I would say yes. Let’s make an analogy to physical risk: suppose you are a shift manager who is aware of general and persistent safety issues at a factory (by hearing about mutilations and deaths), even if you don’t know any of the specifics. Formally, inspecting equipment is not your job and you only have “standard” safety responsibilities. Still, if you take no effort to investigate potential safety issues in your own factory line, and one of your workers gets killed due to an undiagnosed machine fault, I would say you held significant culpability in their death.
This might not be legal culpability vis a vis manslaughter or OSHA trouble, but in an informal and societal sense, you could have done more to protect that person, and the only thing stopping you was your indifference and a shield of “it wasn’t my responsibility.”
In general: if you are aware of potential ethical or moral liability, you can’t lawyer or philosopher your way out of it. Engaging with the question itself is assuming responsibility.
This is a dangerous sentiment as it incentivizes people to not engage with such questions in order to avoid the accompanying duty, which cannot be known before considering the question.
Otherwise I am having a bit of difficulty actually untangling your comment.
By your logic, an activist that knows about the conditions inside the plant is also responsible for the safety of the workers, and no action other than successfully protecting the workers will satisfy that responsibility. In this framework, it’s better for an outsider to actively avoid learning about the working conditions because it might impose a duty that’s impossible to fulfill.
> you are discouraging people from taking actions which might reveal such knowledge to them
If you are deliberately and knowingly avoiding that knowledge to escape culpability then that’s morally equivalent to having the knowledge but failing to act. A police sergeant who says “get a confession, and if you rough him up don’t tell me about it” might be protecting themselves from legal responsibility but certainly not moral responsibility.
Again: there isn’t a loophole here. Constructing a loophole is itself immoral.
> By your logic, an activist that knows about the conditions inside the plant is also responsible for the safety of the workers
No - the manager has substantially more capacity to act than the activist. There is some fuzziness - is the activist is deliberately suppressing information about conditions inside the plant then they do share responsibility. But if the activist is merely ineffective then it’s not reasonable to blame them for injuries or fatalities. This is not a question that’s amenable to algorithms or flowcharts, which seems to be giving you some difficulty.
> and no action other than successfully protecting the workers will satisfy that responsibility.
This is not what my logic said at all! It’s such a ridiculous misreading that I wonder if you are arguing in good faith. I didn’t say the manager had to successfully protect the worker, but that they had to try. If machine maintenance is the responsibility of another team then perhaps the manager could do everything right and still have a worker killed. No one human can solve every problem that might come up. But if the manager knew there was a risk and did nothing, not even taking a look, then they share moral responsibility with the team actually responsible for maintaining the equipment. There is a huge difference between “the firefighters failed to stop the fire because it got too dangerous” and “the firefighters failed to stop the fire because they went out drinking,” even if in the latter case the fire was hopeless.
Again - you really can’t lawyer or logic your way out of moral responsibility, even if it works on a legal or social level. And no, there isn’t a foolproof algorithm for determining moral questions like this. But if your approach is “where are the gaps in this moral framework that lets me get away with bad things?” then you are not interested in acting morally.
Ultimately, you can try and build a perfect theoretical moral framework, but if it disagrees too much with how people feel about it in aggregate, it won't take (and you'll do more wrong than good by trying to force-feed it to people). It's e.g. one of the bigger failing of communism - it turned out that the concept of private ownership is close to fundamental to humans, so the then-new system failed as soon as people with guns stopped enforcing it.
 - Don't know why, but my pet hypothesis is that it's fundamental to each of us to be able to think about some things as "it's mine, I control it, I'm responsible for what happens to it". Might have been necessary to survival - if there are things your life depends on, you want to have absolute say about what happens to them, so that they are always there when you need them the most.
What I don’t understand is how awareness of potential responsibility or the act of grappling with moral questions factors into this model.
What makes the manager responsible is not the engagement with the question but the power and responsibility that comes with being the shift manager.
It is very unfair to hold other employees to the same standard of accountability.
I would argue the exact opposite. Let's stay at the factory analogy: If I'm shift manager and never think about the kinds of accidents that could occur under my supervision and something happens then that's criminal negligence. If I consider the risks, put appropriate safeguards in place, and something still happens them I'm innocent. Accidents happen and I did what I could.
Of course if I recognize the risk and choose to do nothing we are getting into manslaughter territory, much worse than negligence; but assuming I'm actually striving to mitigate risks where possible I'm in a much better position by engaging with them.
The same should be true of moral risks. Simply not thinking about them is no solution.
In a later response I specifically addressed the difference between knowing there’s a risk and doing nothing vs taking action that proves inadequate.
(I've faced this problem directly at work before.)
This explains why at any major software company looking up for similar patents is actively discouraged.
Isn't this commonly referred to as the 'Copenhagen interpretation of ethics' ?
The problem with CIoE is "the other observer" - the other people, that judge you for not sacrificing 100% of your resources to deal with an issue that's far outside your area of responsibility, but that you noticed and dared to help with (or even comment on it). That's no way for a society to work. Completely untangling what's wrong with this view is nontrivial, and touches upon a similar question of why won't you, or me, sell all what we have, give it to the poor, and forever live in poverty (as Jesus would want us to).
In this case, I think GP meant a more complex relationship than the word "aware" in "if you are aware of potential ethical or moral liability" would make you think. I think they meant "aware" as "aware in detail and having power to meaningfully affect the outcome".
I'm aware of a lot of bad things that happen on the other side of the planet, that are not in any way caused by me, and which I have no good way of helping with. So I don't think bad about deprioritizing them in favor of things I can help with, as there are countless other people like me over there, who are both aware and able to help with the problem.
Also what matters is the scale and scope of the problem. A manager at a plant can, by their own action or inaction, cause people to get hurt, or prevent that from happening. In this case, not only ignoring the problem they know about is morally wrong, but also doing steps to avoid ever learning about a hazard is itself doing wrong. But that same manager won't single-handedly solve the housing crisis in their city, so I wouldn't blame them if they decided to stop reading news to preserve their sanity.
WRT. consulting businesses, I'd say the knowledge about how they're screwing up companies (and countries) is known, but not widely enough to blame a random new college hire (you have to contrast that with the marketing these companies do to attract employees - so I'd redirect some of the moral responsibility towards people who know and work to get others involved). Joining despite knowing about these things? That's another thing entirely.
Maybe Napoleon would always become a leader and a great commander, even if he was born into a tribe of cavemen.
There is a lot of draft dodging in Russia, but the army still gets it's steady stream of conscripts. Most of them dont want to be there.
Personally I wouldn't enjoy it, that's for sure.
Drafting is democratic because it is equal. Drafting should also be an anti-war effort. Would you vote for someone who wanted to go to war, if you knew it would send your children or friends into the war?
With a draft, the choice to go to war becomes higher profile, and everyone is more invested in it.
Maybe that is correct, but it does nothing to get more conscientious government and military leadership. There are bad consequences as well - draft can increase duration of war, leading to more crimes and more deaths. Also, drafting strips many people of belief in personal responsibility.
> Drafting is democratic because it is equal. Drafting should also be an anti-war effort.
Do you know what democratic means? If you got drafted into Vietnam war, there was nothing democratic about it. Government lied to people from the start and was covering up evidence of how the war was going.
It does. Then public knows that their elected leaders may send themselves and/or their family/relatives/friends. Warmongering suddenly is much more touchy-feely when you got skin in the game.
> There are bad consequences as well - draft can increase duration of war
Longer war is better than loosing. Especially if you're defending.
> leading to more crimes and more deaths
Loosing defence war to some sort of not-exactly-human-rights-loving regime is much worse.
> Also, drafting strips many people of belief in personal responsibility.
How so? It becomes everyone's personal responsibility if the country gets in war.
> Do you know what democratic means? If you got drafted into Vietnam war, there was nothing democratic about it. Government lied to people from the start and was covering up evidence of how the war was going.
And government was democratically elected, wasn't it?
As a non-american, IMO fully professional US military is the reason for war-happy government. For better or worse.
Again, it didn't work that way during the Vietnam war. Maybe it will next time, we'll see.
> And government was democratically elected, wasn't it?
Technically it was. In practice, Johnson wasn't elected and the high-ranking officials including the president maintained the war on back burner, burning through American and Vietnamese lives, to keep up with their dubious agenda. The war effort was a lie and massively opposed by the public.
Our constitution has a line saying that it's every citizen's duty to defend the country. Essentially drafting is education how to fulfil that duty. If we remove drafting, shall we remove that constitution article? If we remove it, then citizen-government relationship gets different. Is it "our" country and we take full ownership of it or do we just happen to live here and, if this establishment is threatened we just move on to the next one?
All moral is relative. Non-relative moral is ethics. If you have misgivings about embarking on an endeavour it is your duty to gather more information. If the information is witheld you can not proceed with your ethics intact. With enough compromise you will be without ethics and morals, and become an enemy of your kin.
It is hard to live without ever compromising one's ethics. These companies probably exploit what little flexibility young people have. I would refuse to share a dinner table with their leaders.
I gather the money might have something to do with it.
As the great philosophers Devo once said: freedom of choice is what you've got, freedom from choice is what you want.
The line is never going to be well-defined, so the best we can do is approach things in good faith, trying to keep a balance and assuming (almost) everyone else is trying to do the same.
What about the US federal government? Banks and investment firms? The oil companies? Blackwater, Haliburton, Bechtel and the like? Mineral extraction companies? Or perhaps - Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft et al, who spy on you all the time?
> There are obvious and important differences between war and management consulting. The first straightforwardly involves killing people, the latter does not.
Well, a lot of the companies I mentioned above delegate the killing of people to other elements. E.g the government and its military forces.
If we could instead pick 4 or 5 regimes that we consider to be the standard Bad Guys, with the benefit of history and a Western viewpoint, and just say it's clearly evil to work directly for them - then the author's thesis is much less valid.
This bit of the argument contains the major flaw - it can be applied to literally any occupation. The most theoretically moral institution we have is the church. Ostensibly dedicated to doing nothing but espousing and propagating good in the world. Now look at what that means in practice for some of the scandals that priests get involved in.
There is no alternative morally safe place to work.
Just because Monitor (dozens of offices, thousands of employees) worked for Gaddafi doesn't mean "John & Jane's IT Setup Helpers" around the corner must also be an inherently immoral institution.
And what if Monitor contracts John & Jane's IT Startup Helpers to do some work? Are they ethically firewalled in some way that Monitor's IT staff are not? Ethics issues could be resolved by clever corporate structure and contracting out services instead of bringing them in-house.
If you are a subordinate and you disagreed with a certain order, either because you think the order is stupid or morally wrong, you can (and should) still carry out the order to the best of your ability.
If the emotional distress caused by a contradiction (perceived or real) between carrying out your duty (which you have agreed to follow strictly) and your moral principles -- if this emotional distress becomes unmanageable to the degree that makes it impossible to carry out your duty (although you know perfectly well that you won't be responsible for the outcomes), you can simply submit your resignation or ask that someone else takes your place.
There is also the scenario where the orders you are given conflict with the law itself, in which case your superior(s) are violating the law in which case you have no duty to carry out the orders.
This is why not every civilian can be a military person.
The reasoning was that refusing an order would get you in serious trouble much faster than your claiming it was illegal would get you out of trouble - hence your best bet was to get hit with a (lesser) charge of incompetence rather than having the full weight of the army come crashing down on you for refusing.
this comes _before_ the obligation to obey orders. Meaning that, at least in principle, a soldier is obligated to disobey unconstitutional commands, and in fact, to act to countermand them.
Of course that's not what armies are like in practice, but still.
We all have complete authority to make personal choices as we see fit.
Even if you say that your strategy is to make people (including yourself) feel guilty about breaking this imperative, and amplify this feeling as much as possible so as to compensate for the lack of organization required for a proper law, it is not certain that that will ever work and I don't know of an example where it did work, although it has been tried over and over. And if I may say, it also corrupts human nature so even if it worked I won't be personally positive about it, but that is just me.
That 2nd part - where did that fantasy come from? Not sure how to respond.
Why should I be bound by your values but you can't be bound by my values? You are free to use your moral compass (and should) when voting, when debating, when campaigning, when serving, etc. But once a final vote has happened, the law is supreme and even those who voted it into practice cannot change their mind and decide to violate it, until the next vote happens.
Just imagine what it would be like to establish the "morality police". The first problem that arises is what should be considered moral and therefore needs to be enforced, and what should not be considered moral and therefore not enforced. And how do you decide that? Through voting, debate, a free press, separation of powers, etc.
This is silly. Reiterating the same point (laws are important) isn't getting anywhere.
But the people who value democracy can cast moral judgement, because while they are working to make the world a better place by sharpening points of view and rooting for the best one to win, you are just exploiting the system reaping all the rewards while not contributing anything.
Why the shortcut though, why not make your value a longer-lasting law?
Even the same person disagrees with themselves over time. People who vote this way this election, vote the other way the next one.
You devise me a system where people are above the law according to their own judgement at the particular moment they see fit, and still not have violence.
This is why you can fight your entire life for the reform you like to see happen, and still not get it. But 50 years of exchanging ballots is always better than 5 minutes of exchanging bullets.
I disagree. What if a leader got his qualifications but has since gone slightly insane? Qualification alone isn‘t reason enough to blindly follow orders.
The problem of the leader that goes insane is solved with checks and balances.
> This is why not every civilian can be a military person.
This is why not every civilian wants to be a military person.
This was not the case in nazi germany, and the military was forced to follow orders, regardless of their consent. This means that if you had the choice and the ability to disobey but didn't, then, by definition, you were a culprit.
Politics is greater than the military. War is defined as the act of imposing your political will over your enemy through organized violence. The "organized" part is the part that you have a problem with, but that is fine because you can be a civilian or even a critic of the military. However, I can't see how a person, who, out of a superior moral capacity, able to cooperate without the understanding while still keep and protect their values -- I can't see how such a person is blind or looking for excuses for exemption of responsibility. Not everyone can have that capacity and it is most likely a result of upbringing and I don't know if there is a military in the world that can generate that in a person.
> The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.
Of course the bigger players all aren't members (US, Russia, China, India). But WWII Germany wasn't part of anything either and we still had the Nuremberg Trials, so it's very much "international law doesn't apply until suddenly it retroactively does".
It's noteworthy though that the ICC's stance on the Superior's Orders defense is not completely clear for the less severe cases.
You are drawing an arbitrary line in declaring "which laws matter." In reality the lives of the people are governed by which laws are most effectively enforced at a local level.
I work it a field without any, so it seems like this is assumed knowledge that I don't have.
Can anyone explain it to me?
Arendt was of german and jewish decent and experienced first hand the rise of totalitarianism and persecution during the 1930s. She was able to escape with her family to the United States in 1940. Post-war she became a writer and a visiting scholar teaching at many academic institutions. She developed her political theory during the 1950's publishing various seminal works.
Notably, in 1961-1963, she attended the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem on behalf of The New Yorker, eager to test her ideas developed in The Origins of Totalitarianism. She was especially interested in Adolf Eichmann as an individual and how he ended up becoming the architect of the Holocaust.
> On this, Arendt would later state "Going along with the rest and wanting to say 'we' were quite enough to make the greatest of all crimes possible". What Arendt observed during the trial was a bourgeois sales clerk who found a meaningful role for himself and a sense of importance in the Nazi movement. She noted that his addiction to clichés and use of bureaucratic morality clouded his ability to question his actions, "to think". This led her to set out her most famous, and most debated, dictum: "the lesson that this long course in human wickedness had taught us – the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil". By stating that Eichmann did not think, she did not imply lack of conscious awareness of his actions, but by "thinking" she implied reflective rationality, that was lacking. Arendt, who eschewed identity politics, was also critical of the way Israel depicted Eichmann's crimes as crimes against a nation state, rather than against humanity itself.
> Arendt was also critical of the way that some Jewish leaders associated with the Jewish Councils (Judenräte), notably M. C. Rumkowski, acted during the Holocaust, in cooperating with Eichmann "almost without exception" in the destruction of their own people. She had expressed concerns on this point, prior to the trial. She described this as a moral catastrophe. While her argument was not to allocate blame, rather she mourned what she considered a moral failure of compromising the imperative that it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong. She describes the cooperation of the Jewish leaders in terms of a disintegration of Jewish morality: "This role of the Jewish leaders in the destruction of their own people is undoubtedly the darkest chapter in the whole dark story". Widely misunderstood, this caused an even greater controversy and particularly animosity toward her in the Jewish community and in Israel. For Arendt, the Eichmann trial marked a turning point in her thinking in the final decade of her life, becoming increasingly preoccupied with moral philosophy.
It's an interesting observation since Arendt points out that the moral failure of compromising on an imperative is a far more nuanced story then first meets the eye. The lack of reflective rationality can happen regardless of time and place.
The failure to reflect on one's own actions came to the foreground in another highly covered court case: the My Lai massacre (1968) in which a company of U.S. Army soldiers ended up killing 347 south-vietnamese unarmed villagers.
The court case ended up a scandal as officers, NCO's as well as privates where accused and prosecuted. Most notably, the failure of "command responsibility" and the fact that many involved resorted to "I was only following orders" stirred outrage.
I think it's interesting here to look at those cases with the hindsight of history and see how those dynamics and the questions raised about the morality of our actions still apply today. Even more so, I think this is the exact reason why education systems should teach about these cases and show what happens if you eschew your responsibility of reflecting on your own actions in order to own up to a shared imperative.
The destruction of Libya led Africas richest country - with free education and healthcare - to become a failed state with black slave markets and human trafficking.
Is everyone that voted for Obama also complicit in the human misery/genocides in Libya ( or insert Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan, Chad etc.)?
Some people voted for McCain over Obama; does that give them the moral, anti-war high ground, since Obama killed Libyans and McCain never had a chance to? Not at all. Nor does throwing away your vote by going third party, spoiling your ballot, or abstaining give you any particularly sympathetic reason to morally preen.
Voting isn't a moral activity.
Don't morals factor into deciding what goals are beneficial to the population?
(I'm not even sure I agree with the proposition that voting pushes the governing apparatus this way in many democracies including the USA)
I agree that it doesn't, but it's the intent. I don't think that's inherent to democracy, though, just the particular "democratic" structures that have evolved that we live with.
> Don't morals factor into deciding what goals are beneficial to the population?
As individuals, we can vote how we like, and everyone can and should use whatever individual morality they have to cast their vote (or not).
But the act of voting doesn't mean that the voter has delegated their moral agency (and, with that, the potential for moral blame or praise) to the people in government. If I vote for someone who decides to do something monstrous, I may be an idiot if I mis-predicted that would be a result, but I discount attempts to put the moral blame for their actions onto me.
This is a relatively unpopular view nowadays (because people see it as a way for Trump voters to distance themselves from Trump's actions), but a world that does assume voters bear moral responsibility for the actions of their government merely by the act of having voted for whoever is performing the actions is a world where it's impossible to be moral.
I don't think in cases where voters are deceived it would be fair to blame them.
Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to eat for breakfast!
On one hand, all American citizens are complicit in US foreign policy.
On the other hand, anti-war voters who voted for Obama didn’t do so because they sold out, it was because the idea that McCain or Romney would be more dovish is transparently ridiculous.
Some people may comfort themselves in a consumerist, selfish fantasy that their vote must express their principles. But voting is an exercise or limited power, not personal expression. Using this power responsibly means taking seriously its compromises and limitations.
Going back to the employment analogy: working for an ethically suspicious employer because you are facing homelessness is a lot more defensible than the Harvard grad who worked for McKinsey after writing a blog post pretending to be anguished about the moral choices.