JB News/Calls for Papers > Responsibility – The Epistemic Dimension


When: 28-29 April 2014
Where: VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Inquiries into responsibility often concerned problems of control and freedom. Recently, however, theorists have turned their attention to the epistemic side of responsibility. Many agree that there is an epistemic restriction on what we are responsible for. Specifically, we are not responsible, it seems, if we are ignorant about alternative courses of action, or if we are ignorant about certain outcomes of the things we do. We are not responsible for our so-called slavery footprint, for example, if we couldn't have known better. Yet the question is: when exactly does ignorance provide an excuse? Or in other words: what are the epistemic aspects of responsibility? This workshop brings together new papers on this focal topic.

Invited speakers:
- Holly Smith, author of the classic paper 'Culpable Ignorance'
- Michael Zimmerman, author of 'Living with Uncertainty. The Moral Significance of Ignorance'
- Martin van Hees, co-author of 'An Anatomy of Moral Responsibility'

Call for papers:
Please send a 300 words abstract to by 17 January 2014 (questions can be directed to the same address).

Possible topics:
- epistemic aspects of moral responsibility
- epistemic aspects of legal responsibility
- slavery footprint cases
- blameworthiness and criticism
- ignorance and excuses
- interaction epistemic and control condition
- negligence, and other epistemic virtues and vices
- other related topics in ethics, epistemology or philosophy of law
January 4, 2014 | Registered CommenterJan Willem Wieland
Thanks, Jan, for this post, and good luck on this project in responsibilist/character epistemology. Here are a couple of paragraphs I just wrote for my draft of Objectivity, that I think bear upon your focus topic "negligence, and other epistemic virtues and vices."

How do we reconcile a responsibilist response to the problem of thoughtlessness—the worries about unreflective compliance with social norms that Hannah Arendt among others brought attention to—with contemporary philosophical naturalism, which points to results of empirically-based research in experimental psychology and holds that these show that the first-person perspective that internalist epistemology prioritizes “gets far more respect than it deserves” and presents a partial and distorted view of the bases of our beliefs? “The very nature of the process of first-person self-examination,” naturalists like Hilary Kornblith argue, makes many of the factors that actually explain how beliefs are formed, when they are reliably formed, “invisible to us.” And for that very reason, he continues, “it simply will not do to suggest that we should introspect more carefully or at greater length in order to put ourselves in a position accurately to assess our epistemic situation.”

The responsibilist will not be pleased with an overt epistemic paternalism as the way to wed these, although that, like situationism and BRT have philosophical supporters. But responsibilism is not all of the phronomic type, and not all committed to epistemological internalism in the way that it is. Even negligence can be, as Adam Morton has argued, drawing upon work of Gigerenzer and the ABC Group, an epistemic virtue in certain specific contexts, and the internalist image of the cognitive-effort-maximizing agent is unrealistic to the way we constantly conserve and need to conserve cognitive energy. Responsibilism can surely partake of Deweyan experimentalism, educating citizens for self-determination while also experimenting with arraigning conditions to make them more congenial to people’s existing habits, both the useful and generally reliable heuristics and the hard-to-overcome habits that surround failures to implement System 2 thinking when one’s problem situation ‘objectively’ (i.e., according to one’s normative theory) calls for it. I suspect that on this combination of pragmatic naturalism (in contrast to reductive) and dual-process theory (in contrast to situationist and BRT psychology), would reconcile philosophy with the distinctions that psychologists mark between “thinking” and “reasoning” far better than these other views are able to. Epistemology that adapts itself to research on bounded rationality theory, without presenting a prosaic conception of human reasoning, and to dual process theory (in contrast to a falsely presupposed unified or expectation of a fully virtuous knowing subject), will look very different than evidentialist and reliabilist epistemology today. I want to argue more specifically that it is a failure on both the epistemic internalist and externalist—especially those that take strong or ‘incompatibilist’ view on one side or the other—to take adequate account or the thinking/reasoning (and hence reasons and causes) distinction, that leads to such deep tensions between the ‘common-sense’ claim that self-conscious responsibility in inquiry is the key to achieving values epistemic goods, and the ‘scientific’ counter-claim that “The first-person perspective on our reasons for belief …offers us an utterly misleading view because “The important job of error detection cannot be effectively carried out by adopting the first-person perspective on our reasons and our reasoning.”
“Understanding the epistemic aspects of responsibility” means understanding that many of its aspects are historical, or diachronic, not synchronic. This point also support the broader connections to compatibilism on the free will issue, since the compatibilist John Martin Fischer explicitly describes accounts involving alternative choices and reflective endorsement of one’s actual choices, as an “historical” or “diachronic” account. But these differences from evidentialism and phronomic responsbilism allow me to develop my alternative of a zetetic or inquiry-focused virtue epistemology, as better able to respect the normative-descriptive gap and to conform with what cognitive and social psychology are showing us about how cognitive agents in fact think. Epistemic responsibility is both more and sometimes less than ‘epistemic fit,’ and it is now possible to focus on etiological and ‘historical’ considerations concerning whether the degree and kind of inquiry the agent performs was appropriate to a) the epistemic situation, and b) any ethical concerns about holding or applying the belief which might raise the threshold of epistemic responsibility.
January 8, 2014 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell
Looking forward to this Workshop. Papers will be posted.
Project Website:

Invited speakers
Holly Smith, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
author of the classic paper ‘Culpable Ignorance’

Michael Zimmerman, University of North Carolina
author of ‘Living with Uncertainty. The Moral Significance of Ignorance’

Martin van Hees, University of Amsterdam
co-author of ‘An Anatomy of Moral Responsibility’

Contributed speakers
Alex Guerrero, University of Pennsylvania
Against Strict Moral Liability for Actions Done from Legal Ignorance

Andrea Kruse, Ruhr University Bochum
An Externalist Approach to Epistemic Responsibility

Elizabeth Harman, Princeton University
Ethics is Hard! What Follows?

Frank Hindriks et al., University of Groningen
The Moral Compositionality Hypothesis

Guy Axtell, Radford University
Epistemic Responsibility, Negligence, and Dual-Process Theory

Kai Spiekermann, London School of Economics
Four Types of Moral Wriggle Room

Katherine Biederman, Bellarmine University
Passive and Active Ignorance

Mathieu Doucet, University of Waterloo
Moral Responsibility and the Limits of Self-Assessment

Philip Robichaud, Delft University of Technology
How Not to Establish Culpability for Ignorant Action

Sara Rachel Chant, University of Missouri
Epistemic Conditions for Collective Moral Responsibility

Stephen Bero, University of Southern California
A Partial Defense of the Exculpatory Power of Ignorance

This is an all-welcome, no-fee workshop, though space isn’t infinite: please register here (by 18/4). Questions can be directed to the same address.

Jan Willem Wieland, Rik Peels, René van Woudenberg

Financial support
NWO Veni project ‘We should know better. An inquiry at the crossroads of ethics and epistemology’
March 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGuy Axtell