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The Duty of Inquiry

Many philosophers acknowledge that we have a duty to pay attention to the world around us. As Rosen (2003) puts it: “We are under an array of standing obligations to inform ourselves about matters relevant to the moral permissibility of our conduct: to look around, to reflect, to seek advice, and so on.” Why do we have this duty? Why follow the headlines, think harder, ask questions, look more carefully, and so on? And what do we say to someone who doesn't see that she is bound by this duty?

An argument that emerges from the debate on culpable ignorance is that you have to pay attention because if you don't (and have no further excuses), then you are blameworthy if you fail to do the right thing. Along these lines, it could for instance be argued that we ought to inform ourselves about the products we consume (e.g. about the working conditions in factories and plantations abroad). It is controversial, however, what the duty of inquiry amounts to, and particularly when we are blameworthy for violating it.

In this talk I'll review the options, and defend the most promising view from the objections from moral luck and guidance.


Jan Willem Wieland works at VU University Amsterdam on the Veni project 'We should know better. An inquiry at the crossroads of ethics and epistemology'.

Lecture organized by the Department of Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy.

Time & place

Wednesday 19 February 15.15-17.00
Room Omega, Faculty of Philosophy

Last modified:28 July 2015 4.43 p.m.