Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 301–316 | Cite as

Willfully Blind for Good Reason

  • Deborah Hellman


Willful blindness is not an appropriate substitute for knowledge in crimes that require a mens rea of knowledge because an actor who contrives his own ignorance is only sometimes as culpable as a knowing actor. This paper begins with the assumption that the classic willfully blind actor—the drug courier—is culpable. If so, any plausible account of willful blindness must provide criteria that find this actor culpable. This paper then offers two limiting cases: a criminal defense lawyer defending a client he suspects of perjury and a pain doctor who suspects his patient may be lying about her pain. The paper argues that each of these actors is justified in cultivating ignorance about his client’s or patient’s truthfulness. If this is right, then a good theory of willful blindness must distinguish these cases. The article argues that neither Husak & Callender’s motivation-based account of willful blindness nor the recklessness account is able to do so. The paper proposes the following alternative: contrived ignorance constitutes culpable blindness when the decision to remain blind or to cultivate blindness is not itself justified. This Justification approach meshes with our intuitions about willfully blind drug couriers as well as willfully blind lawyers and doctors.


Willful blindness Contrived ignorance Culpable blindness Justification 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Maryland School of LawBaltimoreUSA

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