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Negligence, Inadvertence, and Wrongdoing: Abelardian, Thomistic, and Role-Based Considerations

  • Author(s): Sucre, Andrew
  • Advisor(s): Kent, Bonnie
  • et al.
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Inadvertent wrongdoing presents a puzzle. Many people believe that a person should be held responsible for an action only if that action bears at least some minimal relation to the person's intention. A truly inadvertent harm appears to lack such a minimal relation to intention. It follows, then, that no one should be held responsible for such harms. Nonetheless, we frequently do hold people responsible for many inadvertent harms, and, moreover, we do so easily and readily. It is therefore not begging the question to refer to these harms initially as inadvertent wrongdoings.

A resolution to this puzzle can proceed in one of three ways: reconsideration of the requirement of intention, reexamination of our understanding of inadvertence, or rejection of our assignment of responsibility. Of these three options, I find the third to be the least appealing: I believe that inadvertent wrongdoings are genuinely wrong and that we are therefore responsible for them, but some work must be done to figure out exactly why this is so.

I begin by examining inadvertent wrongdoing as it appears in the work of two medieval philosophers, Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas. Neither authored a concise treatise on inadvertent wrongdoing, but, through a careful consideration of their writings, their respective accounts can be discerned. The first chapter focuses on the writings of Abelard, while the second examines the topic in the Thomistic corpus. Returning to the present-day debate, the third and final chapter presents an account of inadvertent wrongdoing that responds directly to a number of problems raised in contemporary philosophy.

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This item is under embargo until June 4, 2024.