Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

A question of morals, ethics, and blame

gmhowell (26755) writes | more than 7 years ago

User Journal 12

If you want something to happen that might be against your own morals, and you get someone else to do it, should you still feel bad? Should you be held responsible?

Note: nothing illegal, merely immoral or perhaps unethical.

If you want something to happen that might be against your own morals, and you get someone else to do it, should you still feel bad? Should you be held responsible?

Note: nothing illegal, merely immoral or perhaps unethical.

cancel ×


Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

No (1)

Morosoph (693565) | more than 7 years ago | (#17273538)

"Holding Responsible" is like "being tried". One shouldn't be "held responsible". One is responsible as part of the causal chain. Responsibility is joint and several; parcelling it out is not allowed. Diminished responsibility is admissible for human fallibility and igrorance, but that is not the same as a smaller fraction.

Holding you responsible is what others do, and is a way of taking punishment, which is much easier than blame for the conscientious. If you consider the act immoral, it is up to you and your conscience to fix it. No-one is beholden to punish you, and sometimes all that you can do is learn. Still, it is your reponsibility (to yourself!) to do just that.

Feeling bad is itself a cop out. Fix it or learn from it. Feeling bad can be an indulgence.

Re:No (1)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 7 years ago | (#17274410)

I think you might not have exactly answered the question I envisioned, but I can see how it relates and responds to what I asked.

'Feeling bad' is nice, but that's only the beginning of responsibility. Shouldn't actions be taken beyond 'feeling bad'?

That's Good (1)

Morosoph (693565) | more than 7 years ago | (#17274512)

Feeling bad can even be optional, when one acts swiftly enough. When one can't, though, or the damage cannot be undone, it is right to feel penance, IMO.

Action is the most important thing, though, and by that I mean wise action, not merely action that makes you feel better quicker. For example: telling someone the truth about something that you would rather hide from them might lead you to dwell more upon things that you could have patched up, and learn from them better. Sometimes, discretion is the better course, though.

My answer to your question was probably in the "joint and several" bit. Being part of the chain doesn't dilute your responsibility by the length of the chain!

An alternate opinion: Yes (1)

elmegil (12001) | more than 7 years ago | (#17277058)

If you "got" someone to do it, definitely you're responsible.

If you "allowed" someone to do it, since they were going to do it anyway, then less so, but to some extent still yes if you could have stopped them. If it was inevitable, then No, and schadenfreude is just fine.

My "No" wasn't a real "No" (1)

Morosoph (693565) | more than 7 years ago | (#17277688)

But a quibble: being "held responsible" isn't the same as reponsibility. It's a different concept.

I love these questions. (1)

dexterpexter (733748) | more than 7 years ago | (#17278700)

Mmm. I love these questions.

Does having someone else do it make it "better"?

Dealing out deeds to others can sometimes be quite worse than doing the deed yourself, because you've stepped beyond the doer to be the manager. You've taken that extra step to say that not only are you willing to bend your morals to allow the deed, but you are willing to stain the hands of others in order to ensure the deed be carried out. It is even worse when your intention for doing so is to make yourself feel a little less guilty. An important aspect is whether those whose hands you stain are complicit in the situation; directing someone to unknowingly commit a serious act without their having due appreciation for the consequences is depraved. Having a complicit and fully informed volunteer doesn't make the act any less wrong, but is certainly a huge step above taking advantage of the innocent. A truly honorable person would not allow even the most willing participant to conduct wrongs, or would at very least protest. We should be clear that plotting wrongdoing, no matter how you spin it, makes you no longer "clean" in the situation.

Do the ends justify the means?

It is a complicated thing to determine. When one is able to accept the depravity of the means because they value the ends, then they have already crossed a huge hurdle--whether this is a good or bad thing is a matter of opinion. They have admitted that their morals are bendable if doing so yields a certain consequence; some might call them flexible and good decision-makers toward the "Greater Good," while others might call them hypocritical and untrustworthy. Everyone bends their beliefs on some level, simply not thinking about the gravity of a situation while enjoying its fruits, but to do so on a larger level is not a capability everyone possesses, and one that not everyone will understand. Blame will depend on the gravity of the situation. There are different matters to consider: acting responsibly is a choice; responsibility is inherent (a decision made is responsibility earned, accepted or not); being held responsible will be dependent on the ability of the people involved to accept the ends and forget the means. All are very different things.
Feeling bad about a choice is dependent on what ability you have developed to eschew the impact on your conscience.

Creating that Buffer Does Make it Somehow Feel Better

That said, putting a buffer between yourself and the deed does make it feel more palpable. It shouldn't, but it does. In most cases, popular opinion will be more outraged at the doer than the manager; I suppose one step removed can be a nice place to be, if you're set on seeing something be carried out and want to soften how it affects you.

In business, it is usually a high-level executive telling a low-level guy to shred paperwork or fudge a figure, not the executive himself.
I imagine a similar chain of logic made Jack Kavorkian the man that he became; suicide is a sin in some people's minds, but somehow having someone else to pull the plug was an act of kindness, and avoided that supposed damning sin on a technicality?

A Rare Skill

The ability to create a buffer between want and evil is an improtant part of life. It is a nasty little, unspoken truth that there are people anonymously (or not) doing lots of "bad" (a matter of opinion) things or directing others to conducts acts to make the world run a little smoother for those who want to sleep snuggly in their beds at night without having to feel the least bit involved. War, politics, science...all of it is tangled helplessly in this very principle.

Bless the leaders who bore this burden every day, for the pressure would be too much for most. Some people's conscience will never allow them to knowingly do or set into motion questionable actions, but there are those out there who must carry that burden on different levels. No one can determine your level of acceptance for you.

We All Shift A Little

There is no easy answer. Most people would claim to be against murder on the basis that they're against one human ending the life of another, yet many doublethink away the parallel when it comes to law enforcement or a soldier (necessarily) ending the life of another in order to protect public security. Why? Because the latter affords them a convenience--a service--and they never had to pull the trigger. And that is fair. There are few (that isn't to say no one) who would vehemently decry the jobs of police officers, or even soldiers. Nay, they are often heralded as heroes.
But it is interesting to also consider that should a man take up a weapon and seek out another man who beat a child incessantly, while people would possibly feel for his cause, a jury would nonetheless put him away for attempted murder. Why is one more acceptable to our comforts than the other? Perhaps because we feel that he is a rogue, uncontrollable and unpredictable...he is a doer. Contrastingly, we've contracted the police--professionals nonethess--to do the deed, and thus we are the manager of a "necessary" situation? Could any of the managers ever bring themselves to pull a trigger and end the life of another being, be it "necessary"? Some people were born to never be able to pull the trigger.

Perhaps it is our own level of control, our perception of personal gain, and our ability to wash our hands of a situation that makes something acceptable.

Being the Manager Can Be Bad Indeed

It should be noted that by my definitions, Saddam was a manager with a ruthless force of doers. Did he pull the trigger with his own hands? Yet consider that he is an Ace of Spades in a deck of crimminals. Warren Jeffs was also a manager, and while it is thought be may have personally done some unspeakable things, he is (as of yet) only being charged for his role in arranging the alleged crimes. Yet, it was he that was on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List, not the men doing the deeds.

No, being a manager doesn't absolve you from responsibility--lawfully or morally--and the specific situation will determine whether it lightens or strengthens the public's negative perception of your deed. Your ability to stomach the situation is a personal choice. It depends on your resolve.


Will accomplishing the ends, perhaps a "greater good," outweigh the guilt that you might feel for the means to that end?
Sometimes in life, doing things that go against your base principles is absolutely necessary. You have to weigh the consequences. Is it worth it to stain the hands of others in order to carry out your deed, and can you absolve yourself from responsibility through this buffer? Odds are the extra buffer will only be a technicality, and you will know that you were the cause of the situation. Others will probably realize this as well. But, consider if the bending of your morals is so necessary that it can become acceptable. It's the old question of the man stealing the bread to feed his starving family. The old, different-levels-of-wrong thing. If it is truly an acceptable "wrong," though, perhaps you should carry out the deed yourself. If is worth the means, then there is no justification to have another do it. Consider: why not do this myself?

Perhaps taking control of the situation is more admirable than laying the consequences and bad onto another person.

Or, is your moral being so strong that, standing back and looking at the situation, the necessity of the action lessens and it remains an immoral deed that shouldn't occur? Then finding someone else to accomplish it for you will make the deed no less wrong. If it isn't justifiable, then it isn't justifiable. Adding people to the equation makes a wrong situation even more wrong.

As This Applies to You
The question you must ask yourself is: Will your action have a positive or negative overall effect on society?
Bending morals for this may be more acceptable then bending morals for selfish purposes.

No one else can determine your internal guilt for you; that is a personal thing. However, your friends can advise that you weigh whether the ends benefit more people than it hurts, and whether it is truly justified, and perhaps this determination can make you feel better about whatever decision you make.

In the end, though--Don't do anything bad, m'kay? If it can't be broadcast here, then it probably isn't for the Greater Good (TM). That you had to ask probably means you're wired properly--and probably aren't meant to be one of those people who must do or direct the ills of the world without facing your conscience. If you know it's wrong, it's wrong. Don't drag others into it, no matter how willing they may be. Look for an alternative. There is always another way.

Good luck.

Re:I love these questions. (1)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 7 years ago | (#17281820)

Thanks for the insightful comments. As you have already guessed, I can't really say much more about it. Let me just say that the actions to which I refer have already transpired, both by the doer and the manager. And none were illegal, afaik.

To me, yes (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 7 years ago | (#17288268)

But that's probably why I feel so much guilt. To me, the borrower and the lender are both participating in usury, though one as a victim.

Re:To me, yes (1)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 7 years ago | (#17288658)

Yesterday or Saturday in the Washington Post, there was an op-ed that had the thesis that South/Central America is receptive to socialist governments largely as a result of strong Catholic backgrounds. My father read it, I haven't had a chance, but you may be interested.

Re:To me, yes (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 7 years ago | (#17300998)

I'll check it out- though I'm already well familiar with the theology behind it. Most people don't realize that Catholicism, while socially conservative, really is fiscally liberal; we're all sinners under God and capitalism's method of enriching some while leaving others to go hungry makes no sense if we're all equal.

Re:To me, yes (1)

baldass_newbie (136609) | more than 7 years ago | (#17404964)

It's called Liberation Theology [] .
I went to a Jesuit school and we had all kinds of arguments about this. With that and my experiences of the Democrat machine of South Jersey, any time any government or large entity says they're there to help I am extremely wary. Unless, of course, it's Joe Kennedy [] . Good job, Joe. Nice we get cheap gas off the back of Venezuelans. I wish Republicans had thought of that.
Hugo's showing us by giving us cheap fuel. Smart man, that one. Soon he won't have to worry about private TV stations, either [] .

Anyway, trust you are well.

Re:To me, yes (1)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 7 years ago | (#17405520)

As well as can be expected. I *do* have an interesting story to tell if I didn't already (around December 5-10). Drop me an email. (Hey, when did brew-masters go offline?)
Check for New Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>