Ignorance and moral judgment: Testing the logical priority of the epistemic

Parker Crutchfield, Scott Scheall, Mark Justin Rzeszutek, Hayley Dawn Brown, Cristal Cardoso Sao Mateus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It has recently been argued that a person's moral judgments (about both their own and others’ actions) are constrained by the nature and extent of their relevant ignorance and, thus, that such judgments are determined in the first instance by the person's epistemic circumstances. It has been argued, in other words, that the epistemic is logically prior to other normative (e.g., ethical, prudential, pecuniary) considerations in human decision-making, that these other normative considerations figure in decision-making only after (logically and temporally) relevant ignorance has constrained the decision-maker's menu of options. If this is right, then a person's moral judgments in some set of circumstances should vary with their knowledge and ignorance of these circumstances. In this study, we test the hypothesis of the logical priority of the epistemic. We describe two experiments in which subjects’ knowledge and ignorance of relevant consequences were manipulated. In the second experiment, we also compared the effect of ignorance on moral judgments with that of personal force, a factor previously shown to influence moral judgments. We found broad empirical support for the armchair arguments that epistemic considerations are logically prior to normative considerations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103472
JournalConsciousness and Cognition
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • Epistemic burdens
  • Logical priority of the epistemic
  • Moral judgment
  • Personal force
  • Trolley problem

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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