The Problem with Negligence

Social Theory and Practice 35 (4):577-595 (2009)
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Ordinary morality judges agents blameworthy for negligently produced harms. In this paper I offer two main reasons for thinking that explaining just how negligent agents are responsible for the harms they produce is more problematic than one might think. First, I show that negligent conduct is characterized by the lack of conscious control over the harm, which conflicts with the ordinary view that responsibility for something requires at least some conscious control over it. Second, I argue that negligence is relevantly indistinguishable from inadvertence, which is ordinarily thought to excuse agents from responsibility. I argue that the parallels between negligence and inadvertence suggest that negligent agents are not responsible for the harms they produce, while proposing an alternative model for distinguishing between negligence and inadvertence that does justice to our intuitions.

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Matt King
University of Alabama, Birmingham


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