Spring 2014

Moral Blindnesses

Listed in: Philosophy, as PHIL-339


Jyl Gentzler (Section 01)
Daniel A. Koltonski (Section 01)


Since the sixteenth century, justice has often been represented in art as a woman wearing a blindfold. Since the latter half of the twentieth century, various social institutions in the United States have attempted to make moral progress by adopting policies that are race-, gender-, age-, sexuality-, religion-, disability-, etc. “blind.”  Twentieth-century American philosopher John Rawls has famously suggested that we would best understand what justice demands if we imagine ourselves deciding on the basic structure of society “behind a veil of ignorance.” And eighteenth-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that genuine friendship demands that we not pursue certain types of knowledge of one another.  But blindness is not always a moral advantage.  Certain types of ignorance lead to damaging stereotyping and biases against various groups of individuals.  Ignorance of the lives that others must live and of the effects of past biases leads not inevitably to moral respect, but just as often to moral indifference.

When does morality require ignorance and when does it require knowledge? In a world in which blind and blinding biases against certain groups of individuals lead to great moral wrongs, is justice really best served by remaining blind?  Or should justice full-sightedly compensate for past and present wrongs to members of groups who were wronged by past or present blindnesses?  Do different forms of social and economic relations foster different sorts of moral blindness and insight?  Does occupying different social standpoints within social organizations foster different sorts of moral blindness or insight? To what extent are we responsible for the quality of our own moral vision and that of others?

Requisite: One course in Philosophy or permission of the instructors.  Limited to 25 students.  Spring semester.  Professor Gentzler and Visiting Professor Koltonski.

If Overenrolled: Professors will seek a mix of students across class years and backgrounds.


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2014