2017 Volume 66 Pages 173-
The purpose of this paper is to consider the moral responsibility for actions
from ignorance. For example, a man may behave violently toward women because
he mistakenly believes that men are morally superior to women and are,
therefore, permitted to treat women as instruments of man’s will. If we assume
that such a man acts from a kind of ignorance, how can we hold him responsible
for his action?
To consider this problem, I look at the Strawsonian theory of moral responsibility and the concept of insult as an object of resentment. According to Peter Frederick Strawson’s famous lecture “Freedom and Resentment,” responsibility can be understood in the context of “reactive attitudes,” such as resentment. Focusing on insult as an object of resentment, Jeffrie Murphy and Jean Hampton argue that we resent injuries done to us because such injuries involve insulting messages about our dignity or moral status. The wrongdoer is saying, “I can use you for my purposes and you are not worth better treatment”; in these circumstances, resentment is the defensive reactive emotion against an action involving such an insult.
Based on these ideas, we propose the following hypothesis: a person, who injures someone but mistakenly believes that his action is permitted and acts from ignorance, can be held responsible for his action if the victim appropriately feels resentment toward his action, as it involved an insulting message about the victim’s moral status. To validate this hypothesis, I will begin by critically reviewing previous studies on the moral responsibility for actions from ignorance. Following this discussion, I will explain the distinctive character of the insulting action from ignorance about someone’s moral status. Finally, I will demonstrate that an insulting action from ignorance about the victim’s moral status inevitably causes resentment by attacking the victim’s self-respect, and that ignorance never excuses the wrongdoer from their responsibility.