Ignorance as a Moral Excuse by Michael J. Zimmerman

CEU Community + Invited Guests
Nador u. 9, Monument Building
Gellner Room
Friday, October 17, 2014 - 3:30pm
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Friday, October 17, 2014 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm

The Department of Political Science and the Department of Philosophy cordially invite you to the public lecture

Ignorance as a Moral Excuse

presented by

Michael J. Zimmerman
Professor, University of North Carolina at Greensboro 

Date: 17th October, 2014 – 15.30

Venue: CEU Nador u. 9, Monument Building Gellner Room

Abstract: Ever since Aristotle, it has been customary to identify two conditions as being individually necessary and jointly sufficient for someone, S, to be morally responsible for something, X. One condition has to do with whether S is, or was, in control of X; the other has to do with whether S is, or was, ignorant of the nature X. In previous writings I have argued that a common and natural conception of these conditions leads to an uncommon conclusion, captured in the following Origination Thesis: every chain of culpability is such that at its origin lies an item of behavior for which the agent is directly culpable and of whose wrongness he (or she) was aware at the time he engaged in it. The argument for this thesis rests on a number of premises, but two in particular have recently been challenged by a number of writers. The first of these premises is that one is culpable for something only if one was in control of that thing. The other premise is that one is culpable for acting from ignorance only if one is culpable for the ignorance from which one acted. In this paper I examine reasons both for accepting and for rejecting these premises. I argue that, whereas there may be some kinds of culpability for which one or other of these premises is false, there is a particular kind of culpability, having in particular to do with the fairness of punishment, for which both premises, and hence also the Origination Thesis, hold true.