Mistakes and Moral Blameworthiness: An Account of the Excusing Force of Faultless Mistakes of Fact and Faultless Mistakes of Morality

Dissertation, The University of Arizona (1998)

It is a commonplace to hold that faultless mistakes of fact justify--or, at least, excuse--an agent's actions. Less prominent, however, is the view that faultless mistakes about morality similarly come to bear on our attributions of moral blameworthiness. My aim in this dissertation is to defend what I call the symmetry thesis: faultless mistakes of morality excuse just as do faultless mistakes of fact. Opposition to this thesis, I think, falls out of an incorrect understanding of the way in which faultless mistakes of fact come to bear on our attributions of moral responsibility. Accordingly, much of the dissertation is composed of an analysis of the excusing force of faultless mistakes of fact. ;Chapter 1 argues that faultless mistakes of fact are appropriately deemed excused, not justified, by morality and the law. Chapter 2 develops a challenge to what I call the traditional analysis of the excusing force of mistakes. This view holds that an agent's faultless mistake is excusing if, and only if, the mistake undermines, displaces, or, as they say in the criminal law, "negatives" the agent's subjective culpability. I suggest that concerns about voluntariness, not subjective culpability, are in order. Chapter 3 develops an account of voluntariness. I argue that an agent's actions are voluntary enough for an attribution of responsibility only if he did what he is accused of doing because this is something he was willing to do --only if, that is, what he did conforms to his will. Chapter 4 then applies this account of the excusing force of faultless mistakes of fact to cases of faultless mistakes of morality. I conclude that an agent is morally blameworthy for his actions only if he believes that what he is doing is wrong, it is true that what he is doing is wrong, and his reasons for so believing properly identify the features of his actions that make them wrong
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