In the movie Time Machine (2002) there is a scene in which the protagonist and his girlfriend are walking in the park and the robber they meet wants to take her ring (bought for her by the protagonist). The protagonist refuses to give the ring to him which results in the robber shooting the girlfriend and killing her. After that, there is a scene where the protagonist is talking with his friend about this:

Friend: Alex, will you please stand still and look at me? It wasn't your fault.

Protagonist: No. It wasn't my fault. Maybe we should blame Mrs. Watchit for getting the ring from the jeweler. Or the jeweler for making it. Or the poor bastard who tore the stone from the earth. I should blame you for introducing us in the first place.

What philosophers argued that in a complex situation, every individual who's involved in the situation has the same value, so to speak? So, in the case above, do the faults of Mrs. Watchit, the jeweler or the poor bastard (and of all the other individuals involved in the situation, including the robber, the protagonist that had decided to walk in that park that day, etc.) have the same "size"?

  • I think a more interesting question about that scenario is the fact that the ring is not just a piece of metal with objective value X. Rather, it's got emotional value worth risking your life for. But it's just a hunk of metal, you can get another one exactly like it. This is of course the same principle as the flag. Humans kill and die for a piece of cloth. My brightly colored piece of cloth is superior to your brightly colored piece of cloth. The question is: What abstractions are worth killing or dying for?
    – user4894
    Jul 22, 2014 at 3:36
  • I would be apt to say that no philosopher argues for the position you state... I say this for two reasons. First, philosophies that would place different values on different actions would rank the people differently. Second, philosophies that don't think people are agents would not ascribe value at all...
    – virmaior
    Jul 22, 2014 at 4:10

1 Answer 1


I'm not an expert, so I can't say if any professional philosophers have argued for or against this view, but granting every person even tangentially involved equal value seems to result in a tautology. Real-world interactions, such as the manufacture and sale of a ring, involve enormously complex social dynamics.

If we place equal blame on the person who mined the stone from the earth and the person who tried to steal the ring that the stone was set in, should we then place equal blame on the person who designed the ring? Or who made the tools that the designer used to fashion the ring? Or the parents of the designer, who encouraged their child to pursue work in jewelry-making? Or the person who invented rings in the first place? What about the salespeople, the distributors, the advertisers who made the ring seem appealing, or the friend who recommended that particular jeweler? And this is just the chain involved in the creation and sale of the ring--we haven't even begun to dig into all the factors that might influence the decision to wear the ring, the decision to walk in the park, the thief's decision to carry and use a gun, the gun's manufacture and sale, the park's designers and builders, and on and on. We could keep listing potential influences literally forever!

In a chaotic (read: very complex) system such as this, if you don't allow for differing degrees of importance it rapidly becomes impossible to draw any sort of absolute lines at all.

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