Blame for Ignorance?
Perspectives on Willful Blindness and Mistakes of Fact

Blame for Ignorance? – Perspectives on Willful Blindness and Mistakes of Fact

Workshop • September 5–7, 2024 • Freiburg/Germany

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law

Can a person be blamed for turning a blind eye to the circumstances of his or her conduct? There is no clear answer to this question and yet it determines acquittal or conviction in cases involving crimes such as terrorism, rape, drug trafficking, and money laundering. Even a conviction for crimes against humanity may be secured by blaming someone for ignorance; the same rationale applies to responsibility within corporations or military groups. From 5–7 September 2024, we would like to discuss this question and the perspectives on willful blindness and culpable mistakes of fact in a workshop jointly organized by the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law, Freiburg and the Uni­ver­sity of Göttingen. Cutting through the fields of philosophy, criminal theory, and criminal procedure, the work­shop will address the theoretical, doctrinal, and practical issues of (culpable) mistakes of fact. By bringing together scholars from different civil law and common law jurisdictions, the workshop will provide a platform for a lively international and interdisciplinary debate on these issues.



Thursday, 5 September 2024  
09:00–09:30Welcome and Introduction

Philipp-Alexander Hirsch (Freiburg) and Alexander Heinze (Göttingen)                                    

Thematic Section I: Preconditions for the Treatment of Mistake of Fact in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice
The larger frame of willful ignorance is the treatment of mistakes in criminal law. It depends on a plethora of decisions governing fundamental issues such as the reasoning about criminal liability and its structure, matters of subjective imputation, the definition and concept of intent, etc.

09:30–10:30Tatjana Hörnle (Freiburg): “The Role of Mistakes in Criminal Law Doctrine”

Matthew Dyson (Oxford): Response
10:30–11:00coffee break

Thematic Section II: Moral Principles and Problems of the Willful Ignorance-Doctrine
This subject area revolves around the issues of blameworthiness, culpability and responsibility. Can the agent be blamed for willfully ignoring certain facts or circumstances? What are the moral principles and problems of the willful ignorance doctrine? How do reasons and motives for ignorance come into play?

11:00–12:00Alexander Sarch (Surrey): “Mens Rea Imputation, Rule of Law
and Willful Ignorance as Evasion”

John Child (Birmingham): Response                                                                
12:00–13:00Jochen Bung (Hamburg): “Willful ignorance as a problem of rationality”     

David Luban (Washington): Response
13:00–14:30lunch break
14:30–15:30Daniel Miller (Morgantown): “’Should Have Known’ Isn’t Good Enough:
Why Culpable Ignorance Requires Awareness”

Levin Güver (London): Response
15:30–16:00coffee break

Thematic Section III: Epistemic Principles about Knowledge and Ignorance
It is said that willful ignorance is equivalent to knowledge – or being treated as such. Is that epistemically accurate? What are the epistemic principles of knowledge, acceptance, and ignorance?

16:00–17:00 Antony Duff (Stirling): “How could you be so blind?”

Milan Kuhli (Hamburg): Response
17:00–18:00 Michael Serota (Los Angeles): “Community Views & Criminal Minds”         

AJP Fassnidge (Aberdeen): Response
19:00 dinner



Friday, 6 September 2024  
09:00–10:00Rik Peels (Amsterdam): “Varieties of Ignorance and Why They Matter”                              

Claudia Wittl (Freiburg): Response
10:00–10:30coffee break


Thematic Section IV: Procedure, Evidence and Proof
The problem of willful ignorance also raises questions of criminal procedure, evidence and proof, which will be addressed in thematic section IV: What fact-finding and reason-giving is involved in determining the relevant mental state? How are juries being instructed (so-called “ostrich” instructions) and how do they treat different motives and reasons for ignorance? Can willful ignorance be established through broader admissibility of evidence or the free proof principle?

10:30–11:30Christoph Wolf (Wiesbaden): “Procedural determination of intent
despite a perpetrator’s ignorance?”

Paul Roberts (Nottingham): Response
11:30–12:30Manuel Cancio Meliá (Madrid): “Function of Mens Rea and Evidence Standards”

Frank Bleckmann (Freiburg): Response
12:30–14:00lunch break
14:00–15:00Stephen Morse (Philadelphia): “Common Law Willful Blindness/Blame for Ignorance”

Julia Geneuss (Bremen): Response


Thematic Section V: Willful Ignorance, Recklessness and Dolus Eventualis
Knowing, accepting, should have been aware of, and ignoring – what should the test for willful ignorance be? Is there a need and a place for legal transplants, especially in light of the similarities and dissimilarities between willful ignorance, recklessness, and dolus eventualis? Or is “willful ignorance” merely a terminology for a concept that is applied in other legal systems under a different name?

15:00–16:00Ramon Ragués Vallès (Barcelona): “Is there a place for willful blindness
in civil law systems?”

Luís Greco (Berlin): Response
16:00–16:30coffee break
16:30–17:30Svenja Schwartz (Freiburg): “Transplanting willful ignorance as dolus
into continental doctrine”

Ivó Coca-Vila (Barcelona): Response
17:30–18:30Gabriel Pérez Barberá (Buenos Aires): “Mens rea in review. A comparative analysis
of crass and willful ignorance”

Sandra Marshall (Stirling): Response



Saturday, 7 September 2024

Thematic Section VI: Willful Ignorance Applied
Thematic Section VI shifts the focus to the role of the concept of willful ignorance in various legal fields and forms of criminality, e.g. international criminal law, white-collar crime, sexual offenses, and corporate criminal liability and other organizational liability. What is the impact of willful ignorance in these contexts, and to what extent should or shouldn’t it be a factor in liability?

09:30–10:30Elies van Sliedregt (Tilburg): “Excuse Theory in International Criminal Law”

Antonio Coco (Essex): Response
10:30–11:00coffee break
11:00–12:00Carl-Friedrich Stuckenberg (Bonn): “Ignorantia affectata, crassa et supina
– The roots of willful ignorance in the Continental ius commune”

Georgia Stefanopoulou (Hannover): Response
12:00–13:00Beatriz Goena Vives (Barcelona): “The Crime of being in Charge. Willful Ignorance
in Applied in Economic Criminal Law”

Kilian Wegner (Frankfurt a.d.O.): Response
13:00Closing Remarks

Philipp-Alexander Hirsch (Freiburg) und Alexander Heinze (Göttingen)


Venue and Accommodation


The Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law (MPI-CSL) is located in Freiburg in the suburb of “Wiehre” and can be reached from the main train station/city center by tram line 2 (stop “Holbeinstraße”), by taxi as well as on foot (around 20 minutes). The workshop will take place in an annex building of the MPI at Fürstenbergstraße 19. It is a new building with barrier-free access.

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law
Günterstalstraße 73
79100 Freiburg

Directions can be found on Google Maps.

We have reserved a contingent of rooms at Hotel Premier Inn Freiburg City Süd for all interested attendees of the conference. If you would like to book a room, please contact the hotel by 6 July 2024 and mention the booking code “Max Planck-ABK-Blame for Ignorance”. Additionally, there are numerous accommodation options available in Freiburg. For more information, please refer to the local tourist information pages.

About us


The workshop is organized by Dr. Alexander Heinze, Dr. Dr. Philipp-Alexander Hirsch and Svenja Schwartz.

Alexander Heinze is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Criminal Law and Justice at the Georg-August-University of Göttingen. He specialises in criminal law and criminal procedure law as well as international criminal law.

Svenja Schwartz is a PhD student at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law (Department of Criminal Law, Director Prof. Dr. Tatjana Hörnle) and a member of the Independent Research Group “Theory of Criminal Law”. Her dissertation deals with the topic of “willful ignorance”, which inspired this workshop.

Philipp-Alexander Hirsch is Leader of the Independent Research Group “Criminal Law Theory” at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law in Freiburg. His research focuses on criminal law and criminal procedure, legal philosophy and legal theory, and the history and philosophy of criminal law in the Age of Enlightenment.

The Max Planck Research Group “Criminal Law Theory” focuses on the analysis of substantive criminal law and criminal procedure and the doctrine in these areas; the analysis centers on the underlying normative structures and principles in order to assess their coherence, justifiability, and persuasiveness. The aim is to draw on the fruits of this analysis to engage in normative theory-building that proposes solutions to problems in criminal law that go beyond interpreting the positive law.


Anyone who is interested is welcome to attend the conference. We especially encourage students and early-career researchers to register for the conference. Attendance is free of charge. However, the number of participants is limited. To register, please fill out the following registration form. The deadline for registration is August 16, 2024.

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