How we fail to know: Group-based ignorance and collective epistemic obligations

Political Studies 70 (4):901-918 (2022)
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Humans are prone to producing morally suboptimal and even disastrous outcomes out of ignorance. Ignorance is generally thought to excuse agents from wrongdoing, but little attention has been paid to group-based ignorance as the reason for some of our collective failings. I distinguish between different types of first-order and higher order group-based ignorance and examine how these can variously lead to problematic inaction. I will make two suggestions regarding our epistemic obligations vis-a-vis collective (in)action problems: (1) that our epistemic obligations concern not just our own knowledge and beliefs but those of others, too and (2) that our epistemic obligations can be held collectively where the epistemic tasks cannot be performed by individuals acting in isolation, for example, when we are required to produce joint epistemic goods.

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Anne Schwenkenbecher
Murdoch University


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