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02 Excusing Mistakes of Law

Whether we understand it descriptively or normatively, the slogan that ignorance of the law is no excuse is false. Our legal system sometimes excuses those who are ignorant of the law on those grounds and should. Still, the slogan contains a grain of truth; mistakes of law excuse less readily than mistakes of fact, and ought to. This paper explains the asymmetry by identifying a principle of excuse of the form "If defendant D has a false belief that p and _____, then D is excused ", which has the following feature: it is true frequently when p is a non-legal proposition, but it is false often when p is a proposition about the law. Under this principle of excuse, mistakes excuse by showing the agent to have acceptable commitments for recognizing, weighing, and responding to reasons. Many mistakes of fact show this; they show that the agent's deliberation led to objectionable action because of faulty inputs and not to fault in the deliberation itself. Mistakes of law, by contrast, frequently indicate that the agent has faulty commitments when it comes to legal reasons; they therefore do not provide excuse under the proposed principle of excuse. It is argued that this explanation of the asymmetry between mistakes of fact and law takes us a great distance towards explaining the relevance of mental state to responsibility, an issue of great importance to moral philosophy.

Gideon Yaffe vol. 9 April 2009
16 Grace and Alienation

According to an attractive conception of love as attention, discussed by Iris Murdoch, one strives to see one’s beloved accurately and justly. A puzzle for understanding how to love another in this way emerges in cases where more accurate and just perception of the beloved only reveals his flaws and vices, and where the beloved, in awareness of this, strives to escape the gaze of others - including, or perhaps especially, of his loved ones. Though less attentive forms of love may be able to render one’s continued love coherent and justifiable in these cases, they risk further alienating the beloved precisely because they are less attentive and because of the operations of the beloved’s shame. I argue that attentive love is well-suited to alleviate this problem of alienation, but that in order to do so, it must be supplemented with grace. I propose a conception of gracious love as an affectionate love for the qualities of human nature, distinguishing this from a love of humanity, and show how this complex emotion, in being responsive to the complexities of shame, is able to alleviate the problem of alienation.

Vida Yao vol. 20 2020
13 Functionalism and the Metaphysics of Causal Exclusion

Given their physical realization, what causal work is left for functional properties to do? Humean solutions to the exclusion problem (e.g., overdetermination and difference making) typically appeal to counterfactual and/or nomic relations between functional property-instances and behavioural effects, tacitly assuming that such relations suffice for causal work. Clarification of the notion of causal work, I argue, not only shows that such solutions don't work, but also reveals a novel solution to the exclusion problem based on the relations between dispositional properties at different levels of mechanism. The solution involves three central claims: (i) the causal work of properties consists in grounding dispositions, (ii) functional properties are dispositions, and (iii) the dispositions of mechanisms are grounded in the dispositions of their components. Treating functional mental properties as dispositions of components in psychological mechanisms, I argue that such properties do the causal work of grounding agent-level dispositions. These dispositions, while ultimately grounded in the physical realizers of mental properties, are indirectly so grounded, through a hierarchy of grounding relations that extends upwards, of necessity, through the mental domain.

David Yates vol. 12 July 2012