Alisabeth A Ayars


Quality of will accounts of moral responsibility hold that ill will is necessary for blameworthiness. But all such accounts are false to ordinary moral practice, which licenses blame for agents who act wrongly from epistemically unreasonable ignorance even if the act is not ill willed. This should be especially concerning to Strawsonians about moral responsibility, who think the genuine conditions of blameworthiness are derived from the standards internal to our practice. In response, I provide a theory of moral blameworthiness on which ill will is not necessary for blameworthiness.

On the view I defend, “Rational Capacitarianism,” agents are blameworthy whenever they act wrongly from an unreasonable attitude which is attributable to them, where an attitude is attributable to an agent just in case she has the capacity to assess reasons for and against the attitude and modulate the attitude in light of these assessments. Acting from unreasonable ignorance is just a special case of acting from an unreasonable attitude. 

My theory contrasts both with both quality of will accounts of blameworthiness (Strawson, Wallace, Rosen, McKenna) and the Capacitarian view (Sher, Rudy-Hiller, Clarke), which specifies that agents who act wrongly from ignorance are culpable if they could and should have known better. On Capacitarianism, a variety of awareness-relevant capacities are pertinent, including memory; on my view it is only failures of rational capacities that render the agent culpable, because only failures of rational capacities are attributable to the agent.