The Moral Neglect of Negligence
Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy, David Sobel, Peter Vallentyne, and Steve Wall, eds., Oxford Univ. Press, Forthcoming
46 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2016 Last revised: 20 Apr 2016
Date Written: April 18, 2016
The moral significance of negligence is regularly downplayed in the legal and philosophical literature. Many commentators appear to endorse two tenets about negligence that diminish its importance: first, that culpable negligence is substantially less significant than malice (as well as other intentionally inflicted wrongs) and second, that even when culpable, negligence is a rather petty moral wrong. The attitude conveyed is that, considered apart from its consequences, the wrong of negligence is real, but paltry.
By contrast, I regard culpable negligence as a more significant moral wrong, even when considered separately from its consequences. Concomitantly, I take non-negligence to be a significant, but often overlooked, moral virtue.
This paper sketches an account of what moral and political negligence are that stresses the significance of the agent’s motives. The paper canvasses many examples, including an extended discussion of whether Edward Snowden serves as an example of a politically negligent, if harmless, agent. It then argues that negligence can be a serious moral and political wrong, argues that non-negligence is a significant virtue, and challenges the rigidity and severity of the standard moral hierarchy that places negligence on a rather low rung. The discussion encompasses the connection between negligence and the act/omission distinction, the doctrine of double effect, our remedial responses and reactive attitudes toward negligence, and the connection between anti-discrimination norms and negligence.
Keywords: culpable negligence, malicious negligence, moral significance of wrong, standard moral hierachy
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