OCCOM BILL wrote:
That’s not the same as the guy who has the ability, and chooses to do nothing… or the guy or girl who’s afraid they lack the ability in the first place. Hence, the moral responsibility has to be assessed by the facts of the particular case. If Mike Tyson does nothing while Peewee Herman commits rape: Mike Tyson’s guilty as hell. If Peewee Herman does nothing while Mike Tyson commits rape, that’s understandable.
There's just so much wrong with this position that I have a hard time figuring out where to begin.
According to you, decent guys who "freeze up" when confronted with a rescue situation are not blameworthy, even though they could have intervened to save the victim. Wouldn't that rule, though, encourage everyone to "freeze up?" Even Mike Tyson? For instance, suppose Decent Guy sees a rape in progress. He can try to rescue the victim, but instead he freezes. The rape takes place, but Decent Guy escapes any moral culpability because "that's just the kind of guy he is -- he's a freezer." Now, suppose Decent Guy sees a rape in progress and he intervenes, but in his haste to intervene he doesn't summon the police. As it turns out, his intervention is so clumsy that he not only doesn't stop the rape, his failure to call the police prevents any other assistance to the victim. Decent Guy now is morally culpable because his effort to intervene was unsuccessful and
because he caused additional injury to the victim due to his failure to summon aid. In that situation, wouldn't it have been better if Decent Guy did nothing at all? And if so, how can Decent Guy know beforehand whether he is morally obligated to intervene?
A rational bystander, confronted with this choice, would naturally choose to "freeze up," since that choice is not morally blameworthy (and if we hold that the Mike Tysons of the world don't have the option to choose
to "freeze up," then they would simply claim that "freezing up" is a natural response, like Decent Guy -- I don't know how anyone could tell the difference between the two). That's a rather odd result, given that you want a moral rule that results in more
bystander intervention, not less.
Moral rules, in order to be of any practical value, must be able to guide actions with some predictability. If a moral rule doesn't inform a person of an action's moral value before
the the person acts, then the rule has very little practical value. That's why pure consequentialism is such an impractical moral system -- no one knows, before acting, whether they will be acting morally or immorally. Furthermore, the rules must be clear not only to the person acting, but also to third parties. In other words, a rule must not only answer the question "should I act" but also "should you
act," since a rule that answered only the first question would soon descend into moral relativism.
In the O'Billiverse, we might be able to answer the first question. PeeWee Herman and Decent Guy, faced with the question "should I act," can answer (for different reasons) "no." It's rather more difficult, however, for the moral rule you support to answer the second question satisfactorily. A disinterested bystander has no way of knowing that Decent Guy, who otherwise appears quite capable of intervening, is a "freezer," or that PeeWee doesn't have unsuspected strength (or maybe a handgun stuffed down the front of his pants). If we simply say "we'll take Decent Guy's word that he is a 'freezer,'" then we're again treading dangerously close to moral relativism, where everybody gets to decide what is moral for himself. Either that, or else we're back to having every bystander simply claiming that he's a "freezer" by nature, whether he is or not.
The moral rule in a rescue situation must be clear, so that it can guide the bystander's actions and
serve as the basis of any third-party to judge whether the bystander's action was blameworthy or praiseworthy according to an objective standard. A rule such as "intervention is not morally required in such a situation, absent some duty on the part of the bystander to the victim" is a straightforward rule that addresses both requirements. In contrast, a rule that states "intervention is morally required, unless the bystander is unable to intervene" creates a subjective rule that ultimately leaves the decision to the bystander.