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In this paper, I respond to the following argument which several authors have presented. If we are culpable for some action, we act either from akrasia or from culpable ignorance. However, akrasia is highly exceptional and it turns out that tracing culpable ignorance leads to a vicious regress. Hence, we are hardly ever culpable for our actions. I argue that the argument fails. Cases of akrasia may not be that rare when it comes to epistemic activities such as evidence-gathering and working on our intellectual virtues and vices. Moreover, particular cases of akrasia may be rare, but they are not exceptional when we consider chains of actions. Finally and most importantly, we can be culpable for our actions even if we do not act from akrasia or from culpable ignorance, namely in virtue of our unactivated dispositional beliefs. On May 3 rd 1945, Sir Arthur Coningham, commander in the British Tactical Air Force, ordered the attack on three German ships in the Bay of Lübeck. Unbeknownst to him, the Germans had filled these ships with about 10,000 concentration camp survivors. All three ships were sunk. Most of the SS guards survived, but an estimated 7,800 camp survivors died. Was Coningham at least partly culpable for their deaths? The answer, of course, crucially depends on whether his ignorance was culpable or not. If it was not, then it seems unfair to blame him, but if he should have known better, then it seems that he is at least partly blameworthy for the tragedy. When, then, would his ignorance count as culpable? Presumably, if at some earlier time he could have found out that there were prisoners on board but did not investigate the matter sufficiently carefully or failed to listen to certain people who possessed more information than he did. However, there is a problem here. Imagine that Coningham indeed failed to investigate the matter sufficiently carefully. Then, we may assume that at that earlier time he (falsely) believed that he need not gather any additional evidence. But if he falsely believed that, he was ignorant. If he was inculpably ignorant, it seems unfair to hold him responsible for acting as he did. If he was culpably
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)575-582
Number of pages8
JournalLogos & Episteme
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • akrasia
  • culpability
  • epistemic obligations
  • ignorance
  • vicious regress


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