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Is it consistent to be a libertarian while opposing suicide on moral grounds?

Is it consistent to be a libertarian while opposing suicide on moral grounds?

Typically, a libertarian (in the domain of politics; "libertarian" is also the label for someone who adopts a view in philosophy of mind or action theory involving free will) is someone who believes that societies should have a government that is the smallest possible in order to protect certain basis rights (perhaps a proper government should, on the grounds that persons have the right to life, prohibit murder and seek to prevent it). A libertarian might (on rare occasions) support some publicly funded health care, but he or she would (ideally) like such matters to be funded by individuals voluntarily by the individuals themselves. So, what about libertarians and suicide? If the libertarian believes that a minimal government should prohibit and prevent murder and she believes that suicide is wrong because it is a case of self-murder, then she may consistently support the government's prohibition and prevention of suicide. However, she may be "opposing suicide on" different moral grounds, e.g. she thinks it is prohibited by God or she thinks that in almost all cases suicide is ruled out on Kantian or utilitarian grounds. For the most part, libertarians do not think these religious or philosophical judgments of these kinds should be employed by the state to control its citizens. So, in this case when suicide is deemed wrong but not as grave a wrong as murder, a libertarian may well contend that suicide is indeed wrong (persons who commit suicide are doing something morally wrong), only adding that it is not within a government's right to make suicide illegal.

There is one additional side to things: while a libertarian may oppose there being an overall, federal government that makes suicide illegal (assuming suicide is not self-murder), her moral objections to suicide may motivate her to join a society voluntarily that makes suicide prohibited. Without knowing the details, I imagine that most Christian monasteries and Muslim communities have rules that forbid suicide (e.g. they would not fund or support the "physician-assisted suicide" of one of its members). A libertarian might join some such organization while still not supporting a governmental prohibition of suicide.

Typically, a libertarian (in the domain of politics; "libertarian" is also the label for someone who adopts a view in philosophy of mind or action theory involving free will) is someone who believes that societies should have a government that is the smallest possible in order to protect certain basis rights (perhaps a proper government should, on the grounds that persons have the right to life, prohibit murder and seek to prevent it). A libertarian might (on rare occasions) support some publicly funded health care, but he or she would (ideally) like such matters to be funded by individuals voluntarily by the individuals themselves. So, what about libertarians and suicide? If the libertarian believes that a minimal government should prohibit and prevent murder and she believes that suicide is wrong because it is a case of self-murder, then she may consistently support the government's prohibition and prevention of suicide. However, she may be "opposing suicide on" different moral grounds, e.g. she...

To a philosopher, there likely comes a time when the error in another's crazy

To a philosopher, there likely comes a time when the error in another's crazy ideas -say, at a party or dinner- can be so apparent as to invite some criticism. What's a good moral position on whether to correct someone's logic when it's uninvited and suspectedly unwelcome? Idea eg. UFOs, 'crystals', ESP, conspiracies, etc.

Maybe a golden rule helps: one should intervene to the extent that, if it was you who had the crazy ideas, you would want to be challenged? In general I suggest that philosophers (and here I do not mean professionals, I mean those who are committed to the love of wisdom -the literal definition of philosophy- and who seek to be informed by and practice philosophy in the great philosophical traditions from Socrates and Confucius to the present) can have an important role in social settings of enhancing the free exchange of ideas in which persons can be open to reason, objections, and responses. There is a time and place for this sort of thing --Looking back, I feel a little regret that the night before I got married I got drawn into a lengthy philosophical debate about why I think theism is reasonable and a good friend did not. But in general, many people think of arguments as what might be called "quarrels" in which no one is really interested in open minds and objections.

So, I suggest that challenging some people when their thinking seems fallacious or incoherent, etc, might be adjusted by applying the Golden Rule and assessing when a social setting involves persons with open minds. Without some receptivity to philosophical dialogue and criticism, there will probably only be annoyance, awkwardness, etc. I suppose, though, there will be cases of when the stakes are so high (someone advances an absurd conspiracy theory that targets the innocent or, more specifically, you are in the company of a Holocaust denier) when one simply must mount a challenge, whether this involves philosophy or not (you may only require common sense, an ability to expose errors in history).

Maybe a golden rule helps: one should intervene to the extent that, if it was you who had the crazy ideas, you would want to be challenged? In general I suggest that philosophers (and here I do not mean professionals, I mean those who are committed to the love of wisdom -the literal definition of philosophy- and who seek to be informed by and practice philosophy in the great philosophical traditions from Socrates and Confucius to the present) can have an important role in social settings of enhancing the free exchange of ideas in which persons can be open to reason, objections, and responses. There is a time and place for this sort of thing --Looking back, I feel a little regret that the night before I got married I got drawn into a lengthy philosophical debate about why I think theism is reasonable and a good friend did not. But in general, many people think of arguments as what might be called "quarrels" in which no one is really interested in open minds and objections. So, I suggest that...

Is terrorism ever justified?

Is terrorism ever justified?

Good question. Someone who is a consequentialist --that is, a person who believes the morality of an act is contingent on its actual or expected consequences such as the act's producing great happiness or unhappiness-- might have to answer "yes." This is because there are probably cases (or there could be hypothetical cases) when an act of terrorism will produce some greater good or avoid some otherwise inevitable horror and there is no other act available to the parties involved. It is this implication of consequentialism that compels some of us to reject it. Some of us think there are what might be called absolute evils, evil that is so awful that one must not perform the evil no matter what ("even if the heavens fall" or something like that, is an expression sometimes used here). I believe Gandhi once observed that if he had to choose between two evils, he would choose neither (in other words, he would challenge the premise that he "had to choose"). Those of us who think there are some wrongs that are wrong no matter how good the consequences are sometimes called deontologists.

Your question might meet with different responses depending on how "terrorism" is defined and if one were to argue about the permissibility of some very minor act of terrorism (subjecting only a few people to fear but without any intent on actually inflicting physical harm) in order to avoid some profoundly worst act of terrorism. But if we think about the recent attack in Paris, I myself think that there is no reason (probable or imaginary) that would justify such a massacre. Arguments might be difficult here. That is, I might have trouble convincing a self-confident consequentialist. But one objection to consequentialism that I believe to be forceful is that consequentialism seems to be on a slippery slope such that almost anything (massive rapes, murder, torture...)might be justified so long as those acts would produce greater consequences and there is no other action available that would produce greater consequences. That consequence seems to me to run against moral experience and the teaching of many, significant moral and religious traditions (that I deeply respect).

Good question. Someone who is a consequentialist --that is, a person who believes the morality of an act is contingent on its actual or expected consequences such as the act's producing great happiness or unhappiness-- might have to answer "yes." This is because there are probably cases (or there could be hypothetical cases) when an act of terrorism will produce some greater good or avoid some otherwise inevitable horror and there is no other act available to the parties involved. It is this implication of consequentialism that compels some of us to reject it. Some of us think there are what might be called absolute evils, evil that is so awful that one must not perform the evil no matter what ("even if the heavens fall" or something like that, is an expression sometimes used here). I believe Gandhi once observed that if he had to choose between two evils, he would choose neither (in other words, he would challenge the premise that he "had to choose"). Those of us who think there are some wrongs...

Do you need to be religious in order to be Moral?

Do you need to be religious in order to be Moral?

I will try to resist this reply: that depends on what you mean by "religious" and "moral." But definitions do matter, and I will not be able to avoid appealing to definitions.

If you have a very broad definition of "religious" according to which being religious involves reverence, caring about what is sacred, being consistent (as when someone might say of an athlete that "she works-out religiouslyl") and if "morality" includes such elements, then, yes, there is an important (at least) intersection between being religious and being moral.

But if by "religious" one means that one adheres to religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam.... then most philosophers have not thought that being religious is essential for being moral. In fact, many religious thinkers (theologians or sages) have insisted that morality (both the awareness of what is moral and the ability to live a moral life) is available for persons in general independent of one's religious beliefs and practices. There are various nuances, however, that I address below. Sorry if this reply might appear pedantic, when you probably are hoping for a 'yes' or 'no' response.

Many religious thinkers believe that religion involves far more than "morality" --the worship of God, for example, which is sometimes described as a duty but often portrayed as a great, transcendent experience that goes beyond the realm of morality --just as, on a minor scale, the pursuit of something aesthetic (beauty in the arts) might involve matters that extend beyond (without being in conflict with) morality and ethics. It would be hard to put the greatness of Beethoven's Ode to Joy in narrowly moral / ethical terms.

I suggest that three of the many interesting, debated questions that bear on your question concern (1) whether acknowledging morality as an objective, binding code that calls for (or demands) our allegiance requires a religiously oriented worldview; (2) the extent that religion itself can be reduced to morality and (3) the extent to which religion can either enhance or conflict with moral beliefs and practice (as captured, for example, from a secular point of view).

On the first point, you might find the work of George Mavrodes interesting or challenging. He proposes that an acknowledgement of objective morality requires viewing the world in teleological (purposive or, in his case, theistic terms). Probably the leading advocate for that position today is C. Stephen Evans. On the second point, Kant would be your key reference point. Scholarship on Kant is divided and complex, but more often than not he is seen as a key promoter of the view that at the very heart of Christianity, and all religions when properly purified through philosophical criticism, is ethics. In terms of the third category, perhaps there is no more provocative philosopher for you to engage than Kierkegaard in his dramatic, extraordinary work: Either/Or.

For my own views, check out A beginner's guide: philosophy of religion.

I will try to resist this reply: that depends on what you mean by "religious" and "moral." But definitions do matter, and I will not be able to avoid appealing to definitions. If you have a very broad definition of "religious" according to which being religious involves reverence, caring about what is sacred, being consistent (as when someone might say of an athlete that "she works-out religiouslyl") and if "morality" includes such elements, then, yes, there is an important (at least) intersection between being religious and being moral. But if by "religious" one means that one adheres to religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam.... then most philosophers have not thought that being religious is essential for being moral. In fact, many religious thinkers (theologians or sages) have insisted that morality (both the awareness of what is moral and the ability to live a moral life) is available for persons in general independent of one's religious beliefs and...

If A throws a ball at B with the sole intent of injuring only B but after being

If A throws a ball at B with the sole intent of injuring only B but after being thrown, the ball bounces off of B's helmet and hits C square in the face requiring stitches, who is guilty of injuring C, A for throwing the ball or B for existing/standing in that position?

Great question. Here I think legal and ethical reflection are united (they are not always, alas). With no other details added to your question, I believe that A is guilty both for attempting to injure B (A would be guilty of assault) and for injuring C even though A did not have an intent to injure C. Usually, when someone is involved in a wrongdoing the scope of responsibility extends to those injured by the wrongdoing even if not intended --in robbing a bank, for example, someone might be responsible for (unintentionally) causing a bi-stander to have a heart attack. Things get more complicated, however, when the gravity of the wrongdoing is modest -e.g. someone is arrested for speeding-- and the consequences outrageous, e.g. the process of the arrest causes a truck driver to loose control of his truck and it causes a petroleum fire that kills thousands. In the later case, we would probably assign blame to the truck driver or the company for mechanical failures, rather than the drivers (person speeding and police officer) that created the occasion for the disaster to occur.

Great question. Here I think legal and ethical reflection are united (they are not always, alas). With no other details added to your question, I believe that A is guilty both for attempting to injure B (A would be guilty of assault) and for injuring C even though A did not have an intent to injure C. Usually, when someone is involved in a wrongdoing the scope of responsibility extends to those injured by the wrongdoing even if not intended --in robbing a bank, for example, someone might be responsible for (unintentionally) causing a bi-stander to have a heart attack. Things get more complicated, however, when the gravity of the wrongdoing is modest -e.g. someone is arrested for speeding-- and the consequences outrageous, e.g. the process of the arrest causes a truck driver to loose control of his truck and it causes a petroleum fire that kills thousands. In the later case, we would probably assign blame to the truck driver or the company for mechanical failures, rather than the drivers (person...

How does one know when is it acceptable to break a promise? Is there something

How does one know when is it acceptable to break a promise? Is there something special about a vow, or is it just a social construct? I can envision various scenarios involving onerous mortgages and starving children, and my conclusion seems to be: "Well, you'll just know it when you see it". But that seems to suggest it's just based on my present whim.

I think that you are right that there are no clear, definite rules about exactly when one may break a promise. But I don't think that this shows that whether or not it is acceptable is based on your whim.

Aristotle argued that there are only very rarely fixed rules in ethics, but there are nevertheless objective reasons for why (and when) actions are right and wrong. It just means that reasoning in ethics doesn't take the form of discovering rules. There aren't laws of ethics the way there are laws of nature. He argued that to know what is the right thing to do, at least in complex and unpredictable situations like this, you have to be good. So 'you'll just know it when you see it' is only true if you are a good person; if you aren't, you will probably think it is okay to break a promise when, really, it isn't (e.g. not being good, you might be swayed by selfishness to disregard the harm that breaking the promise would do to someone else).

Knowing when to break a promise is a matter of weighing up the reasons for and against breaking it that apply to the actual situation you are in (such as the importance of keeping your word v. the suffering of your starving children and the absence of any alternative). There aren't any algorithms for weighing up reasons, and in a different situation, there might be different reasons. So it is very difficult to base one situation on another. (We might at least think the fact that you'll break your promise is a reason not to do it, but what if you had made a promise to a morally bad person to do a morally bad thing? Then it seems it would be good to break your promise!)

The approach to ethics I've outlined here is known as 'particularism'. It rejects the idea that ethical reasoning is always about finding rules for behaviour. But we still have to reason in ethics - it isn't about our whims, and we can get the answers wrong.

A final point about your second sentence. Promises can be special and yet be a social construct (we don't have to choose). If there was no social agreement on promising, there could be no promises and nothing special about them. (If no one accepts your promise, you can't make it!) So promising is definitely a social construct in that sense. But being able to trust people to do what they say they will do is so important for us to live together that promising is special. It requires some very good reasons (again, not a mere whim) to justify breaking a promise.

To begin with two very minor point (sorry if this seems "academic" in the negative sense!): Even if vows are social constructs, there might be something very special about vows. Second, you might well know when a vow should or should not be kept intuitively (a sort of knowledge from your gut feelings without knowing a precise principle), but this would not be a matter of whim. Someone might not have a definition of pornography, but it is not just a whim when they recognize porn on the internet. I need to defend some modest use of a "I know it when one sees it" principle due to the last line in this response. There is some reason to think that vows are special, explicit promises which makes them related to the implicit promise-making and breaking we do every day. So, when I say I will meet you for a coffee at 11:00, there is a sense in which I am making a promise to you and you have a right to find fault with me if I break the promise unless there are strong reasons to the contrary. Those reasons ...

If theft is committed as a form of political protest or civil disobedience

If theft is committed as a form of political protest or civil disobedience against capitalism, does that make it less immoral than if it was done solely for amusement?

Fascinating question. Off hand, it does seem that, in some cases, the motives you cite would make a difference. Imagine two people steal a sign advertising a bank that is involved with the unfair foreclosure of homes, leaving (let us imagine) many innocent persons homeless. A person who does the stealing as an act of protest and who, let us imagine, turns herself in to draw attention to this act of disobedience, seems (to use your terms) "less immoral" than one who steals the advertisement as a joke (perhaps using the sign as a tray to serve beer to friends while watching the world cup). In fact, we may find the person who did the theft out of matters of conscience heroic.

The difficulty in weighing motives, however, emerges when we dig deeper into why the persons have the motives they do. Is the person who acts to protest capitalism doing *that* solely for the sake of amusement? I came of age in the early 1970s and was present protesting the inauguration of President Nixon. A good number of us were protesting (or speaking for myself, I was protesting) as part of a date weekend. I did oppose the Nixon administration, but I also wanted to spend time with Melissa. Professing some overt political motive may not be the whole story. Moreover, there might be at least three factors that come into play in addition to matters of motive, and these involve (A) what is stolen, (B) how it is stolen, and (C) what happens after the theft.

(A) Stealing some things might be so gravely wrong that it does not matter what the person's intention might be. If I were knowingly to steal medicine that an innocent child needs and she dies for lack of the medicine, I think I should be judged equally guilty of homicide whether this was done to protest capitalism or for the sake of amusement.

(B) In terms of how a theft is committed, I think there would be a significant difference if the theft was committed violently or not, independent of motives. We might also want to factor in the mental state of the robber at the time: imagine the thief who was protesting capitalism was dangerously intoxicated or highly confused about the nature of property and capitalism. Similarly, imagine the thief who stole solely for amusement was under the confused impression that his amusing theft would help his friend coping with clinical depression. We might be more concerned about the thief's basic competence and mental health quite independent of motive. Silly examples, I agree, but they have some relevance.

(C) Our judgement on theft might be partly determined by what the thief does afterwards. Was what was stolen returned undamaged? What if the person who did the stealing out of amusement decided to use what was stolen later to help out the homeless?

Anyway, great question.

Fascinating question. Off hand, it does seem that, in some cases, the motives you cite would make a difference. Imagine two people steal a sign advertising a bank that is involved with the unfair foreclosure of homes, leaving (let us imagine) many innocent persons homeless. A person who does the stealing as an act of protest and who, let us imagine, turns herself in to draw attention to this act of disobedience, seems (to use your terms) "less immoral" than one who steals the advertisement as a joke (perhaps using the sign as a tray to serve beer to friends while watching the world cup). In fact, we may find the person who did the theft out of matters of conscience heroic. The difficulty in weighing motives, however, emerges when we dig deeper into why the persons have the motives they do. Is the person who acts to protest capitalism doing *that* solely for the sake of amusement? I came of age in the early 1970s and was present protesting the inauguration of President Nixon. A good number of us...

This is possibly a dumb question, but anyway...

This is possibly a dumb question, but anyway... If I trade shares for a living, is that an immoral job, given that the activity is essentially gambling, and doesn't create anything or achieve anything useful?

I think your question is not only not dumb, it raises issues that would take a genius (someone far, almost infinitely more intelligent than myself!) to adequately address in terms of an overall account (and evaluation) of market economies, their values and the different roles they sustain and require. Moreover your question may require some account of what is involved (in the relevant sense) in creation, achievement, investments, and risk-taking (or what you refer to as gambling). Given the complexity of such background concerns, it seems virtually impossible to avoid replying to your question with something like: 'Maybe. Maybe not. It all depends....' I will attempt something that is a tiny bit more informative but without getting into the essential background concerns that really are essential for thinking more deeply on your excellent concern. Let me try, then, two responses, the first being quite general, the second more personal.

THE GENERAL RESPONSE: Assuming we are in the context of a free market economy and the trading is both practiced legally (no deception, double-dealing, duplicity) and the trade is in goods that not unjust (the trading does not involve arms dealing with terrorists, drug, sex, and endangered animal trading, etc), the production, transporting, sail and purchase of such goods often requires some reliable financial investments from those who are not involved in the production, transporting, etc of goods. There is, then (and forgive me if I am the dumb one in terms of simplification) often an essential place for persons to manage investing (of their own monies of those of clients) in those who are (more directly) involved in the creation of such goods. So, assuming that such a market economy is just (or not unjust), there seems nothing immoral (and perhaps something admirable) in those who invest in this process.

A SECOND RESPONSE: The way you phrase your question leads me to think that your worry is that the kind of trading you have in mind is not principally a dignified practice in a market economy, but the equivalent of going to a casino or betting on horses, playing lotteries, and the like. Two thoughts: first, I suggest that buying and selling shares in, say, IBM is very different from casino gambling (the first does contribute to the production of goods), but, second, even if the trading is like casino gambling it may only be immoral insofar as this involves the "trader" neglecting other, stringent moral obligations (e.g. the trader is actually a highly trained medical doctor who is needed to heal others but he has decided to break his contract with a hospital in order to engage in gambling and heavy drinking!). A third option is worth considering: imagine the trader's work is akin (ethically) to casino gambling, but the person is extremely good and gives millions of dollars each year to support Habitat for Humanity and provide scholarships for young persons to study philosophy in universities and colleges throughout the world. If you are such a trader, I wish to encourage you in every respect.

I think your question is not only not dumb, it raises issues that would take a genius (someone far, almost infinitely more intelligent than myself!) to adequately address in terms of an overall account (and evaluation) of market economies, their values and the different roles they sustain and require. Moreover your question may require some account of what is involved (in the relevant sense) in creation, achievement, investments, and risk-taking (or what you refer to as gambling). Given the complexity of such background concerns, it seems virtually impossible to avoid replying to your question with something like: 'Maybe. Maybe not. It all depends....' I will attempt something that is a tiny bit more informative but without getting into the essential background concerns that really are essential for thinking more deeply on your excellent concern. Let me try, then, two responses, the first being quite general, the second more personal. THE GENERAL RESPONSE : Assuming we are in the context of a...

I would like to know if duty implies value. If I have the duty to take care of

I would like to know if duty implies value. If I have the duty to take care of my daughter, does that imply that it is better that I take care of her than that I don't? If two people promise each other to meet that evening, is it then better (at least, according to their promises) that they meet? If I have the duty to join my country's army, is it better that I do than that I don't? Thank you.

Great questions. Many philosophers recognize that we have multiple duties which sometimes conflict. And they also recognize different degrees of complexity that come with duties. So, in a parent-daughter relationship, it is widely acknowledged that a parent does have a duty to take care of her and thus, it is recognized that, other things being equal, it is better to care for her than not but some of the following circumstances can come into play: imagine that there are great social and political forces that would make it fatal if the parent comes forward to acknowledge that he or she is the parent. Or imagine that the parent was abusive and for example a daughter is utterly estranged from a father she never wishes to see again. And sometimes duties such as those you mention can present us with cases when one duty might be served by following another duty. So, your duty to care for your daughter might be satisfied by your joining an army: imagine that your city is under aggressive military attack and the best way to take care of your daughter or the best way you can contribute to her survival and safety is to join in the military defense of your city.

I hope you will not think this reply is too frustrating but, in many cases of assessing duties philosophers add an "all things considered" condition. So, you are right in thinking that if we have a duty to keep promises, then keeping them is better than not keeping them. This would be true or it is true in most, ordinary conditions. But that is not what most philosophers think when it comes to promises that are made to carry out unjust acts. `Making vows or oaths or promises can be binding, but when these are undertaken to carry out wicked acts, most philosophers have held they are not binding. In fact, making a vow or oath or promise to do something unjust may well make the action even worse. I suggest that if you wrong me by stealing my money, your act is wrong, but it would be less of a grave wrong if the act was thoughtless and impulsive, versus the same amount of money was taken but you did so to fulfill a vow or oath or a promise you made, let us imagine, to members of your gang that you would commit the robbery. I believe the latter would be more of a grave wrong as it would stem from a considered, deliberate, intentional act whereas the thoughtless wrong might indicate weakness of will but not reflect a deep matter of character and commitment. The inability of our duty to keep promises to trump our ordinary duties comes out in considering the first case you mention in your question. Imagine a parent in a state of emotional confusion and despair promises not to take care of her child. When the parent recovers her sane state of mind, imagine she reasons: I now see that I do have a duty to care for my child, but because I promised not to, I have a duty to ignore my duties as a parent.

One of the great philosophers who sought to rank our duties in the 20th century was W.D. Ross. You can track some of his work through the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Great questions. Many philosophers recognize that we have multiple duties which sometimes conflict. And they also recognize different degrees of complexity that come with duties. So, in a parent-daughter relationship, it is widely acknowledged that a parent does have a duty to take care of her and thus, it is recognized that, other things being equal, it is better to care for her than not but some of the following circumstances can come into play: imagine that there are great social and political forces that would make it fatal if the parent comes forward to acknowledge that he or she is the parent. Or imagine that the parent was abusive and for example a daughter is utterly estranged from a father she never wishes to see again. And sometimes duties such as those you mention can present us with cases when one duty might be served by following another duty. So, your duty to care for your daughter might be satisfied by your joining an army: imagine that your city is under aggressive military attack and...

If a customer walks into a store and pulls a toy gun on the owner as a prank

If a customer walks into a store and pulls a toy gun on the owner as a prank resulting in the owner thinking it is a real gun and suffering a fatal heart attack, then is the customer morally responsible for his death? If so, what ought his punishment be? Should it be less if the owner is in his late eighties and the customer attempted CPR?

Great set of questions! You put your question in terms of morality rather than legality, but it might be worth first noting the legal angle. Basically, the law would attach responsibility and the consequences of the act based on what reasonable people would do and how they would interpret the act involved. So, imagine that the toy gun is obviously a toy (it is made of vegetables and has the word "toy" spelled on it out of carrots) and that the customer had a long history (known to the owner) of pranks. Under those circumstances, we might well conclude that the owner's belief that the gun and customer were real dangers was irrational. If the customer knew that the owner was subject to irrational judgments and that he/she had a weak heart condition, we might rightly find him morally blameworthy --the death would be a murder. But if the customer did NOT know of the irrational tendencies of the owner and did not know of the heart condition, I think we would be right in thinking this was a case of when what was intended to be an innocent prank went tragically wrong, but it would not be murder. Putting aside the bizarre. obviously fake (to reasonable people) toys, matters get more serious and clear. If the owner reasonably thought that he was facing a lethal threat and died of a heart attack in such fear, and the customer was intent on using this threat as part of a theft (or maybe as a way to instill fear out of revenge for being fired by the owner in the past), then (morally and legally) I think we have a case of at least second degree homicide. If the customer / assailant tried to administer CPR after the heart attack, I think that would support second degree rather than first degree homicide (murder). We get closer to murder, however, if the customer knew the owner was 80 years old and had a weak heart and (rather than administer CPR) the assailant shouted out to the owner as he struggled to breath "Today I am paying you back for all your miserable treatment of me, and I did it with a mere toy!" That would seal (in my view) a case of murder from a moral and legal point of view.

In the last case, I think the punishment should be the same as if an assailant had used a real gun and real bullets, don't you? A philosopher who did excellent work on responsibility for harm is the late Joel Feinberg (sadly, he died a few years ago). He has a four volume work with Oxford University Press that is (in my view) unsurpassed when it comes to the nature and scope of responsibility ethically and from the standpoint of the law.

Great set of questions! You put your question in terms of morality rather than legality, but it might be worth first noting the legal angle. Basically, the law would attach responsibility and the consequences of the act based on what reasonable people would do and how they would interpret the act involved. So, imagine that the toy gun is obviously a toy (it is made of vegetables and has the word "toy" spelled on it out of carrots) and that the customer had a long history (known to the owner) of pranks. Under those circumstances, we might well conclude that the owner's belief that the gun and customer were real dangers was irrational. If the customer knew that the owner was subject to irrational judgments and that he/she had a weak heart condition, we might rightly find him morally blameworthy --the death would be a murder. But if the customer did NOT know of the irrational tendencies of the owner and did not know of the heart condition, I think we would be right in thinking this was a case of...

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