Moral responsibility, culpable ignorance and suppressed disagreement

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Furman, Katherine
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Taylor & Francis
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Ignorance can excuse otherwise blameworthy action, but only if the ignorance itself is blameless. One way to avoid culpable ignorance is to pay attention when epistemic peers disagree. Expressed disagreements place an obligation on the agent to pay attention when an interlocutor disagrees, or risk culpable ignorance for which they might later be found blameworthy. Silence, on the other hand, is typically taken as assent. But in cases of suppressed disagreement, the silenced interlocutor has information that could save the agent from ignorance in scenarios where that ignorance might lead to harmful action, and silence does not actually indicate assent. The problem is further complicated because the agent might not be aware of the fact that a silenced interlocutor has information that could prevent ignorance, and consequent harmful action. In this paper, I provide a new account of excuses from ignorance in situations of suppressed disagreement. I do this in the context of two cases; Kelly’s (2005) hypothetical case of the Tyrannical Dictator, and the real-world case of former South African President Thabo Mbeki and his AIDS denialist policies in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Culpable ignorance , Suppressed disagreement , Moral responsibility
Furman, K. (2018) 'Moral Responsibility, Culpable Ignorance and Suppressed Disagreement', Social Epistemology, 32(5), pp. 287-299. doi: 10.1080/02691728.2018.1512173
© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Social Epistemology on 05 Oct 2018, available online: