2nd Chance Ethics

In the socratic conception of morality*, all evil is born out of ignorance. Unless we want to reduce this to a naive determinism (current state knowledge -> actions -> future state knowledge) which eats ethical theories for breakfast, we must allow for some degree of indeterminacy at the individual level (free will / whatever). This indeterminacy would be observed via an individual’s actions.

Given some free will but lack of control regarding our current state, then only actions can carry a moral component. Therefore, ignorance is not the true source of evil – only unwillingness to learn.

As a toy example, imagine an ESPN commentator makes stupid remarks involving racial stereotypes. The remarks are reprehensible because they show a lack of understanding of “the good”. However, the commentator didn’t know he was ignorant, so it is inappropriate to condemn him for it. It is his reaction to the outrage that will reveal his moral character – if he refuses to correct his ignorance and thus his behaviour. Otherwise, it is just an honest mistake.

*Might be able to generalize to “objective” theories of morality, i.e. where there are moral absolutes.  Socratic conception incompatible with sophist conception of morality, no wonder. Of course, all of this breaks down when you step away from the Socratic model, i.e. towards reality. Also, only works for first-time offences.



  1. Williemae

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  2. Adelaide

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