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Epistemology / Philosophy

Intellectual Error, Self-Deception and Willful Ignorance

In a previous post I said that I would distinguish between intellectual error, self-deception and willful ignorance. These are to be distinguished in the context of evil actions. Some acts are evil, but the person mistakes what they do as something right. Sometimes they are willfully ignorant of the wrong they are doing. Finally, some deceive themselves about the wrong they are doing. These three options are distinguished by whether or not the investigation into the act is committed dishonestly and whether or not the person knows that the act is evil.

All evil actions – as proven in a previous post – cannot be done while the person is consciously aware of the fact that the act is evil. Therefore, they must not be consciously aware of that fact. If they believe that the act is evil, but are not consciously considering the act as evil when they are doing it, then they are deceiving themselves. If they do not believe that the act is evil but have deliberately failed to properly investigate the act, then they are willfully ignorant of the evil act. If they do not believe that the act is evil and have improperly investigated the act, but their improper investigation was not intended, then the have made an intellectual error. If they had properly investigated the act and did not believe that it was evil, then the act cannot be evil. This final claim awaits proof, but these things should be enough to distinguish between the three reasons behind evil actions.

Intellectual error arises from many sources. The only exception is that it cannot arise from a deliberate attempt to stop investigation knowing that the investigation has not been properly completed. What counts as a proper investigation varies in each situation. It may depend on time, circumstances, the purpose of the investigation and the foreseen dangers of the action. When a person has honestly determined what a proper investigation is, failing to do that investigation counts as willful ignorance. It is important to note that honestly and intellectual failure are not the same thing. It is also possible that a person may commit an error regarding any aspect of how the investigation is to be done. If the person does not dishonestly determines what an investigation is, then that is another form of willful ignorance. If a person fails to even make the determination, but does so without dishonesty, then the person has made an intellectual error.

The final way one can commit evil acts is by self-deception. In this case, one is doing evil while knowing that the evil is evil. This may be the most common way that evil acts – especially obvious evil acts – are committed. In this case the evil is committed by the person avoiding their own knowledge that the act is evil. By avoiding their own knowledge, they are deceiving themselves.

These distinctions allow that someone might commit an evil act while believing that the act is good and while believing that they have honestly investigated that act. The act still counts as an evil act, and the person is still responsible for that act even though they honestly believe that the act is not evil. This is permissible because they made an intellectual error that they were responsible for.

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