The Instigator
Danielle
Pro (for)
The Contender
That1User
Con (against)

Inaction in the face of injustice makes an individual morally culpable.

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Debate Round Forfeited
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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/30/2016 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Debating Period
Viewed: 1,345 times Debate No: 98557
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (6)
Votes (0)

 

Danielle

Pro

Congratulations to That1User on making it to the final round of bsh1's Unique Topics tournament! I appreciate your patience in the delayed challenge, and I look forward to a very thought provoking discussion.

As far as I can tell, the resolution is self-explanatory and the definitions are standard. I would like to disqualify the use of semantics. For example, a person being inactive due to physical or mental handicap is not sufficient. I expect my opponent and the audience to be fair in determining which arguments are intentionally rooted in semantics.

Please let me know if you have any additional questions or concerns in the Comments Section, and we can outline any notable rules or clarifications per your Round 1 acceptance. I will begin the debate in Round 2. Thanks again and Good Luck!
That1User

Con

Challenge accepted. Happy New Year Danielle!
Debate Round No. 1
Danielle

Pro

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
-- Edmund Burke

Introductory Analysis

I'm going to assume that my opponent believes a person's actions would make an individual morally culpable. An action is the process or state of carrying out an activity. The reason a person is responsible for their actions is because all actions have consequences, which describes results that stem directly from the person's behavior.

By this logic, one is also responsible for their inaction. Inaction likewise has consequences - meaning results that stem directly from the person's behavior. Whether the behavior is active or passive, a consequence will arise from whatever actions are being carried out. Ignoring injustice is a willful behavior. It is passive, but describes the way in which a person intentionally conducts oneself toward others.

In this discussion, I'll be arguing that purposeful inaction constitutes an action in itself. It describes the way one acts or reacts, meaning it describes purposeful behavior that has consequences. If people are responsible for the consequences of their behavior, then this logic applies to both action and inaction.

Moral & Legal Standards

To what extent can you stand by and watch horror before you are complicit/punishable? While the law is not an absolute basis for morality, these questions on injustice have arisen in the justice system.

Under the law, an omission is a failure to act, which generally attracts different legal consequences from positive conduct. Vicarious liability describes the responsibility of any third party that had the "right, ability or duty to control" the activities of a violator. For example, parents can be held liable for their own negligent acts, such as failure to supervise a child, or failure to keep a dangerous instrument such as a handgun outside the reach of their children [1]. Here we can see that the law holds certain third parties accountable, even if they were not present or had no direct knowledge of the incident.

The Nuremberg trials established that persons cannot use the defense that they were only following orders of their superiors, but also that superiors who ordered or "should have known" of such violations, yet failed to intervene, are also criminally liable. So superiors, like parents, are considered to be in a position to act in such a way that interferes with an injustice. Failure to act (inaction) is a behavior with consequences, and we've already established that people are responsible for the consequences of their behavior. Of course the level of culpability may vary.

The law also recognizes a "duty of care" clause. Duty of care may be considered a formalization of the social contract, which is what we call the implicit responsibilities held by individuals toward others within society [2]. Thomas Hobbes argued that in a civil society, a social contract provides all members of the community with a security gain, and in return they are responsible for subjecting themselves to an absolute Sovereign or collective set of guidelines. These guidelines look to provide general security and make all members of the community responsible for establishing that end.

Society is comprised of a group of individuals. If many or all individuals ignore an injustice for which they are not directly responsible, the society as a whole would not protect justice and righteousness overall. We are responsible for reaction. For instance if someone committed a murder, society has a responsibility to investigate and prosecute the crime in addition to leveraging punishment. If we alleviate ourselves from the responsibility or reaction to that injustice -- even if we are not directly related to it -- we are left without any basis for a legal or moral system at all.

Conclusion

A cause = person or thing that gives rise to an action, phenomenon or condition. In a situation where one knows that their inaction is likely to permit/contribute/exacerbate a harm, and where one knows that their action would mitigate or prevent the harm, they are necessarily a cause (person/thing that gives rise to a condition) of the harm.

There must be some reasonable limit to our duty of care, and the question is where to set that limit. It is perfectly reasonable to set the limit as such: inaction in the face of injustice -- that is inaction when presented with an injustice where one's behavior could directly alter the outcome to prevent an injustice -- makes an individual morally culpable.


References
[1] https://en.wikipedia.org...
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org...
That1User

Con

"One is innocent until proven guilty."
Resolved: Inaction in the face of injustice makes an individual morally culpable.

This resolution states that when a person is inactive during an event of injustice, they are morally guilty, and it is my opponent's job to prove this statement as true.

Now, proving this statement as objective truth is perhaps impossible because not every person agrees what is moral or what is unjust. Consider the events of the Tiananmen Square protests, where the Chinese Government killed student protesters. To the Chinese government, the killings were both moral and just because the student protesters were breaking the law and threatening order in China, while to the student protesters the killings were immoral and unjust because the government executed them and their friends, violating their right to life.

Since both sides see their own actions as right, and the other side's actions as right, the resolution should be applied to how each individual views what is moral and what is unjust. This, however, arises another problem, an individual's morality is subject to change at any moment, and may believe in multiple competing moralities.

Consider a Chinese citizen during the Tinanmen Square protests who believes that the student protesters are moral and just while the government's actions of executing students are immoral and unjust. According to the resolution, the person would be morally culpable if s/he did not act against the Chinese Government when they were executing students, even though acting against the Chinese Government would make the person a criminal and most likely executed. If the person who is executed is a parent then they could not care for their children, if the person is a student then they could not improve the life of themselves or their family and contribute to society in the future, because they'd be dead. A person should not be held morally culpable if action against injustice threatens the lives of themselves and their loved ones.

Consider another Chinese citizen during the Tinanmen Square protests who believes that the Chinese government is moral and just in its actions against the immoral and unjust student protesters. According to the resolution, this person would be morally culpable if s/he did not act with the Chinese government by joining or helping the PLA Ground Force or the People's Armed Police. By joining, the individual would be an enforcer of the law, and thus be subject to the government's orders, including executing student protesters. But what if the person could not bring himself to kill another human being, even if he agrees with the killing of the students protesters for the sake of preserving order and upholding the law? A person should not be held morally culpable if action requires killing another person, especially if it involves killing multiple people.

Consider a third Chinese citizen during the Tinanmen Square protests who believes that the Chinese government and the student protesters are both equally immoral and unjust. In this case, the only moral option is inaction, because action in favor of any side would be immoral and unjust. If inaction is the only moral choice in the face of two equal injustices , then an individual cannot be morally culpable for inaction.

"A cause = person or thing that gives rise to an action, phenomenon or condition. In a situation where one knows that their inaction is likely to permit/contribute/exacerbate a harm, and where one knows that their action would mitigate or prevent the harm, they are necessarily a cause (person/thing that gives rise to a condition) of the harm." -Pro

This resolution states that inaction in the face of injustice makes an individual morally culpable, meaning in that in every instance of injustice that an individual can act upon it is their moral responsibility to act, and if they do not act they are morally guilty, even if they reason that their action will most likely result in more injustice or a worse injustice. Consider a bank robbery where the bank robber has an AK-47 in a bank full of people, with one person carrying a pistol. That person can use the pistol to stop the injustice of robbery, but using the pistol also risks the lives of everyone in the bank. According to the resolution, the person would be morally culpable for not acting against the injustice, even if acting against it would most likely result in a worse injustice.

Pro's statement also assumes that a person views the harm committed as an injustice, if a harm is being committed on a dangerous criminal by law enforcement, a person should not be held morally culpable for not doing anything because the criminal is being punished for a crime, and helping the criminal is illegal and will lead to harm upon you. Neither should a person be held morally culpable for inaction against an autocratic government, even if given the opportunity to act against it, because all dissent is brutally executed and imprisoned, thus it is better to do nothing for the sake of themselves and their loved ones, and action against an autocratic government may result in a worse government being in place, which has happened in revolutions throughout history in Russia, China, and Cuba.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org...
Debate Round No. 2
Danielle

Pro


Arguments/Rebuttal

1. Con's argument is that if people disagree on whether or not an injustice is taking place, then there is no consensus that an injustice is even occurring -- and therefore, people are not responsible for having a reaction.

However, the resolution mandates that we reconcile inaction with an injustice. Not a perceived injustice, but an injustice. Thus we must be arguing from the position that an objective injustice is taking place, OR, that the agent (individual) in question perceives an injustice to be occurring.

I would note that we are debating the latter. We are debating whether or not an agent is culpable for reaction in the face of their perceived injustice. My opponent actually confirmed this standard in the last round, which I will demonstrate in the Analysis.

2. My argument stands affirmed regardless of Con's rebuttal on objective vs. subjective morality.

I've illustrated that one is responsible for their actions, and therefore, it logically follows that they are responsible for their inaction. This would be true regardless of any assigned moral factors. For example, let's say I was faced with a choice of drone striking a terrorist leader. Whether my doing so is objectively moral or not, anyone would agree that I am responsible for the consequences of my behavior. If I choose to strike in that situation (for whatever reason) I would be responsible for the outcome, and if I choose not to strike, I would still be responsible for the outcome.

Thus whether or not my behavior is moral or immoral is completely irrelevant to the fact that my behavior has consequences, and I am directly responsible for the consequences, including the perceived moral value.

Analysis

So let's work backwards to explain my point further. Point #2 confirms that we are responsible for our actions and inactions, whether those [in]actions are moral or immoral. Con did not argue this point that we are responsible for our action and inaction; he only argued that morality was subjective. Of course that is irrelevant. Whether an observing individual perceives my reaction to be moral or immoral, I would still be morally culpable regardless of their perspective/preference of my choice.

Con provided an example of the students protesting in Tiananmen Square. He explained that since both sides (students vs. government) see their actions as right, "the resolution should be applied to how each individual views what is moral and what is unjust." A-ha! Con just confirmed what I explained in point #1. The resolution should be applied to how each individual views what is moral and what is unjust.

Therefore, Con's first point is negated. His own words confirm that we are debating whether a person who perceives an inaction to be unjust is responsible for reacting in that situation.

In Con's second argument, my opponent states that some people might fear for their lives in the face of reacting against injustice - and therefore, they are alleviated from any moral culpability. But this logic does not follow. The agent is still responsible for their inaction; they have simply justified their inaction through utilitarian standards.

That said, I will #1 explain the problem with using utilitarian standards, and #2 explain that culpability exists even if utilitarian standards were justified.

- - - -

#1 Utilitarian Concerns

In many cases, it is not explicitly obvious as to which action has preferable utility. For instance, Con noted that the government might execute Tiananmen Square protesters for acting against injustice. Well those issues certainly need to be resolved, but who is to say that the government's execution of said protesters wouldn't ultimately have had positive utility in the long run? Said act may have wound up drawing attention to the issue, and thus much needed resources to resolve the situation at hand.

The fact is that we have neither the insight nor objectivity to utilize this consequentialist framework. Some philosophers argue that it is impossible to do the calculation that this standard requires, because consequences are inherently unknowable, and our own judgment is skewed by inherent bias. Thus we can always use the excuse "what if" our action led to worse consequences, but ultimately it does not withstand scrutiny. We cannot know what the future holds or what the truly best course of action will be, and thus, acting against injustice in the face of it holds significant value.

#2 Culpability Despite Justification

I completely acknowledge that if you value your safety over righteousness, that it makes logical sense to prioritize your safety over righteousness. However, that in no way alleviates your passivity in the face of injustice, and therefore makes you partially responsible for the outcome. If I chose to not fight an oppressor because I feared for my life, nobody would "blame" me, but I would still be responsible for my inaction. I will have expressed a priority for X over Y. But valuing X over Y doesn't make me any less responsible for Y. It simply means my inaction may be justified.

Let's use Con's own example.

"Consider a bank robbery where the bank robber has an AK-47 in a bank full of people, with one person carrying a pistol. That person can use the pistol to stop the injustice of robbery, but using the pistol also risks the lives of everyone in the bank. According to the resolution, the person would be morally culpable for not acting against the injustice, even if acting against it would most likely result in a worse injustice."

Indeed. The person would be morally culpable for not acting against the injustice, even if acting against it would most likely result in a worse injustice. Why? Because the only thing my opponent has proven here is that one who operates under a utilitarian framework (one who believes the best course of action is the one that maximizes utility) may prioritize X over Y. He did NOT explain why the individual is not culpable for Y. He only explained that the individual may have valued people's lives over theft. That is fine and certainly reasonable, but it doesn't change the fact that the agent is responsible for letting the bank robbery occur. It simply means they have exemplified a greater value for people's lives. Nobody would "blame" them for that, but that doesn't change that they were complicit in the bank robbery.

Conclusion

If one's action [in the face of injustice] might result in greater harm or their own danger, it would make sense that the agent is afraid or chooses not to react. That is understandable and may even be justified. However, just because we can understand one's decision doesn't mean they are not blameworthy.

In a situation where one knows that their inaction is likely to permit/contribute/exacerbate a harm, and where one knows that their action would mitigate or prevent the harm, they are necessarily a cause of the harm and therefore still morally culpable. Further, the fact that we cannot truly know whether our reaction would worsen the harm in the long run, provides logical reason to react and try to rectify the injustice head-on.

I have no doubt that in most cases Con described (where inaction might result in harmful blowback) people would give the agent a pass for their inaction. The observer would understand the agent's reasoning. But that doesn't make the agent any less morally culpable for their passivity. If someone does not react to ABC in order to prevent XYZ [further harm], and XYZ does not occur, the agent is still responsible for ABC happening whether or not their decision to prevent XYZ was justified.
That1User

Con

For moral culpability to exist, morality must also exist. Existence is defined as something that "objectively persists independent of one's presence." Thus according to the definition of existence, only objective facts exist. The materialist view of the world holds that only matter and energy exist in the universe. Since everyone holds different moralities, and morality is not a mathematical or scientific fact, it does not exist. Since morality does not exist, one cannot be morally responsible, and thus one cannot be morally culpable for their action or inaction. This is in line with moral nihilism.

https://en.wikipedia.org...

Hard determinism holds that free will and determinism are not compatible with each other Determinism is the belief that every event has resulted in another event, and only that event could occur. Thus, no matter what happens, the only possible course of events that are possible are the ones that have occurred, therefore, everything that has happened is indelible and ultimately a result of outside forces beyond one's own control. Since the universe is determined, free will is an illusion, and thus there is no moral responsibility, and by extension, an individual cannot be morally culpable

https://en.wikipedia.org...
Debate Round No. 3
Danielle

Pro

Many thanks again to my opponent for engaging with me in this debate. The Unique Topics tournament has been interesting and fun. I would also like to thank all participants, readers and judges for following along. Hopefully you have found our discussions to be enlightening. Cheers to you all!


RE: Morality Doesn't Exist


The resolution mandates that we reconcile inaction with an injustice. Injustice describes a situation where one's rights have been violated, or where unjust or unfair action or treatment has occurred [1]. I've explained that (by Con's own admission) we are debating about the moral culpability of a person who perceives a situation to be unjust. Therefore, if the agent considers a situation to be unjust, he or she believes in morality. Thus Con cannot argue from a position of moral nihilism.

Moreover, it's important to consider what my opponent has just done. By arguing in favor of moral nihilism, he has completely negated the arguments he put forth in the aforementioned rounds. Previously, Con had argued from a position of utilitarianism. His claim was that if an agent chose to not react to injustice because they feared the backlash, their inaction would be justified. This supposes the agent morally values one outcome over another. Now, Con is arguing that morality doesn't exist at all. Thus he has rejected his own standard from the previous rounds. It would be impossible for an agent to morally value one outcome over another if morality doesn't exist. His entire Round 2 argument therefore must be scrapped all-together.


RE: Determinism Alleviates Culpability

Con argues that we have no free will in any context, because everything that occurs is inevitable. First, let's note that no evidence at all was provided in order to justify the claim that the universe is determined. Second, even if the universe is determined, most people accept the compatabilist framework of determinism. That is to say they believe we have free will even in a determined universe.

Compatibilists often describe "free will" as a situation where the agent had freedom to act according to their own motivation, meaning the agent was not coerced or restrained [2]. This is the most widely accepted metaphysical view of reality. Because Con has not provided any evidence in favor of hard determinism, and because I do not have the opportunity to respond to any analysis on this subject going forward, this argument should be rejected.

Further, some hard determinists embrace some level of moral realism that assigns culpability to the [in]acting agent anyway. "In a necessitarian world, recourse to merit and blameworthiness is toned down, but adherence to ethical and legal values is not ruined. Persons may be appreciated as carriers, executers and defenders of morality" [3]. What that means is people are still expected to uphold a standard of behavior (that is perceived by society to be ethical). This goes back to what I said in Round 2 regarding a citizen's Duty of Care. Con dropped this argument.

As a reminder, Duty of Care is what we call the implicit responsibilities held by individuals toward others within society. Thomas Hobbes argued that in a civil society, a social contract provides all members of the community with a security gain, and in return they are responsible for subjecting themselves to an absolute Sovereign or collective set of guidelines. These guidelines look to provide general security and make all members of the community responsible for establishing that end. Note that Con has not challenged the idea of a social contract thus far. Moreover, this details how even if moral nihilism were valid (which so far we have no reason to accept), a person would still be culpable for behaving in such a way that is in accordance with social standards.

Philosopher Sam Harris agrees, noting "Those hard determinists who defend ethical realism would object to the premise that contra-causal free will is necessary for ethics. Those who are also ethically naturalistic may also point out that there are good reasons to punish criminals: it is a chance to modify their behavior, or their punishment can act as a deterrent for others who would otherwise act in the same manner. The hard determinist could even argue that this understanding of the true and various causes of a psychopath's behavior, for instance, allow them to respond even more reasonably or compassionately" [4].

The determinist philosopher Bertrand Russell has explained moral culpability as such:

"Among physically possible actions, only those which we actually think of are to be regarded as possible. When several alternative actions present themselves, it is certain that we can both do which we choose, and choose which we will. In this sense all the alternatives are possible. What determinism maintains is that our will to choose this or that alternative is the effect of antecedents; but this does not prevent our will from being itself a cause of other effects. And the sense in which different decisions are possible seems sufficient to distinguish some actions as right and some as wrong, some as moral and some as immoral" [5].

* * *

So to re-cap, in order for Con's argument to hold water, hard heterminism must be sound. My opponent failed to prove that it is. He also failed to explain why we should assume the [in]acting agent in question is a hard determinist. Meanwhile, I pointed out that we should assume the agent is NOT a moral nihilist. He or she perceives an (immoral) injustice to be occurring; therefore, they believe in morality. Furthermore, Con failed to explain why hard determinism necessitates a total lack of culpability. I've highlighted several theories on why even if hard determinism were valid, moral culpability can still exist.


Conclusion

In the last round, we have seen that Con's argument rests on fallacious and undeveloped bare assertions. His response is essentially "There are these two theories that exist - here's a link to them." There is no analysis regarding whether those theories are proven, valid, or what their applicability is in context of this debate. The vast majority of people do not believe in moral nihilism nor hard determinism, so my opponent cannot use those philosophies in his favor when they are highly disputed and he hasn't attempted to reconcile their validity. Moreover, I've highlighted why we cannot argue from those positions per the resolution of this debate.

We must also keep in mind that Con's new argument (moral nihilism) has negated his earlier one (utilitarianism). Thus Con can only win this debate if he proves that #1 hard determinism is sound, and #2 hard determinism definitively establishes a complete lack of culpability. As I've explained, many hard determinists reject that idea. And more importantly, I won't have the opportunity to debate the merit of hard determinism's validity nor its association with morality going forward. Because Con waited until Round 3 to make the case for hard determinism and moral nihilism, and because he did not provide thorough analysis to verify those theories, it is highly unlikely that he will be able to win this debate. Remember, no new arguments can be presented in the final round.

In contrast, I have explicitly and consistently maintained my position from Round 1. I explained that we are responsible for our actions and thus logically our inaction. An agent is still culpable for their behavior, regardless of how an observing individual subjectively weighs the morality of the agent's decision. I've explained how people can understand a person's decision to remain inactive and even agree with it, while the agent is still morally culpable for their inaction regardless of our subjective perspectives.

Thank you.

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com...
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org...
[3] Pereboom, Derk. Meaning in Life Without Free Will. Oxford Handbook of Free will: Oxford University Press, 2002. Pp. 477-488
[4] http://www.samharris.org...
[5] http://tinyurl.com...
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Debate Round No. 4
6 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Posted by geniusseeker 9 months ago
geniusseeker
I've actually found a good debate, thank you, that was thought provoking. I would have to maintain that morality has logical merit to it, and a logical structure, and using logic we can determine what is morale and what is not, therefore if we disagree on what is morale and what is immoral logic can be used to determine who is wrong, and who is right (if one side is). We can know this by the fact that we use logic to support our position in ethics, and that it is essentially the only way we have determined what is good and what is not. you cannot use a pillow to break down a house, just as you cannot use logic to refute someones emotions. If they are afraid of the dark, you cannot tell them their fear is illogical and expect their fears to be mollified, so the nihilist angle ultimately fails.
Posted by 3RU7AL 1 year ago
3RU7AL
On the other hand, this self prescribed moral standard would seem to carry a bit more substantial weight if we imagine that "god" is the inactive observer of an injustice.
Posted by 3RU7AL 1 year ago
3RU7AL
(IF) an individual detects an act that seems, from their perspective to be an injustice (OR) may very soon lead to a perceived predictable injustice (AND) they can imagine that they could possibly intervene to prevent or significantly mitigate the injustice or the immediate consequences of such (AND) they determine the foreseeable cost of that action to be proportional to the benefit of the injustice being prevented or the consequences of such an injustice significantly mitigated (THEN) they should take action or suffer the consequence of be held morally culpable only to themselves and only by themselves.

As individual citizens, we are not legally responsible for the health and safety of all members of our society. Our laws generally reflect the consensus moral viewpoint of our society. There are certain agents within our society like police and firefighters who are held to a higher standard of expectation to take action to prevent harm or potential harm.

An individual standard of moral culpability would not seem to be a strong enough standard to hold someone morally responsible for an action or inaction. I would propose that the standard should be rather a reasonable expectation that a jury of their peers would consider them to be morally culpable to be much more relevant.
Posted by tejretics 1 year ago
tejretics
Well, this is a sad end.

If either of you want I can give you an RFD, since I was following this debate.
Posted by Danielle 1 year ago
Danielle
Typo edit - my Round 3, first line of the last paragraph.

"I have no doubt that in most cases Con described (where inaction might result in harmful blowback) people would give the agent a pass for their inaction."

It should read -- "I have no doubt that in most cases Con described (where ACTION might result in harmful blowback) people would give the agent a pass for their inaction."
Posted by SammySwiss 1 year ago
SammySwiss
If you take fate into account, then the events of the world around a person are out of their control. What will happen will happen whether they take action or not. There for, if no action is taken in the face of injustice, then the person watching is not responsible. They're just game pieces in an event that would happen no matter what, with no control over the outcome of an injustice.
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