Ignorance and Moral Judgment: Testing the Logical Priority of the Epistemic

Consciousness and Cognition (forthcoming)
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It has recently been argued that a person’s moral judgments (about both their own and others’ actions) are constrained by the nature and extent of their relevant ignorance and, thus, that such judgments are determined in the first instance by the person’s epistemic circumstances. It has been argued, in other words, that the epistemic is logically prior to other normative (e.g., ethical, prudential, pecuniary) considerations in human decision-making, that these other normative considerations figure in decision-making only after (logically and temporally) relevant ignorance has constrained the decision-maker’s menu of options. If this is right, then a person’s moral judgments in some set of circumstances should vary with their knowledge and ignorance of these circumstances. In this study, we test the hypothesis of the logical priority of the epistemic. We describe two experiments in which subjects’ knowledge and ignorance of relevant consequences were manipulated. In the second experiment, we also compared the effect of ignorance on moral judgments with that of personal force, a factor previously shown to influence moral judgments. We found broad empirical support for the armchair arguments that epistemic considerations are logically prior to normative considerations.

Author Profiles

Hayley Brown
Butler University
Parker Crutchfield
Western Michigan University School Of Medicine
Scott Scheall
Arizona State University


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