Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Stealing and murder

Here is an interesting ethical question. Suppose Smith knows for sure that if he steals $1.000,000, Jones will not murder Williams. But if he does not steal $1,000,000, then Jones will not murder Williams. If he steals, of course he's a thief, but if he doesn't steal, does that mean he's an accessory before the fact to murder? See what trouble you get into when you ask questions like this to a philosopher?

7 comments:

Legion of Logic said...

I think you accidentally wrote that Jones would not murder Williams regardless if Smith stole the money.

I don't know the legal parameters for what constitutes an accessory to murder, but morally Smith would not be culpable. Otherwise morality would be defined by blackmail.



bmiller said...

Smith needs to call Batman.

Or this guy to negotiate

bmiller said...

The scenario sort of sounds like the "Pizza Bomber" who was wired up with a bomb and ordered to rob a bank. Williams is probably going to die.

John B. Moore said...

As in many of these thought experiments, some essential information is missing. In this case, what will happen to the million dollars after you steal it. Just stealing the money can't be the end of the story. How that plays out has an important effect on whether the stealing is moral or not.

bmiller said...

John B. Moore,

In what way?

oozzielionel said...

Smith cannot "know for sure" that if he steals, Jones will not murder Williams. He can know that if he steals, he is guilty of stealing. He should also know that stealing could put him in a position to commit a murder in the course of his crime.

John B. Moore said...

For one thing, if the murderer insists you give him the million dollars you stole, that adds the element of extortion, which means it's probably better for you not to get involved at all.

Yeah, you need to wonder what the connection is between the theft and the murder. Why would the murderer agree not to murder just because you stole the money?

And who are you stealing the money from? If you're stealing it from some evil con-man who still has billions of dollars left over, then that's not so bad as stealing the last million from a school lunch program in the poor neighborhoods of a big city.