Is Ignorance a Sufficient Excuse?
It’s not his fault; he doesn’t know better.
This may be a Q1 violation if you think there are some things that "everyone knows" are wrong.
This is a Q2 violation if you would criticize someone for not holding someone they considered ignorant responsible for their actions.
It seems fair that someone who was not aware that they were doing wrong should not receive the same punishment as someone who knew that they were doing wrong. But how much less punishment? And should there be exceptions to this rule?
Which of these criteria (if any) do you think should be considered when deciding whether ignorance should result in reduced punishment?
- You have no way of knowing whether the person really is ignorant.
- If you reduce punishment in this person’s case, it may inspire wrongdoers to pretend that they are ignorant.
- The rule being violated is extremely well known.
- The rule being violated is extremely well-known in your culture, but the violator is visiting from a place that does not have that rule.
- The rule being violated is obvious.
- The violator is not mentally capable of understanding the rule.
- The person has violated this rule before and been reprimanded for it.
- The rule being broken regards the violator’s professional ethics.
- The rule being broken is a law that only recently went on the books.
Now consider these situations. In which should punishment (or lack of punishment) be based in part of the violator’s ignorance?
- A young man with a severe learning disability walks outside naked.
- You get home very late at night, very drunk, and climb in through the bedroom window because you can’t find your keys. But it’s the wrong house, and the owner mistakes you for a burglar and shoots you.
- A woman who has stopped taking her schizophrenia medication rams a mailbox with her car because she thinks the mailbox is an enemy soldier.
- You ask an overweight woman when her baby’s due.
- You ask a man how his father’s doing. It turns out his father recently committed suicide.
- You wear jeans to work because you were on vacation when casual Fridays were canceled.
- You catch a young teenager spray-painting a mural on the back of your old shed. He said he didn’t think you’d mind.
- You have an extreme allergic reaction to a cake your friend made you. Your friend knew you had a peanut allergy, but didn’t think there was enough in the cake to bother you.
- You reprimand your son for teasing his sister. He then teases his brother because "you only said not to tease my sister."
- Your learn that the garage your contractor built for you doesn’t meet homeowner-association rules, so you’ll have to remodel it.
- A man hurls racial insults at you until you can’t take any more and punch him in the nose. You later learn he has Tourette’s syndrome.
- You set up a booby trap in your house that will injure anyone who breaks in while you’re on vacation. While you’re away, a relative thinks you are missing and the police enter your home, setting off the trap which grievously harms an officer.
- A poor boy steals $20 from your purse. He thinks you are rich and can easily afford it. (He’s wrong.)
You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at LuLu.com and Amazon.com. See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.