Test subjects reacting to stories gave intuitive evaluations of blameworthiness and praiseworthiness. His results suggest moral ignorance attracts blame while moral knowledge does not attract praise.
- A character who does something morally wrong, believing it to be morally right, is more blameworthy than a character who does something morally wrong even though they believe it is morally wrong. Conclusion: moral ignorance increases blameworthiness.
- A character who does something morally right, but believes it to be morally wrong, is just as praiseworthy as a character who does something morally right, believing it to be morally right. Conclusion: moral knowledge does not increase praiseworthiness.
These results leave us with two puzzles:
- Why do we penalize moral ignorance contributing to bad acts?
- When we assess the motivations for good acts, are we failing to reward moral knowledge, or are we discounting moral ignorance (i.e. giving moral ignorance a pass)?
My explanation: we are more willing to assign blame than praise, and we are unwilling to assign praise for something we would have done.
This might have something to do with the way we see our own ideas of right action as presenting the ‘obvious choice’. Satisfying expectations is nothing special, but failing to meet our expectations creates blame.
In a mix of deontological and consequentialist thinking, we have expectations pertains to the action and the motivation for the action. Bad outcomes from incorrect action fails one expectation; two expectations are violated when the wrong action is compounded by a second, underlying mistake about ethical norms.
Might there be a way to empirically test this hypothesis?
One last thing: the results do not accord with my own intuitions. I tend to think moral ignorance decreases blameworthiness.