Must We Worry About Epistemic Shirkers?

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy:1-26 (2024)
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It is commonly assumed that blameworthiness is epistemically constrained. If one lacks sufficient epistemic access to the fact that some action harms another, then one cannot be blamed for harming. Acceptance of an epistemic condition for blameworthiness can give rise to a worry, however: could agents ever successfully evade blameworthiness by deliberately stunting their epistemic position? I discuss a particularly worrisome version of such epistemic shirking, in which agents pre-emptively seek to avoid access to potentially morally relevant facts. As Roy Sorensen and Jan Willem Wieland have argued, we seem to be faced with a potentially troubling regress when trying to explain what goes wrong in such situations. I argue that the solution to this so-called Shirker Problem is not to be found in complicated and demanding anti-shirking-principles with universal scope and potentially self-reflexive content. Instead, careful consideration of the necessary motivational make-up of genuine shirkers reveals their ignorance to lack the necessary depth to be exculpatory. Since shirkers by definition react to the possibility of the revelation of morally relevant facts with acts of epistemic self-limitation, they necessarily prove guilty of a form of culpable moral recklessness. Epistemic shirking thus does not pose a worrisome problem for ethical theory.

Author's Profile

Daniele Bruno
Humboldt University, Berlin


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