My current research is focused primarily on the relationship between responsibility and awareness, where the guiding question is when and why blameless ignorance excuses. The answer to this question has implications for the epistemic condition on tracing, whether culpable ignorance can mitigate blameworthiness, and skepticism about blameworthiness more generally. I have also written on the relationship between voluntariness and responsibility as well as the ethics of blame. Below are some papers I’ve published on these topics.
When Hypocrisy Undermines the Standing to Blame: A Response to Rossi
Ethical Theory and Moral Practice (forthcoming)
In Fritz and Miller 2018 we offer an argument for the Nonhypocrisy Condition on the moral standing to blame. Benjamin Rossi 2018 raises several criticisms of our view. He argues that our account of hypocrisy fails, and thus that we cannot explain why certain hypocrites lack the standing to blame. Here we defend our account from Rossi’s criticisms and emphasize the account’s unique advantage, namely, explaining why hypocritical blamers lack the standing to blame.
It is widely agreed that hypocrisy can undermine one’s moral standing to blame. According to the Nonhypocrisy Condition on standing, R has the standing to blame some other agent S for a violation of some norm N only if R is not hypocritical with respect to blame for violations of N. Yet this condition is seldom argued for. Macalester Bell points out that the fact that hypocrisy is a moral fault does not yet explain why hypocritical blame is standingless blame. She raises a challenge: one must explain what is distinct about hypocritical blame such that the hypocritical blamer lacks the standing to blame, even if the arrogant or petty blamer does not. Of those writing on hypocrisy, we offer the only direct response to Bell’s challenge. Recently, however, our account has come under criticism. We argue here that (1) our account can handle these criticisms and that (2) no other rival account adequately addresses Bell’s challenge of explaining what is uniquely objectionable about hypocritical blame. Because answering Bell’s challenge is a necessary component of any plausible account of the relationship between hypocrisy and standing, our account remains the best account on offer.
Sometimes ignorance is a legitimate excuse for morally wrong behavior, and sometimes it isn’t. If someone has secretly replaced my sugar with arsenic, then I’m blameless for putting arsenic in your tea. But if I put arsenic in your tea because I keep arsenic and sugar jars on the same shelf and don’t label them, then I’m blameworthy for poisoning you. Why is my ignorance in the first case a legitimate excuse, but my ignorance in the second case isn’t? This essay explores the relationship between ignorance and blameworthiness.
Circumstantial Ignorance and Mitigated Blameworthiness
Philosophical Explorations (2019) 22: 33-43
It is intuitive that circumstantial ignorance, even when culpable, can mitigate blameworthiness for morally wrong behavior. In this paper I suggest an explanation of why this is so. The explanation offered is that an agent’s degree of blameworthiness for some action (or omission) depends at least in part upon the quality of will expressed in that action, and that an agent’s level of awareness when performing a morally wrong action can make a difference to the quality of will that is expressed in it. This explanation makes use of Holly Smith’s distinction between benighting and benighted actions as well as a notion developed here called capture.
Reasonable Foreseeability and Blameless Ignorance
Philosophical Studies (2017) 174(6): 1561-1581
This paper draws attention to a fundamental problem for a version of the tracing strategy defended by Gideon Rosen 2004 and Fischer and Tognazzini 2009. I argue that versions of the tracing strategy that require reasonable foreseeability (rather than actual foresight) are in tension with the view that blameless ignorance excuses. A stronger version of the tracing strategy (i.e., one that requires actual foresight) is consistent with the view that blameless ignorance excuses and is therefore preferable for those tracing theorists who wish to continue maintaining that it does.
Hypocrisy and the Standing to Blame
(with Kyle G. Fritz)
Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (2018) 99: 118-139 (2015 online)
Hypocrites are often thought to lack the standing to blame others for faults similar to their own. Although this claim is widely accepted, it is seldom argued for. We offer an argument for the claim that nonhypocrisy is a necessary condition on the standing to blame. We first offer a novel, dispositional account of hypocrisy. Our account captures the commonsense view that hypocrisy involves making an unjustified exception of oneself. This exception-making involves a rejection of the impartiality of morality and thereby a rejection of the equality of persons, which we argue grounds the standing to blame others.
This paper focuses on a non-volitional account that has received a good deal of attention recently, Angela Smith's rational relations view. I argue that without historical conditions on blameworthiness for the non-voluntary non-volitionist accounts like Smith’s are (i) vulnerable to manipulation cases and (ii) fail to make sufficient room for the distinction between badness and blameworthiness. Towards the end of the paper I propose conditions aimed to supplement these deficiencies. The conditions that I propose are tailored to suit non-volitional accounts of blameworthiness. Unlike some volitional historical conditions on blameworthiness, the conditions that I propose do not require that the person have exercised voluntary control (e.g., via choices or decisions) over the acquisition of her attitudes or values.