It seems we have epistemic responsibilities

To be responsible is to be the proper object of one or more of the normative rather than evaluative attitudes, namely praise, blame, or neutral appraisal. To believe some proposition p is to occurrently, dormantly, or tacitly think that p. Whether or not one is responsible for a belief that p is a matter of whether one can be appropriately appraised for thinking that p."

And it may be that we are not only responsible for praiseworthy beliefs.

So can we blame others for our confusion and failure to know things or are we entirely responsible for both? If the former, in what ways? If forced to choose an ethical framework, how about 'virtue ethics'?

  • super broad question, so apologies in advance if i need to hone down (which i will not do until tomorrow, now)
    – user65174
    Mar 14 at 23:59
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    For now, the SEP article on social epistemology can be recommended. See e.g. sec. 3.5 (Group Justification) or sec. 5 (incl. discussion of Internet misinformation and other moral questions). Mar 15 at 0:13
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    If nobody told you there was a party for Pattie's birthday yesterday 20:00 at Ralph's gazebo you can hardly be blamed for not showing up.
    – armand
    Mar 15 at 0:32
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    The ball was red, the table was red, the walls were red, red, red, red. Mar 15 at 2:53
  • yes that's tangentially useful @KristianBerry if we have a responsibility to our peers to have specific beliefs and commitments to them
    – user65174
    Mar 15 at 4:39

4 Answers 4


The answer to the first part of your question is so clearly 'yes' that I wonder whether you had some meaning of 'blame' in mind other than its literal meaning of allocating responsibility for an undesirable state of affairs. Let us consider two real examples...

In the UK, the Home Office is the government department responsible for immigration. The immigration rules published by the Home Office are so utterly impenetrable that an entire industry has sprung up to service the resulting need to explain the rules to would be immigrants. I, as an intelligent native speaker of English, found myself utterly perplexed by the Home Office rules when working as a consultant to another government department in connection with overseas recruitment. The rules themselves are not complicated, but they are very badly presented. I think the blame for my perplexity can be fairly laid at the front door of the Home Office.

I use Microsoft Teams for my work. I am reasonably IT literate, yet it took me many hours of effort over several days to resolve a fault that was preventing me from using Teams. The cause of my confusion was a mistake in the online guidance provided by Microsoft. I am happy to allocate responsibility to Microsoft.

Now let us move on to the second part of your questions, which is much less clear-cut. There are many factors that need to be taken into account when determining the extent to which you or one or more other parties are responsible for your ignorance and confusion. The main factors are:

The complexity of the subject matter. You can hardly blame string theorists if you fail to understand string theory.

The nature and degree of the effort you have invested in attaining the facts. You would have only yourself to blame if you got wet because you hadn't bothered to check the weather forecast.

Whether you have relied upon a source that is, or purports to be, an authority on the matter. You might blame the author if you were still utterly confused by string theory after reading their book entitled 'String Theory Made Easy'.

Whether a source your have trusted was dishonest or incompetent or where themselves misinformed in turn by another party. You would feel entitled to blame the railway company if they told you your train was running on time when in fact it was three hours late.

Whether the subject matter is covered by legislation which places a particular onus on one or more organisations to ensure that you are well informed. For example, a medical doctor in the UK has a duty of candour to patients, so your doctor would be unquestionably to blame if they misinformed you.

I think you will find the the factors I have listed above will help you decide who is to blame in the majority of cases. However, there will always be cases which cannot be readily decided on the basis of a handful of principles, so happily they will furnish endless scope for further discussion.

  • can faulty communication and intent make someone shoulder the epistemic responsibility we have to know things
    – user65174
    Mar 15 at 7:22
  • i haven't read anything about this but "To be responsible is to be the proper object of one or more of the normative rather than evaluative attitudes, namely praise, blame, or neutral appraisal. To believe some proposition p is to occurrently, dormantly, or tacitly think that p. Whether or not one is responsible for a belief that p is a matter of whether one can be appropriately appraised for thinking that p." it makes sense. and it may be that we are not only responsible for praiseworthy beliefs
    – user65174
    Mar 15 at 7:36
  • @zero the abstract to which you kindly directed me is the kind of mumbo-jumbo that gives philosophy a bad name in my house. What is your specific question about it? Mar 15 at 9:05
  • I was trying to answer your question about "blame" and ask you if I did so
    – user65174
    Mar 15 at 9:16
  • Thank you. Then my answer still stands. Yes, if a person has an intent to deceive you, they can be held responsible for your resultant misunderstanding. Yes, as was the case in the example I gave about the Home Office, if a person or organisation responsible for disseminating information goes about it in such an incompetent way that most people misunderstand them, then the responsibility for mis-communication lies with them. Clearly, as I mentioned, there can be borderline cases in which the responsibility cannot be cleanly allocated to one side or the other. Mar 15 at 9:21

The question is less interesting than it seems, which it masks in over generality

network epistemology models start with a collection of agents on a network, who choose from some set of options. One option is preferable to the rest, but to find out which this is, the agents must actually try them and see what results. These could represent choices of action-guiding theories (like “caterpillars are safe” and “caterpillars are poisonous” or else “vaccines are safe” and “vaccines cause autism”). They could alternatively represent research approaches that yield different levels of scientific success.

Agents have beliefs about which option is preferable, and change these beliefs in light of the evidence they gather from their actions. In addition, they also update on evidence gathered by neighbors in the network, typically... how can we shape good epistemic networks

One of the most interesting recent uses of the network epistemology framework involves investigating the role of pernicious influencers, especially from industry, on epistemic communities. Holman and Bruner (2015) look at a network model where one agent shares only fraudulent evidence meant to support an inferior theory. As they show, this agent can keep a network from reaching successful consensus by muddying the water with misleading data... papers [also] give insight into how strategies that do not involve fraud can shape scientific research and mislead the public.


So group beliefs can be brought about by faulty nodes of network we can call "bad", whether or not individuals in groups can shift doxastic responsibility for their false beliefs onto their malfunctioning community and the normative responsibility - blameworthy etc. - of other individuals within it.

More generally, some philosophers thinks

ignorance is culpable when it results from the violation of epistemic obligations regarding which the agent could reasonably have been expected to comply given her cognitive capacities and the opportunities provided by her social context, and when such violation is due to the agent’s epistemic vices such as “overconfidence, arrogance, dismissiveness, laziness, dogmatism, incuriosity, self-indulgence, contempt, and so on” (2008: 609).


so if we exhibit these "epistemic vices" we are culpable for our own ignorance, if not others' (which seems unexplored)

May also be worth considering how, while many people would say we have a duty to share relevant knowledge at times (intellectual property rights for vaccines), some things are legitimately esoteric and not meant culturally for everyone. So you'd have to state what sort of epistemic failure is meant. Everyone has a right to education vs cultural appropriation (etc.).

In conclusion,

It seems wrong to say never blame anyone but yourself, and there is nothing obviously suspect about doing so, but in some instances it may just be you.

  • +1 For having the courage to answer your own question. While this topic is beyond my normal interests, you should note that the notion of culpability can be seen as reducing to issues of biological altruism. I'd argue we should never blame others, but we should consider hard and long under what conditions we should hold others morally responsible. SEP has a related article.
    – J D
    Mar 15 at 20:50
  • i could find nothing about group belief and normative responsibility @JD so this is the best i could do. either claim (about not/blaming others) seems coherent, so i suppose it may be an intuitive judgment
    – user65174
    Mar 15 at 21:25
  • Beliefs about morality and ethics are highly varied. See meta-ethics for more information. I argue that for very important matters, all notions of culpability are non-cognitive to a great extent, so yes, we rely heavily on our intuitions.
    – J D
    Mar 15 at 22:00
  • more or less in agreement @JD i suppose it at least makes things interesting
    – user65174
    Mar 15 at 22:10

Very short answer. Different between man and animal/human, that man can act by will - art, and animals action base on reactions - because their nervous system works on reflexes formed from the outside, or "called" from outside.

Nobody called Ralph on Pattie birthday. Does Ralph need a permission to greet Pattie? or told with Pattie about her birthday? Have Ralph self will or he has only culture reflex the signifier on the birthday when "nobody" calls? No-body - no body - body it is a thing. Does Ralph need a command or letting from the thing to act? Whose this body? Others have no bodies and unable to call Ralph, or it is Ralph body doesn't let him to go, Ralph doesn't control his body, Ralph haven't mind? Who is Ralph, does Ralph exist? If Ralph blame on "nobody" whose this fault? And who called up a blaming Ralph's reflex? is it faulty nodes in a network of the agents system? what? are you matrix?

"Dear Ralph! You don't need blame on bodies of others, we ll fix faulty nodes soon, just have patience. And don't forget to subscribe on our new product. Your brain agency."


From my experience, any question that begins

Can we blame others

Usually has an answer of no.

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    I think it is the more helpful response (not to), but it's more self help than philosophy. there are obvious examples like lies and malicious secrets; anything further? perhaps not
    – user65174
    Mar 15 at 4:38