Cultural membership, moral responsibility, and inquiry
Williams, Nancy Michele
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In this dissertation, I develop a set of conditions that show when average moral agents are morally responsible for failing to investigate whether conventional practices and beliefs are immoral. Specifically, I argue that people are culpable when (1) cultural inconsistencies or other indications of tension or conflict are present; (2) there is a logical connection or conceptual link between the accepted practice (or belief) and what is commonly believed to be immoral or controversial; and (3) we can reasonably show that people have a vested interest in not questioning conventional moral norms and/or suspicions of wrongdoing. In Chapter One, I explain that the question of whether one is culpable for not examining cultural norms is philosophically interesting because it is not clear if this involves an inability or a choice. My conditions, however, suggest that the failure to debate is probably due to a choice and thus blameworthy. I arrive at these conditions after critically examining three theories. In Chapter Two, I consider Michael Slote’s cultural defense view. I argue that his view underestimates the possibility of average moral agents forging a critical response to conventional norms in the course of socialization. In Chapter Three, I examine Cheshire Calhoun’s argument that it is unreasonable to assign blame when relevant moral knowledge is isolated among a group of experts. I show that her view cannot determine whether individuals are culpable because key concepts are problematic and ambiguous. In Chapter Four, I examine Michele Moody-Adams’ view and the concept of affected ignorance. Although I expand on the notion of affected ignorance and supplement her view with a virtue-based conception of doxastic responsibility, I argue that Moody-Adams’ approach best deals with the issue of people failing to debate established norms. Finally, in Chapter Five, I illustrate the effectiveness of my conditions with a contemporary case: the socially accepted practice of factory farming. I argue that affected ignorance not only perpetuates the current hegemonic attitude toward certain animals, but it also explains the lack of extensive public debate about factory farming practices.