Explaining (away) the epistemic condition on moral responsibility

In Philip Robichaud & Jan Willem Wieland (eds.), Responsibility - The Epistemic Condition. Oxford University Press. pp. 146–162 (2017)
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It is clear that lack of awareness of the consequences of an action can undermine moral responsibility and blame for these consequences. But when and how it does so is controversial. Sometimes an agent believing that the outcome might occur is excused because it seemed unlikely to her, and sometimes an agent having no idea that it would occur is nevertheless to blame. A low or zero degree of belief might seem to excuse unless the agent “should have known better”, but it is unclear how to spell out this normative condition. -/- This chapter combines (a) an independently motivated account of responsibility, blame, and credit as grounded in a normal explanatory relation between agential qualities and objects of responsibility with (b) the familiar Strawsonian idea that moral blame and credit depend on the agent’s quality of will. The resulting explanatory quality of will condition on moral responsibility is then further motivated by being shown to account for the effects on moral blame and credit of justifications, as well as of excuses and undermined control in cases not involving ignorance. -/- The explanatory quality of will condition is finally applied to cases involving various degrees of lack of awareness. Though this condition itself involves no awareness requirement, it is shown how it accounts for the degrees to which lack of awareness can excuse. It is also explained how lack of awareness fails as an excuse exactly when the agent should have known better and can be blamed for not doing so.

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Gunnar Björnsson
Stockholm University


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