We sometimes fail unwittingly to do things that we ought to do. And we are, from time to time, culpable for these unwitting omissions. We provide an outline of a theory of responsibility for unwitting omissions. We emphasize two distinctive ideas: (1) many unwitting omissions can be understood as failures of appropriate vigilance, and; (2) the sort of self-control implicated in these failures of appropriate vigilance is valuable. We argue that the norms that govern vigilance and the value of self-control explain culpability for unwitting omissions.
KeywordsVigilance Omission Responsibility Agency Self control
We thank the audiences for helpful comments, especially those at the Philosophy and Science of Self-Control Conference. Special thanks to Al Mele, Adina Roskies, Katrina Sifferd, Felipe De Brigard, and Chandra Sripada for many conversations on different parts of this project. Finally, special thanks to Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Santiago Amaya for providing written comments on multiple drafts of this paper that helped us correct many deficiencies. We also want to acknowledge the insightful criticisms of an anonymous referee at Philosophical Studies that helped us make this paper better. Research for this paper was supported by a Philosophy and Science of Self-Control grant from Florida State University through the John Templeton Foundation awarded to both Samuel Murray and Manuel Vargas. The views expressed in this paper are our own and do not reflect the opinions of the other grantees, Florida State University, or the John Templeton Foundation.
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