Glen recently penned (err.. keyboarded) a reply from an economist’s perspective to this post by Mark Kleiman on temptation and responsibility, and wondered if I had anything to say in philosopherese. Mark asks whether a person who tempts another party into self-destructive behavior is immunized from responsibility (Glen talks about legal responsibility; I’ll stick to moral) because the temptee is ultimately fully responsible for his own decisions.
Mark assumes that one would think this only if one conceived “responsibility” a some sort of fixed quantity, such that if one person uses up all the blame-worthiness for a given harm, none is left for other contributors. Now, that view does seem pretty clearly wrong: I could be entirely responsible for something I do, yet it might be additionally wrong of you to encourage me to do so… even if I would have done it without encouragement. But it seems there are other reasons we might think the autonomy of the temptee had this immunizing effect, at least in the case of self-regarding actions.
Intent is crucial to responsibility. If I encourage someone to engage in self-destructive behavior SD just because I wish him ill and expect him to misjudge his own interests, I’ve acted wrongly whether or not I’m successful. If there’s good reason to believe the person in question will misjudge and strongly regret SD, I may at least be wrongfully negligent in trying to tempt him. And it goes without saying, I hope, that deliberately deceiving someone about SD in order to induce him to do it is wrong. But what about other cases? If I tempt someone to stay out for another drink on a Wednesday evening, or extoll the virtues of cigarettes, I might know everything about the situation in terms of probable consequences of staying out or smoking, but not know whether, from the other person’s perspective, that particular lottery over outcomes is worth taking. So the question is: are you at fault if you present the virtues of a choice whose wisdom is a function of the other party’s own judgment? In general, I think you’re probably not. You aren’t prompting to act against “their interests” because what their interests are is a function of how they weigh the choice. So I think we can describe that as a case of the other party’s autonomy — their responsibility — immunizing the tempter, absent a malicious intent.