Disclaimer: This is an open/opinion based question. Coming from StackOverflow something like this isn't looked fondly upon but I hope it's more commonly accepted practice over here. Also I am not a native English speaker so sorry if the text is full of spelling errors.

Is willful ignorance acceptable?

This question aims at specific scenarios where the ethically "right" way is controversial. A classic example would be killing a child to save 5 adults or something like it (most likely less extreme). The question for me is, is it acceptable to look at some of these things and knowingly ignore them? Or does this already lead to a more or less incomplete understanding of right or wrong and one's own personality?

First, since we are in a philosophy question and answer site I assume that most of you have a pretty solid understanding of topics which they have thought about and evaluated ethically such as the above mentioned example and way more in your daily topics. I think that this "doing" develops an ethically solid personality.

But for some such questions I can't truthfully tell what I would do and just accept this as it stands. Is such a blank state acceptable or even good and healthy?

Why I personally accept it is mainly because I think that finding answers to some questions is digging around in the extremes of one's personality, which might go a little too far. As for the practical example above, do you really want to know if you would be able to kill a child or let 5 people die?

Should an ethical adult fill all such blanks or accept them with peace of mind?

Off course it is impossible to look at all possible scenarios. This just focuses on questions you actively state to yourself and then willingly don't answer.

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    Welcome to Philosophy SE! We indeed frown upon "primarily opinion based" questions. Also without specifying a particular school of thought, or philosopher, the question may also be judged "too broad". As for "willful ignorance" you said it yourself: "it is impossible to look at all possible scenarios" therefore acting ethically would require achieving the impossible if ignorance wasn't allowed. – christo183 Sep 9 '19 at 9:48
  • Maybe Iam not knowledged enough in Philosophy to ask more specific. Do you know a ressource where I could inform myself about "schools of thoughts" or the different philospies (philosophers) On Topic: All not asked questions arent really the issue, but questions you ask yourself (or get asked) and willingly dont answer or want to deal with. – G.M Sep 9 '19 at 10:41
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    A place to start: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy#Categories but more to the point: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics - It is a slippery slope from having to have an answer for every ethical question you have, to having to ask every question that you could possibly encounter... In general, ethics is about acts not about the intention to act in a particular way. – christo183 Sep 9 '19 at 11:35
  • The example you mention is known as the trolley problem. What people tend to feel is "right" in such situations is highly sensitive to the specifics of the circumstances, so not knowing what to do "in general" is not willful ignorance, or unhealthy, it is impossible. There is also empirical evidence that moral intuitions in such cases have more to do with psychology than with ethics, see Moral Judgment. – Conifold Sep 9 '19 at 18:01
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    But this is still a decision about a hypothetical scenario which you are not actually in, and hence do not have full grasp of all factors and circumstances. You may want to look at moral particularism. And what you are wondering about is not what you'd consider right to do (which you do not seem to take Clyde's actions to be), but what you would do. That is a question of psychology, not ethics, and your ignorance is not willful. We genuinely do not know what we might be driven to do by extreme circumstances, morality is not decisive. – Conifold Sep 10 '19 at 8:18

While this could be opinion-based, there are several extant philosophical frameworks that could give you some ways of thinking about this.

  1. For Socrates, the worst epistemic state possible is to think you know and not know. So Socrates would commend your willingness to admit your puzzlement. However, Socrates also put forward the injunction that one should know oneself. What he meant by this is that one should know one's character traits. If you know that you have a particular virtue, then you know that your soul is well-off in that respect. And if you know you have a particular vice, you understand what needs to be done. But if you don't know what your character traits are, you have nowhere to go. The general focus on virtue, rather than hypothetical outcomes, in this tradition of thought might background or diminish the need to entertain such scenarios.

  2. Aristotle would argue that your character traits determinate what you will do in a situation. So you don't need to know what you would do in a hypothetical situation. What you need to know is how to develop the right character, so that when the situation arises you will already be pre-disposed to acting the way a virtuous person would naturally (by habit). So there is no need to answer your question in the hypothetical, nor should we expect ethics to give us such decision procedures.

  3. For Sartre, you can't know what you will do in the scenario, and if you think you know then you are in bad faith. Human beings are in anguish because they don't know their own character traits and cannot do so. Suppose you commit one way or the other on the question. Then the situation arises. You have made an appointment with yourself to do the deed; but do you show up to that appointment? You have no way of knowing whether you will carry yourself to the appointment or whether you will even want to do so anymore. You are radically free to act in one way or another: nothing holds you to your commitments, i.e. no prior ethical commitments will carry you into an action one way or another. By admitting that you don't know, you are taking a step away from bad faith and understanding your anguish.

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  • Thanks this gives me a nice context and something to learn ^^. I accepted your answer since I would say for an open question thats the best answer I can get. Maybe I post a follow up question later this day. – G.M Sep 19 '19 at 6:17

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