorance. Others take a “quality-of-will” approach to moral responsibility and use it to argue that we are often, and perhaps always, blameworthy for moral ignorance. I take a third line: I argue that when the quality-of-will approach is properly understood, we can see that it does not entail that we are often blameworthy for moral ignorance. What it entails is that we are blameworthy for ignorance that involves failure to care adequately about what is in fact morally valuable. It is unclear what proportion of moral ignorance is like this. I then argue that, while some moral ignorance clearly results from inadequate moral caring, it is possible to care adequately about the considerations that make an act wrong while still failing to realize that it is wrong. I offer cases to illustrate this point. I then suggest a change of direction that quality-of-will theorists should take in our thinking on this topic: we should focus on articulating the standards for adequate caring — that is, the moral standards that specify what it is to care “adequately”. I make an initial proposal for a structure that the standards for adequate caring might take, and identify four promising avenues for future research on this topic.

This paper is forthcoming in Philosophical Studies. Here’s the penultimate version. Please cite the published version once it becomes available.

I previously presented this paper at the Concordia Workshop on Virtue and Moral Reasoning under Oppressive Social Conditions 2018, as a lunch talk at NYU in Fall 2018, as a colloquium talk at SMU and Syracuse in Spring 2019, and at the Northeast Normativity Workshop 2019 and Pacific APA 2019. I am grateful to participants in all of these discussions for their formative feedback.