Appeared-to-Blogly

March 15, 2013

Moral Buck Passing

Filed under: Ethics — camcintosh @ 2:19 pm

The topic is moral responsibility, how and whether culpability gets transferred though moral versus non-moral intermediaries.

Scenario 1: I tell an Italian friend of mine to do a dirty job for me. Suppose I know that there’s a probability of .5 he will carry out the job.
Scenario 2: I set in motion a fairly simple causal chain of events involving only non-moral intermediaries (e.g., rocks, pulleys, wheels, cue balls, etc.) that I know has a probability of .5 that it will get the dirty job done.

Am I any less culpable if the dirty job gets done in Scenario 2 than if it gets done in Scenario 1? Now some twists:

Scenario 3: I tell an Italian friend of mine to do a dirty job for me. Given his record, I know there’s a .9 probability that he will carry it out. But he’s busy, and so passes the job to the next best man, lowering the probability of the job being carried out to .7. This guy in turn passes the job to someone else, and so on for a while. In each case, the next person who receives the job is a little less reliable (or kinder) than the last, and the job finally lands on someone who has only a .1 probability of getting it done. (Suppose I know that the job will be passed on in this way, and that I know the final probability).
Scenario 4: I set in motion a fairly complex causal chain of events involving only non-moral intermediaries (e.g., rocks, pulleys, wheels, cue balls, etc.) that I know has a probability of .1 that it will get the dirty job done.

Am I any less culpable if the dirty job gets done in Scenario 4 than if it gets done in Scenario 3?

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1 Comment »

  1. This seems to me to be an irrelevant question. The moral responsibility attaches to you the moment you act on any evil intentions or desires regardless of the method or outcome. Thus the punishment in our civil system can be more severe for conspiracy to commit murder than for say manslaughter. Obviously that’s a rather simplistic example as the scenarios can be quite complex.

    Another topic that I do see as relevant to your scenario is the increase of your moral responsibility by including others in your schemes and therefor making them morally responsible.

    Comment by Christian Penrod — March 15, 2013 @ 2:36 pm | Reply


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