Equal Culpability and the Scope of the Willful Ignorance Doctrine

Legal Theory 22 (3-4):276-311 (2016)
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Courts commonly allow willful ignorance to satisfy the knowledge element of a crime. The traditional rationale for this doctrine is that willfully ignorant misconduct is just as culpable as knowing misconduct. But it is not obvious that this “equal culpability thesis” holds across the board. Is it true in all cases of willful ignorance or only some? This is the question I investigate here. Specifically, I argue against several common versions of the equal culpability thesis before defending my own restricted version. First, I argue that the broadest version of the thesis, adopted by many courts, is overinclusive. Then I argue against several restricted versions of the thesis offered by legal theorists including Doug Husak, David Luban, and Deborah Hellman. My own account, by contrast, is premised on a duty of reasonable investigation. If my account is on the right track, the widely employed willful ignorance doctrine stands in need of reform.



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Alexander Sarch
University of Surrey

Citations of this work

Willful ignorance in law and morality.Alexander Sarch - 2018 - Philosophy Compass 13 (5):e12490.
Willful Ignorance and Bad Motives.Jan Willem Wieland - 2019 - Erkenntnis 84 (6):1409-1428.

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References found in this work

Acting for the right reasons.Julia Markovits - 2010 - Philosophical Review 119 (2):201-242.
Culpable ignorance.Holly Smith - 1983 - Philosophical Review 92 (4):543-571.
A Sketch of a Theory of Moral Blameworthiness.Peter A. Graham - 2014 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 88 (2):388-409.

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