Ignorance, Revision, and Common Sense

In Philip Robichaud & Jan Willem Wieland (eds.), Responsibility: The Epistemic Condition. Oxford, UK: pp. 233-51 (2017)
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Sometimes someone does something morally wrong in clear-eyed awareness that what she is doing is wrong. More commonly, a wrongdoer fails to see that her conduct is wrong. Call the latter behavior unwitting wrongful conduct. It is generally agreed that an agent can be blameworthy for such conduct, but there is considerable disagreement about how one’s blameworthiness in such cases is to be explained, or what conditions must be satisfied for the agent to be blameworthy for her conduct. Many theorists hold that an agent’s blameworthiness for unwitting wrongful conduct must stem from—or trace back to—her blameworthiness for something else. And appeals to tracing in these cases lead some writers to a highly revisionist view, on which people are blameworthy for wrongdoing much less often than we ordinarily think (and our mistake, unfortunately, isn’t about how much wrongdoing there is). In this chapter, I set out the main claims of an argument for such a view and respond to it. I offer grounds for retaining a good many of the judgments that the revisionist would have us reject. The defense rests to a significant extent on commonsense views about the psychological capacities and abilities to act that people ordinarily possess, views that, as far as I can tell, revisionists have not shown to be mistaken.

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Randolph Clarke
Florida State University


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