Ph.D. course: Moral responsibility and ignorance

March 11, 2015 - March 12, 2015
Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature, University of Oslo

GM 652, 6th floor
Georg Morgenstiernes Hus
Blindernveien 31 0371


Gideon Rosen
Princeton University

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PhD Research Course: Moral responsibility and ignorance


Professor Gideon Rosen, Princeton University

Time and place

11th-12th March, 2015, CSMN, University of Oslo


The clearest cases of morally blameworthy action are cases in which the agent knows what he's doing and knows that his act is wrong but does it anyway.  The course will focus on cases cases that are somewhat less clear: cases in which the agent acts from "ignorance" or "false belief".   It is a plausible principle that when an agent acts from factual ignorance, he is responsible for his action only if he is responsible for the ignorance from which he acts.  But even if this is right, this principle requires an explanation.   Why is it "inappropriate" to blame an agent who acts from blameless factual ignorance?  Any correct answer must be grounded in an account of the nature of moral blame and the basic norms that govern it, so we will begin with an exploration of that issue.  We will then examine the conditions under which ordinary factual ignorance constitutes an excuse, with special emphasis on the question:  What is it for a person to be responsible, in the relevant sense, for failing to know what he should have known?  We will then shift attention to cases in which the agent acts from moral ignorance or false belief.  Do the same principles apply?   If so, can there be cases in which repugnant moral views - e.g., the view that slavery is permissible - are blamelessly held?  As in the discussion of factual ignorance, the aim will be not just to identify the relevant principles, but to explain them by reference to an account of nature of moral responsibility.

Below are some of the topics that will be addressed during the course

  • What are the criteria for non-culpable moral and factual ignorance?
  • Does non-culpable ignorance justify or excuse the agent?
  • The problem of inverse akrasia (the case of Huckleberry Finn)
  • What counts as normative evidence and how can we be non-culpably ignorant of it?
  • What does a theory of blame and moral responsibility imply for action guidance?


The course can either be taken for ECTS credits (which will require submitting a course essay) or simply audited. The course will be delivered by a combination of interactive lectures and discussions based on readings circulated before the start of the course.  The course will be taught in English.


An essay of approximately 5000 words based on the literature provided or other bibliography agreed on in advance with the course instructor

Credits: 2 ECTS


Wednesday 11.3.2015

10.15 - 12.15 Nature of moral responsibility.

13.15 - 15.15 Responsibility and factual ignorance

Thursday 12.3.2015

10.15.-12.15  Responsibility and normative ignorance

13.15-15.15 Responsibility normative ignorance (cont'd)


Session 1: The Nature of Moral Responsibility

M. Zimmerman, Varieties of Moral Responsibility, in Clarke, McKenna and Smith, eds., The Nature of Moral Responsibility (OUP 2015)

G.  Rosen, The Alethic Conception of Responsibility, in Clarke, McKenna and Smith.

 Session 2:  Responsibility and Factual Ignorance 

H. Smith, Culpable Ignorance, Philosophical Review 1983 

G. Rosen, Kleinbart the Oblivious and Other Tales of Ignorance and Responsibility, Journal of Philosophy, 2008.

Sessions 3 and 4:  Responsibility and Normative Ignorance

G. Rosen,   Culpability and Ignorance, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 2003.

E. Harman, Does Moral Ignorance Exculpate? Ratio, 2011

N. Arpaly, Huckleberry Finn Revisited: Inverse Akrasia and Moral Ignorance

G. Rosen, Milgram and Morals, ms.

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February 28, 2015, 10:00am CET

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