Monday, April 30, 2018

Avoiding double counting of culpabilities

Here’s an interesting double-counting problem for wrongdoing. Alice stands to inherit a lot of money from a rich uncle in Australia. Bob thinks he stands to inherit a lot of money from a rich uncle in New Zealand. Both of them know that it’s wrong to kill rich uncles for their inheritance, but each of them nonetheless hires a hitman with the instruction to kill the rich uncle. Both hitmen run off with the money and do nothing. But Bob in fact has no uncles—he was misinformed.

Here are some plausible observations:

  1. Alice culpably committed two wrongs: she violated her conscience and she wronged her uncle by hiring a hitman to kill him.

  2. Bob culpably committed only one of these wrongs: he violated his conscience.

  3. Bob is just as morally culpable as Alice.

Here is one way to reconcile these observations. We should distinguish between something like moral failings of the will, on the one hand, and wrongdoings, on the other. It is the moral failings of the will that result in culpability. This culpability then will qualify one or more wrongdoings. But the amount of culpability is not accounted by looking at the culpable wrongdoings, but at the moral failings of the will. A being that executes unalloyed perfect justice will look only at these failings of the will. Alice and Bob each morally failed in the same way and to the same degree (as far as the stories go), and so they are equally culpable. But, nonetheless, Alice has two culpable wrongdoings—culpable through the same moral failing of the will, which should not be double counted for purposes of just punishment.


Christopher Michael said...

Does Alice have two wrongdoings? I count one by the way you distinguished wrongdoing from moral failings of the will, because the violating of conscience just is the moral failing of the will. It's not a wrongdoing on top of the moral failing of the will.

Alexander R Pruss said...

It's wrong to violate conscience. So it's a wrongdoing.

Helen Watt said...

As regards culpability, yes, the existence or non-existence of an uncle to be wronged by the very fact of our trying to kill them is just as irrelevant to our culpability as our success or lack of success in getting them killed.

However, since the existence or non-existence of an uncle to be wronged is also a fact about the world, not a fact about us, is it not maybe slightly odd to use the word wrongdoing both of 'internal' states such as conscience-violation and intentions to kill, and also of people 'out there' being wronged?

Of course, there is much more to bad moral choices than choosing against conscience. Molly the terrorist who sincerely, and perhaps inculpably, thinks it's OK to kill innocent people has made the same immediate wrong moral choice as Alice ie to kill an innocent person, but against the morally significant background of believing such killings are morally OK. In contrast, Alice is violating her conscience - though interestingly, she is probably not intending to violate it as such. Rather she is 'merely' intending to do what she knows/believes is wrong - the 'unintended morally determinative aspect' which contributes to her catalogue of 'internal' wrongdoing (together with her intention to kill, her knowledge/belief her uncle is innocent etc).