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Affected Ignorance And Animal Suffering: Why Our Failure To Debate Factory Farming Puts Us At Moral Risk


It is widely recognized that our social and moral environments influence our actions and belief formations. We are never fully immune to the effects of cultural membership. What is not clear, however, is whether these influences excuse average moral agents who fail to scrutinize conventional norms. In this paper, I argue that the lack of extensive public debate about factory farming and, its corollary, extreme animal suffering, is probably due, in part, to affected ignorance. Although a complex phenomenon because of its many manifestations, affected ignorance is morally culpable because it involves a choice not to investigate whether some practice in which one participates in might be immoral. I contend further that James Montmarquet’s set of intellectual virtues can provide a positive account of what it means to act as a responsible moral agent while immersed in a meat eating culture; they also represent the moral and epistemic framework for the kind of public discourse that should be taking place.

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I would like to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to Wofford College for awarding me a summer research grant in order to complete this project. I would also like to thank the six anonymous referees for providing me with extensive and helpful comments and suggestions on earlier versions of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Nancy M. Williams.

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Williams, N.M. Affected Ignorance And Animal Suffering: Why Our Failure To Debate Factory Farming Puts Us At Moral Risk. J Agric Environ Ethics 21, 371–384 (2008).

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  • affected ignorance
  • animal suffering
  • cultural membership
  • factory farming
  • intellectual virtues
  • meat eating
  • moral ignorance
  • responsibility