If I physically hurt someone by punching them in the face, most would agree this is wrong and I should be charged with assault. If I verbally insulted someone and made them feel upset, most would say I haven’t harmed them because there was no physical contact (although technically you could say that emotions are a physical phenomenon because they are chemical processes the brain undergoes).
However, granting there’s a distinction, what about a scenario where some people are lighting fireworks, knowing the sound will trigger a PTSD sufferer who lives nearby to have a panic attack?
The answers to this vary. Some would say it is immoral because they are only lighting fireworks because they think it will harm someone, and if it weren’t for the anticipated harm, they wouldn’t be lighting them. This reason focuses on the intent of the people lighting the fireworks. If it is the intent that makes it moral/immoral, then what about the same scenario except there isn’t actually anyone with PTSD who lives nearby, and the people only mistakenly believe there is?
So now they’re just lighting fireworks for false reasons. Although if it were the case that there actually was someone with PTSD living nearby, and the people who lit the fireworks didn’t know this, most would have no problem saying the people aren’t at fault for triggering the panic attack due to not having the knowledge it would.
But, now this gets tricky. What about a case where someone knows there’s a person with PTSD living nearby, but they light the fireworks anyway even though they don’t intend for the person to hear (meaning even if there was nobody with PTSD around, they still would’ve lit the fireworks). If you’re relying on intent, you would have to say this isn’t wrong, unless you want to take the position that knowing there’s a chance something will cause harm is all it takes to make it immoral.
But, the problem with this argument is that it renders every decision immoral. Through the butterfly effect, even innocuous things like giving someone an apple can result in harm (like, say, if they choke on it). And if we go back to basing it on intent, to what extent would this be applicable? For instance, say a person gives someone an apple, intending for them to choke it (even though there’s no way to guarantee this), and the person actually chokes and dies.
So is it wrong to, either unintentionally/unknowingly or knowingly, but passively, expose someone to a certain stimuli (visual, auditory, etc.) if it triggers a negative response from them? Like, if a person is disgusted by the color yellow and vomits and passes out every time they see it, am I wrong for wearing yellow and walking in their vicinity (not to make them sick on purpose, but because I have to get somewhere and know they will fall ill as a byproduct).
Another example would be if a person had a condition that made them hear everything as ear-piercingly loud, even at a very low volume. So if you’re in your house, listening to music at the lowest possible volume, all while knowing the person in the house across the street will be in excruciating discomfort (almost like a dog having to hear several dog whistles being blown at once), are you morally responsible for causing harm to the other person?
So basically, should people just expect for there to be external stimuli they find upsetting/disturbing and not expect everyone to accommodate their mental “algorithm“ or should it be considered wrong to do things that could potentially cause someone watching to experience an intense negative reaction (even things like humming, whistling, kissing, holding hands, wearing a provocative T-shirt design, etc.)?