On the question of moral culpability for eg attempted murder I always give the example of running over a child while momentarily distracted in reaching for some sweets. Are we really to punish everyone the same regardless of the consequences? I think we are and I’d not punish any of the drivers. Intention is everything.

On the trolley problem I’d not want to throw the leaver. My strong intuition is that in some sense society does not want me to make these kind of choices. The default is ‘mind your own business’. But if they gave me a hat with ‘Safety Officer’ written on it and a salary with instructions to save lives as best I could I dare say I’d be throwing the leaver if not happily then at least more readily.

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If we live in a purely materialistic world than our moral intuitions are driven by evolution. What we deserve or entitled to doesn’t really matter. We are basically doing what will get the best outcomes in the long-run. The drunk person who runs over a child has the genes or whatever to hurt the tribe while the drunk person who manages to not hit the child has better genes and thus the tribe should allow his genes to pass to the next generation and snuff out the line of the first.

If the father was good at managing money and made a lot of it than there’s a good chance that the son will also be good at it so should be given the money to manage when his dad dies. The person that makes more money should be able to use it how he wants and before monogamy he would have used it on more wives. He is better at being productive so he gets more kids to improve the gene pool of the tribe. And it has to seem just to us because our moral intuitions evolved.

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I see the difference in moral weight to be a question not of what we've been given (by accident of birth or circumstance) but by what we do with it.

Hitler is an easy example, because there were lots of people with his background that did not do what he did (in fact, many people from his own country risked their lives to save Jews, for instance). For a Nazi prison guard, moral culpability would depend on this person's other options and knowledge of the evil. You can look at factors like knowledge of the wrongdoing (which guards could be considered far more aware of the atrocities than the civilian population, even if both were in favor of the Nazis). You can also look at what alternatives the guard had. If the guard had no choice but to be a guard (conscripted, perhaps) and would be killed for not being a guard, that's very different from a person who knew what being a guard entailed and did it anyway voluntarily.

You can observe individuals in any situation who turned out differently than others in very similar situations. I already mentioned the Nazi scenario where some people in the country turned out to be moral monsters (Nazi leadership) and some who we think of as moral heroes (Schindler, as an example). I don't think that there's any way for us to determine, a-priori, that Schindler would turn out to be a hero while Goebbels would be a monster. I would bet that their upbringings were similar, in addition to the fact that they were of similar ages, both joined the Nazi party, etc. That difference is what being a moral person *is*, at least to me.

In the reverse, you can look at someone from the 1950s being mildly racist in 2010 and judge them differently than someone born in 1990 being mildly racist in 2010. People growing up in the 1950s lived in a very different world, in terms of racial discussions than someone born in 1990. (You can adjust for location, upbringing, whatever relevant criteria as well). We can judge both of them for saying or doing racist things in 2010, but the moral weight of their actions can be higher or lower depending on circumstances beyond their control.

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About you, Ecclesiastes says, אל תתחכם יותר

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“ A tort case is a dispute between equals. A criminal case is a dispute between the defendant and the state. States are not gods but are often viewed as having a moral status rather like one.”

You have written a book on a variant of anarchism. You are not saying that there are no criminal cases under anarchy, are you?

Would it be another case of a dispute between equals, or is the community necessarily also a party in a criminal case? Those who were not directly threatened still have a weak interest in having others restrain themselves according to custom. Is this sufficient to say they must be allowed to participate?

The community has an interest in preventing the escalation of disputes to violence. In effect, they must stand behind any arbitration, participating in or at least tolerating any enforcement violence required when the loser of an arbitrated dispute refuses to abide by the arbitrator's decision. If they remain indifferent, or take the side of the loser, and the loser has the means to resist enforcement, then the effect is as if they have overthrown the decision. In that weak sense, they are the ultimate arbiters: if they take a side, that side has won, and a precedent has been set.

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I do not see the attempted murderer as less tainted. They had the good fortune to fail in an effort which would create tragedy. If they repent, they can perhaps forgive themselves more easily than if they had succeeded. Why should other persons distinguish between the attempt and the success?

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The point about who people are being entirely the consequence of some combination of genetics, environment and randomness, and thereby making us all equally deserving is a interesting moral challenge for people who are both determinists and moral realists, the obvious solution is saying what you deserve is based on who you are independent of the fact you don't deserve to be who you are, so to speak. I think the main objection do this would be that it might seem unintuitive to lots of people, that is the way moral realists seem to reason about desert and also blame etc. is similar to parts of reasoning about causality, there must be some sort of deeper foundational desert or blame, I think in order to make the argument more appealing you would need to add some metaphysical commitments to stuff such as agency or responsibility or souls or something else, you could also abandon the claim we aren't entirely the consequence of factors outside our control/desert/blame and or we have free will, but this basically amounts to the same thing as adding agency etc. As a Causal Eliminativist I find all of this stuff pretty weird and unintuitive and I usually just feel that philosophy at this point is just making up a bunch of high level abstractions to fit some combination of confused ordinary language and intuition.

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The first bit is a fascinating question, one discussed in interesting detail by both Ezra Klein and Sam Harris. The latter realizes that we have no free will -- everything is just chemical reactions (physics at the core) -- and thus we are left to try to be just while creating incentives to protect the general welfare.

Realizing we have no free will is key, but really difficult. https://www.losingmyreligions.net/

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"One person is sitting on the left branch. Should you pull the switch to divert the trolley to the left branch?"

This is done all the time. Big accident scene where not enough medical personnel arrive to treat everybody. What to do? Triage! Some are condemned to death. Why? Maximize number of lives saved.

We acquiesce to this rule and method for we don't know whether we're on which side of the track. The rule gives each of us best chance for survival if we don't know what state we will be in after the accident.

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"Strip off everything a person is not himself responsible for — genes, wealth, upbringing, both nature and nurture — and it is hard to see what is left on which differences in desert could be based."

But assuming so much implies we have no agency. Our actions would all be pre-determined. People do make choices, even asylum inmates do. This is important for understanding the really bad guys, the concentration and death camp guards, the gulag operators and enforcers, the collectivization promulgators in the Soviet Union and China. These were volunteers! They had it better than they otherwise would have.

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No.  This is one of those absurd supposedly moral questions that people like to pose but are absolutely meaningless. Akin to the Trolly Car one mentioned below.  If a trolly car is going to run over five people but you can switch it to another line and have it run into a fat person would you do it?  oohhh deep question.  

No it's not.

If you lived on the planet Vulcan you would because the needs of the few outway the needs of the one and the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.  To quote Spock. On planet Earth in the real universe.  The answer is no. The very simple reason is if you change the path of the trolly you've committed a homicide.  And not only that but a deliberate Murder One Homicide.  Doesn't matter about the safety hat or the instructions, or the salary. You have committed a murder. Legally. Though your actions you killed that guy. Let's say all the people tied to the tracks were convicted murders and the fat guy was the sole support of his 9 children, his widowed mother and his mistress. Or the other way around. He's a convicted murderer escaped from prison and the other people are the sole support of their 45 children, their widowed mothers and their mistresses. Make you happier? Sorry you still have committed a murder with malice of forethought.

In days of yore the FBI was shooting up a house because some gangsters were in it.  All was quiet for a while and they thought the people inside might be dead, but weren't sure.  So they grabbed the groundskeeper, gave him a bullet proof vest and told him to go inside and look.  Lucky for him they were.  

There use to be a law in CA that said you had to assist a policeman if requested too.  That was recently overturned. You are under no legal or moral obligation to risk your own life to help another. Or to follow orders that might get you killed or badly injured. There are two exceptions that I know of: If you are on a ship and the Captain tells you go down in the hold and fight a fire, you have to go, even if you are just a passenger and might get burned to death or die in another way. If you enlist in the one of the armed services and the sergeant tells you to go up the hill, you have to go up the hill, even if it means you get shot. Other then that you don't have to help anyone or do anything to prevent their demise or anyone else. If you do, fine. You are a nice person. People might think you are awful if you don't. What if the risk entails your demise and you have 9 children depending on you? Risk your death or severe injury to help someone else? Is you obligation to them, your kids, your widowed mother?

Witness the cops lack of actions in the school shooting in Texas. who stood by and did nothing. You can say they should have or must have. But they had no legal obligation to do so.

If X thinks about shooting someone, buys a gun. Puts the gun in the drawer and doesn't do it is he guilty because he thought about it? Well, no, but in this day in age he might be. If a drunk kills someone that is not just a moral crime but an actual crime. If a drunk doesn't, he's committed the crime of driving drunk but not of killing anyone. It might be luck, chance, fate, kismet, the will of the gods or whatever. Doesn't matter. If you hate your neighbor and try to send telepathic deep thought waves to him to cause him to die are you guilty of bad thoughts? Well maybe. Guilty of murder? No.

Trying to do something and failing means you have failed. You should not be judged or punished as if you succeeded.

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