People tend to not see potentiality as immoral because potentiality is not actuality. To them, a potential event is not immoral, especially if the harm of the potential event is stopped before it occurs. For instance: https://i.sstatic.net/BRVkI.jpg

I don't think it would make sense to say that a potential event is actually immoral, and if the harm is stopped, we can't really say it is actually immoral

It's more to do with the metaphysical point that potential things are not actual things. We don't say that people are actually responsible for things they might potentially do, and we don't say that the movement of electrons actually caused an ionic bond which didn't happen, just because those electrons have a potential to do so. In the same way, we wouldn't say that a boulder is actually immoral just because it had the potential to roll down a hill and crush someone

What are the arguments against that?

  • It only says potential events are not actually immoral, nothing stops them from being potentially immoral, indeed they are. But there are purist enough ethics that can go further, "whoever looks at a woman with lust already committed adultery with her in his heart", Matthew 5:28.
    – Conifold
    Jan 1, 2022 at 7:26
  • Excluding what will never ever change (possibly nothing), every future actual is present potential (either for an immoral or a moral outcome). In simpler words, everything is potential. Then, you are searching an argument against the future or against change. Don't know one. In any case, most philosophies embrace change as something positive.
    – RodolfoAP
    Jan 1, 2022 at 11:55
  • @RodolfoAP ... No I'm seeking arguments for potentiality being immoral like actuality is ...
    – ActualCry
    Jan 1, 2022 at 15:35

1 Answer 1


What you are talking about relates to moral luck:

Driver A, in a moment of inattention, runs a red light as a child is crossing the street. Driver A tries to avoid hitting the child but fails and the child dies. Driver B also runs a red light, but no one is crossing and only gets a traffic ticket.

If a bystander is asked to morally evaluate Drivers A and B, they may assign Driver A more moral blame than Driver B because Driver A's course of action resulted in a death. However, there are no differences in the controllable actions performed by Drivers A and B. The only disparity is an external uncontrollable event.

The rationalist position described by Susan Wolf seems to be what you seek:

Wolf introduced the notions of rationalist and irrationalist positions as part of such a reconciliation. The rationalist position, stated simply, is that equal fault deserves equal blame. The rationalist would say [...] moral fault is independent of consequence. Since the fault here is equal, the agents should receive equal blame.

A thought experiment: Imagine a society where each driver has a special insurance account. An AI-assisted automatic ticketing system deducts fines directly proportional to the mathematically expected harm from any dangerous action. For example (simplified), say an action has a 1% chance of causing $10 000 in total harm. The automatic fine would be $100. By the rationalist position, whether any harm actually occurs is irrelevant; so even in the case of an accident, the fine is only $100. All driver accounts would pool and be used automatically to reimburse any damages. Naturally there are ethical problems with this specific scenario -- namely if a person should be harmed as opposed to mere property -- but the overall drift could be applied in many areas of society.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .