Consider the following thought experiment: If I were to take someone with extreme character flaws, i.e. a heroin junkie, and put them in a room with only two exits, one labeled freedom and one labeled heroin, if they chose the heroin door and went to their death, is that my fault?

I've been thinking about the Saw series, and specifically the moral implications of the main character, Jigsaw. Can a person really be blamed for the mistakes made by others? If a person is flawed and their flaws lead them to harm or death, just because I put them there, am I responsible?

I guess to put it bluntly, does my construction of a situation or environment in which one's poor decision-making causes them to be harmed, am I the bad guy?


Normally I should say that your responsibility stops at the point where someone else makes a decision. You do not make the decision or cause the consequences.

However, there are two complications in the example you describe. I think you are responsible for what you can reasonably foresee as practically certain or highly probable. You could reasonably foresee the strong probability that the addict would choose the Heroin door.

Moreover, you created the situation of potential harm. You interfered with the addict's circumstances in such a way that, given his or her character or personality, you put him or her at greater risk than that to which, all else equal, s/he would have been exposed.


The position you are taking is one of proximate cause. It implies that the last human to make a decision which lead to an undesirable outcome is the one who is "at fault," for whatever that phrase means. (it's a tricky phrase)

Here's an interesting thought experiment to challenge your thought experiment. Let us presume that Jigsaw is not at fault, because the heroin junkie makes the final decision. They are responsible for their character flaw. Now as Jigsaw, you put the person in one of these rooms. They succeed, picking the good door. You then pick them up and take them to another room, with another good door and a heroin door. They pick the good door, so you take them to another room. In this room, they pick the heroin door, die, and you say "see, it was just their character flaw. I can't be held responsible for their character flaws." And by the logic we assumed at the beginning of this experiment, his decision was never the proximate cause for a death. At most he could be held responsible for wasting somebody's time making them go through room after room rather than spending their time more productively.

Hopefully the result of that thought experiment is that one comes to the conclusion that responsibility is a more complicated concept than proximate cause, and a deeper understanding is needed.


You are. (At least from a limited Kantian perspective.)

If you purposefully increase my exposure to risk in a way that does not consider my autonomy and would not meet with my consent, you have damaged me, whether you could have predicted any given outcome or not.

You may only be held accountable if the negative outcome ensues, and if your lack of concern was pretty egregious, but you have treated me unethically simply by creating the risk. I should be offended that you have handled me like an object and not a person. If you can predict the negative outcome, so much the worse, because then you are both inhumane and negligent.

But artificially creating a situation for me is abusive unless you fully consider my perspective, or you take measures to protect me. That is why we have ethics laws about experiments on human beings, even when the intention is to help them.

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