Can I Be Blamed for Harm Someone Else Does?
I wouldn’t have stolen your car if you hadn’t left your keys in it.
This is not a Q1 violation if you are willing to accept blame (or a portion of the blame) for bad actions that involve you, even if you had no intention of doing anything wrong. It may not be a Q1 violation in certain cases if you believe that leading someone into temptation is morally wrong.
This is not a Q2 violation so long as you allow everyone to assign blame in this manner.
The question here is whether or not creating opportunity or temptation that leads to an immoral act is in any way blameworthy. Is it blameworthy only when causing someone else to do something immoral was the goal of setting up the opportunity or offering temptation? Is it blameworthy only when the immoral act was foreseeable? Are you responsible when the immoral act would have occurred without the opportunity or temptation you created, but the target of that act would have changed?
Consider the below statements. In which (if any) is blame being correctly assigned?
- "If you weren’t jaywalking, I wouldn’t have hit you when I ran that stop sign."
- "I was aiming my punch to miss you. I wouldn’t have hit you if you hadn’t flinched."
- "Look at the way she was dressed. Of course she got raped."
- "He walked into a biker bar dressed in pastels. Of course he got beaten up."
- "They left food in the tent. Of course a bear broke in."
- "If you had just lain still, my pit bull would have stopped attacking."
- "The neighbor’s party was so loud last night that I couldn’t get any sleep. That’s why I was so tired that I forgot to follow the safety procedure."
- "If they hadn’t voted for the segregation law there wouldn’t have been a riot."
- "I only threw the plate because you got me so mad."
- "If you hadn’t always shopped online, the independent book store might still be in business."
- "If our sex life had been better, I never would have cheated on you."
- "Kate had a drunk-driving accident. You shouldn’t have sold her that last drink."
- "Kate had a drunk-driving accident. You knew she was a recovering alcoholic and shouldn’t have brought her that bottle of scotch."
A related question is where to assign blame when someone has created a situation in which a moral act will have an unintended but foreseeable consequence. What would be the moral thing to do in these situations? And who is to blame if things go bad?
- Armed criminals who have invaded a bank say that they will start killing hostages if their demands aren’t met.
- If you don’t pay a large sum of money, a blackmailer will tell your spouse about your extramarital affair.
- A suicidal man says he’ll shoot himself if you don’t leave him alone.
- During war, a general uses civilians as a human shield around his weapon factories.
- A terrorist builds weapons at home so that if his enemies try to bomb him, they will kill his innocent wife and children as well.
Finally, if you would not accept blame for harm someone else does, would you accept credit for a good deed someone else does? For example, if you donate money to a charity that builds a school, will you accept some degree of credit for the school? If it turns out the school was built on toxic soil, will you then accept some of the blame? If not, what’s the difference?
You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at LuLu.com and Amazon.com. See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.