Foley says the following about irresponsible ignorance:
If I do not have beliefs one way or the other about P, but it is epistemically rational for me to believe that I have not expended enough time and effort in arriving at an opinion about P, given its importance, then my ignorance is irresponsible. (“Response to Woltersdorff,” Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, pp. 338-9
The concept of irresponsible ignorance is important for Foley to explain. He maintains that the fundamental notion of rationality is epistemic rationality and that our ordinary ways of assessing cognitive states can be explained in terms of this fundamental notion. Woltersdorff’s challenge is that irresponsible ignorance is not explained by Foley, and yet it is an important way in which we evaluate cognitive states.
I don’t think Woltersdorff’s challenge is met by the above account.
The idea in the Foley account, I take it, is to determine the level of importance of a subject matter and line up effort with importance. Foley doesn’t quite say this, but I take it the idea is that effort must rise at least to the level of importance of the subject matter. Presumably, it’s OK if effort exceeds importance; what’s not OK is for it to fall short. When it falls short, and ignorance is present, then the ignorance is irresponsible.
There’s an ambiguity in Foley’s presentation, though, and either way of reading it leaves me unconvinced. To see the ambiguity, notice that Foley doesn’t require that one’s time and effort be appropriate to the importance of the issue. What’s required is something about what one reasonably believes. What’s not clear is whether the importance of the issue is inside the scope of the reasonable belief operator. Here are the two possibilities:
1. S reasonably believes (time and effort is at least as much as importance demands).
2. Importance demands T&E of level n and S reasonably believes that level n has been reached.
Reading 2 leaves me uncomfortable in the following cases.
a. You’ve reasonably taken the level of importance to be below n, but mistakenly and reasonably think you’ve expended more effort than is required.
b. You reasonably believe the importance of the matter demands a level of T&E much higher than n, but you are lazy and only reach level n. You reasonably believe that you’ve reached level n, and thus reasonably believe yourself to be irresponsible.
Reading 1 leaves me uncomfortable as well. Suppose you reasonably believe that your T&E matches the importance of the subject matter, but you are wrong: you haven’t investigated as much as the subject matter demands.
That sounds bad, but we can make it worse. The situation as described is about the importance of P. For one’s ignorance of P to fail to be irresponsible, clause 1 has to be true with respect to P. Clause 1, however, involves another proposition, Q, a conditional one involving P. Can’t one have a reasonable belief about Q and yet not have investigated this issue, the Q issue, sufficiently? As far as I can tell, Foley’s conditions for reasonable belief are no guarantee that Q has been given due diligence, and that leaves Woltersdorff’s challenge in place: the notion of responsible belief, and especially, irresponsible ignorance, doesn’t appear to be explicable in terms of Foley’s notion of epistemically reasonable belief.