Ignorance Lost: A Reply to Yaffe on the Culpability of Willful Ignorance

Criminal Law and Philosophy 12 (1):107-124 (2018)
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In a recent paper in this journal, Gideon Yaffe provides an expected utility model of culpability in order to explain why willfully ignorant misconduct sometimes is just as culpable as knowing misconduct. Although promising, I argue here that challenges remain for Yaffe’s view. First, I argue that Yaffe’s proof of the equal culpability of willful ignorance and knowledge is not watertight in certain realistic cases. Next, I argue that Yaffe’s view of culpability is motive-sensitive in a way that sits uncomfortably with criminal law doctrine, and I show that his view has difficulty with unjustified actions that are nonetheless privileged. Perhaps these problems can be solved by modifying Yaffe’s account using the notion of legally recognized reasons. However, I argue that difficulties remain when it comes to implementing this solution into Yaffe’s mathematical model. Finally, I raise concerns about Yaffe’s account of willful ignorance in particular. While his view initially seems to have a major advantage over the additive picture of willful ignorance I’ve defended, this advantage does not stand up under scrutiny. In fact, Yaffe likely relies on an additive metaphysical picture of willful ignorance as well.



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Alexander Sarch
University of Surrey

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Willful ignorance in law and morality.Alexander Sarch - 2018 - Philosophy Compass 13 (5):e12490.

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