2015-08-28

The Hidden Assumption

Bryan Caplan wrote an interesting piece on the ethics of the Ashley Madison hack. Scott Sumner replied. Caplan replied to the reply.

At issue is the question of whether Ashley Madison users "deserved" to have their data stolen. Caplan doesn't come right out and say it, but he strongly implies it:
Constructing hypotheticals with blameworthy pseudo-victims is easy enough. Imagine someone attacks you with a chainsaw because you failed to kiss his feet. When he misses your head, he accidentally saw offs his own hand. Telling him, "This is your fault" as he clutches his bloody stump is not victim-blaming. Or to take a less egregious case, suppose a worker feigns sickness so he can go to the basketball game. Co-workers spot him on t.v. in the audience and he gets fired. If he decries is fate, "This is all on you" is the bitter truth.
Sumner disagrees:
Or let's take another case; you decide to violate the law by jaywalking, crossing the street in the middle of the block. You are struck and killed by a car. (This happened to a Bentley student a couple years ago.) Are you going to claim this person was a "victim" when she was clearly violating the law? Um, actually yes, I sort of do view her as a victim.
So Caplan clarifies his position:
None of this means that people who suffer horribly as a result of committing minor offenses aren't victims. I don't think that. I jaywalk, and I don't deserve to die. When people seriously suffer as a result of committing major offenses, however, I call that just deserts.
In essence, Caplan's point is that if negative consequences arise from a clear moral breach, then (as ethicists) we shouldn't take pains to avoid blaming people for their moral shortcomings. If someone severs his own hand while attempting to kill you, tough cookies, he shouldn't have tried to kill you.

In essence, Sumner's point is that a single moral breach isn't enough to justify significant suffering.

I was attracted to Sumner's position until I realized something: Sumner is suggesting that having your credit card data stolen is excessive punishment for cheating on your spouse. At the end of the day, Sumner might value marital fidelity a lot, but not nearly as much as he values the sanctity of his credit card data.

That's surprising.