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The Ethicsof Co-operationin


1. Introduction

There are a num ber of ways in which a per son can shar e t he guilt of
another' s w rongdoing. He m ight advise it , com m and it or consent
to i t. H e mi ght pr ovoke it , pr aise it , f lat t er t he wr ongdoer , or con-
ceal the wrong. He might stay silent when there is a clear duty to
denounce the wr ong or it s per pet r at or ; or he m ight posit ively
defend the' uvrong done. Finally, he m ight act ively par t icipat e or co-
operate i n the wr ongdoing. These var ious act ivit ies, apar t f r om co-
operati on, typ ically occur bef or e or af t er t he com m ission of t he
wrong itself, oniy provocation being essentially before the fact. As
such they fall into the categories of seduction or comfort, seduction
bei ng essenti a lly pr e- com m ission and com f or t post - com m ission. r I n
seducti on (mu t at is m ut andesf or com f or t ) , t he seducer t ypically leads
another i nto d oing wr ong who has not def init ely m ade up his m ind.
H e does not a ssist in t he com m ission, but he leads t o it s occur r ing.
If the pri nci pa l ( as I will call t he one who com m it s t he wr ong) has
made up hi s m ind, act ions which m ight ot her wise am ount t o seduc-
tion are best characterrzed as amounting to scandal, since they do
not l ead to w rong but r einf or ce t he pr incipal in his wr ongf ul int ent
or provi de to t hir d par t ies a bad exam ple since t hey connot e
approval of th e pr incipal's act ion. ' Closely r elat ed t o t he concept of
seducti on i s t hat of solicit at ion, t hough per haps t hese ar e best
thought of as t wo aspect s of t he sam e kind of act ivit y. Seduct ion
can be thought of as a st r ong f or m of inducem ent t o wr ong, t ypi-
fi ed by command, counsel ( wher e t he seducer knows t he advice is
l i kel y to be re lied upon) and ent icem ent t hr ough pr aise or pr ovoca-
ti on. S ol i ci tation is a sof t er f or m of inducem ent t ypically involving
requests, appe als, and invit at ions. Wher eas t he seducer or solicit or
l eads another int o wr ong but does not assist in it s com m ission, t he
co-operator does not lead t he pr incipal int o wr ong but assist s in it s
commi ssi on.
' E ven i f they occur dur ing t he com m ission,t hey occur wit h a vier . vt o
that part of the wr ong r vhich eit her has been done or is yet t o be done.
' Though the scandalousact ionsm ight alsoleadt o f ut ur e wr ongs by t he
David Oderberg The Ethics of Co-operation in Wrongdoing

T he co n c e rn o f th i s p a p e r i s w i th co-operati on i tsel f, or acti ve the posi ti ve law can pr ovide valuable assist ance in et hical evalua-
par t ic ipa ti o n i n th e w ro n g d o i n g o f another. In mai nstream modern ti on, i t i s the et hical pr inciples t hem selves which need t o be gr asped
m or al ph i l o s o p h y th e e th i c s o f co-operati on has recei ved scant first and the positive law which must be evaluated in light of them.
at t ent ion , l e t a l o n e a n y s o rt o f e l a b o rati on. A ttenti on i s gi ven al most S uch an i nv est igat ion, im por t ant as it is, is not m y pur pose her e;
exclusively to the principal act and its moral evaluation. Yet the having said that, occasional reference to the law of complicity will
truth is that co-operation is pervasive throughout the world of be made. Finally, since the discussion of co-operation involves
action and that its evaluation is a specialized area of ethics. numerous distinctions and controverted questions it will sometimes
Moreover, whatever the reason for its neglect in contemporary onl y be possible t o indicat e wher e a pr oblem lies and suggest possi-
ethics-whether carelessness,forgetfulness, or an underestimation ble approaches for further investigation. With these restrictions in
of its importance as a moral issue-the ethical evaluation of acts of place we will still be able to survey the terrain in a way that brings
co-operation cannot be read off in any sort of mechanical way from out how unjust ly neglect ed a t opic t he et hics of co- oper at ion in
t he ev alu a ti o n o f p ri n c i p a l a c ts . If thi s unstated assumpti on does w rongdoi ng evident ly is.
not lie be h i n d th e n e g l e c t, p e rh a p s there i s another assumpti on to
the effect that the evaluation of principal acts is difficult enough
without having to contend with a whole other area of enquiry whose 2. Kinds of co-operation
comprehension obviously does depend on how principal acts are to
be assessed. If SO, one can sympathtze with the thought whilst Co-operation can be defined as material assistance afforded to
refusing to neglect such a vital aspect of moral theorizing. If ethics another, whom one has not seduced, to carry out his purpose of
is about knowing what one must, may, or cannot do, then co-opera- doi ng w rong . As such, t he co- oper at or should be dist inguished f r om
t ion s im p l y c a n n o t b e i g n o re d , p re gnant as i t i s w i th a pl ethora of a co-ordi nat e agent or equal pr incipal in t he com m ission of a wr ong.
concrete cases for judgment, real moral dilemmas that directly Co-ordinate agents have the same wrongful intent, such as when
affect the everyday transactions of all of us. Such is the stuff of two people agree to burgle a house, one taking the goods and the
casuistry in its truest and most noble sense, which is what gives other driving the getaway vehicle, or when several people agree
ethics its point. Fortunately one can, to a large degree, abstract from jointly to assault a third party. The co-ordinate agent is always
t he par t ic u l a r k i n d s o f p ri n c i p a l act w i th w hose co-operati on the gui l ty but the co- oper at or m ay be guilt less. '
m or al t he o ri s t s h o u l d b e c o n c e rn e d. Thi s paper w i l l i n the mai n Co-operation may be characterized in a variety of ways, and so we
s t ic k t o c a s e s o f p ri n c i p a l a c ts o n w hose moral i ty most peopl e of need a number of distinctions to mark these. The distinctions fall
good will c a n a g re e ; b u t i f th e re b e di sagreement, i t shoul d not be into the three categories of kind of act, degree of influence, and
difficult to substitute relevantly similar examples which illustrate level of responsibility. As to kinds of act, co-operation may be for-
t he s am e p ri n c i p l e s o f e v a l u a ti o n a s appl i ed to co-operati on. mal or mat er ial. The f or m al co- oper at or int ends t he wr ong com -
T he in v e s ti g a ti o n o f th e e th i c s of co-operati on i s i mportant not mi tted by th e pr incipal. Exam ple: Alan gives Bill on r equest inf or -
only f or i ts c o n c re te a p p l i c a b i l i ty a nd i ts i ntri nsi c conceptual i nter- mation as to how to enter a locked building he has no right to enter.
est, but also because we can draw from it larger lessons about nor- Materi al co- oper at ion does not involve such an int ent . Exam ple:
m at iv e m o ra l th e o ry . T h e s e w i l l b e brought out i n the course of the Fred, hel d at gunpoint , does not r esist while bur glar s sear ch his
dis c us s io n b u t s i n c e o u r m a i n c o n c e rn w i l l be w i th the pri nci pl es of employer's office. What is crucial here is not that the formal co-
c o- oper a ti o n th e m s e l v e s th e y w i l l onl y be menti oned bri efl y. operator intend to commit any wrong, but that he intend that the
F ur t her , a l th o u g h th e re i s a d e v e l o ped posi ti ve l aw of compl i ci ty, i t
is not m y p u rp o s e to o u tl i n e th a t l aw or compare and contrast i t
3 In the common law of complicity, the driver of a getaway car would
wit h t he mo ra l p ri n c i p l e s g u i d i n g c o-operati on. For one thi ng, the 'aided and abetted' the bur-
law of c o mp l i c i ty h a s b ro a d e r s c o p e , coveri ng such acti ons as coun- probably be guilty as an accompliceby having
glary. As an aider and abettor he would still be guilty of the principal
s elling an d i n c i ti n g a n o th e r to c ri mi nal behavi our. For another, the
offence of burglary, but since his action would not be thought of as
law of complicity does not apply to many kinds of action that are
coming within the legal definition of the offence he would be treated has
c lear ly s u b j e c t to e th i c a l e v a l u a ti o n. In addi ti on, w hi l st a study of
having assistedrather than committed it.
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David Oderberg The Ethics of Co-operation in Wrongdoing

pr inc ipal s h o u l d c o mmi t th e w ro n g w i th w hi ch he assi sts. A gai n, i nstance, has the nat ur e of m or al r at her t han physical co- oper at ion.
t he f or m al c o -o p e ra to r n e e d n o t b e l i eve that the pri nci pal act i s Li ttl e w i l l be said about negat ive co- oper at ion, ot her t han t hat it s
wr ong; he s h o u l d s i mp l y i n te n d th a t i t occur. In addi ti on, formal existence presupposes a voluntary abstention and its guilt an
c o- oper at io n c a n b e e x p l i c i t o r i m p l i ci t. It i s expl i ci t w hen the co- obl i gati on to a ct . Rober t is not a negat ive co- oper at or if he is bound
oper at or ' s e n d i s p re c i s e l y th e w ro ng of the pri nci pal , such as and gagged w h ile his em ployer 's of f ice is r obbed; Sandr a does not
joining a terrorist organizatron while agreeing with its aims. It is negatively co-operate in the destruction of the Amazonian
implicit when the co-operator does not intend to associate himself rainforest by sitting in front of her television.
with the wrong of the principal but nevertheless intends for some As to degree of influence, co-operation can be immediate or
other reason that the principal should do what he is set upon doing mediate, depending on how near to the principal act it is. This is one
( or c ons ents to i ts b e i n g d o n e ); fo r e x ampl e, j oi ni ng a terrori st orga- of the most difficult distinctions to grapple with, and we will return
nization not because one subscribes to its aims but for the sake of to it, but suffice it to say for the moment that sharing in the
some social or financial advantage. This would be different from, principal act is immediate co-operation and sharing in some act that
say, an intelligence agent's joining such a group where the sole precedes or follows it is mediate. Helping a thief to remove
purpose is to infiltrate and expose it. In the former case the co- property from another's premises is immediate; but giving him the
operator is presumed to be prepared to do whatever the others do, keys to the house or driving the getaway car (assuming there was no
as long as he gets his advantage-and he can be so prepared rvithout joint plan) would be mediate. Another distinction that needs later
necessarily subscribing to the organization's aims. In the latter case, examination is between co-operation which is indispensable and
the spy would not be prepared to carry out terrollsl 3g1s-in which that w hi ch i s n ot . I f t he pr incipal agent depends on your co- oper a-
c as e he is a ma te ri a l , n o t a fo rma l co-operator. The poi nt i s that ti on i t i s i ndi spensable, such as when som eone supplies dr ugs t o
im plic it f orma l c o -o p e ra ti o n o c c u rs when by the nature or ci rcum- another w ho cannot get t hem elsewher e. I f t he supplier is one of
s t anc es of th e c a s e (i n c l u d i n g th e c o -operator' s behavi our) the co- many available, then the co-operation of any one of them would be
oper at or ' s e n d i n c l u d e s th e g u i l t o f the pri nci pal .o dispensable, or not causally necessary for the principal act.
A ls o as t o k i n d o f a c t, c o -o p e ra ti on can be posi ti ve or negati ve Furthermore, m ediat e co- oper at ion can be pr oxim at e or r em ot e,
ac c or ding a s th e c o -o p e ra to r d o e s s o methi ng to assi st the pri nci pal and this by reason of causal nearness or of definiteness. As to the
or does not h i n g to h i n d e r h i m . So i n the previ ous exampl es A l an i s former, the proximity depends on how close the act of co-operation
a positive and Fred a negative co-operator. Again, positive co-oper- is to the principal wrong. Giving a ladder to a burglar is more
ation can be moral or physical-moral when it primarily involves remote than holding the ladder while the burglar ascends.
words and gestures providing assistance, physical when the help N ote i mmediat ely t hat whilst it is not inappr opr iat e t o speak in
primarily involves bodily action. Voting for an unjust lu*, for parti cul ar cases aS t hough an act wer e absolut ely r em ot e or
proxi mate, thi s is never lit er ally t he case.Holding t he ladder is m or e
* In the common law, an intent to co-operate proximate that giving it; but less proximate than assisting the
may be inferred from proof
that the accusedrealized that his conduct 'uvould,or would very probably', burgl ar w i th a push up t he r em aining f ew r ungs. Pr oxim it y is
assistor encouragethe principal: I{ational Coal Board a Gamble t1959] 1 therefore a matter of degree, and this because it is relative to the
QB 11, [1958] All ER 203; Clarkson 11971,13 All ER 344, 1197111 WLR circumstances of the case, in particular to what alternative acts it
1,+02.According to Dev&{ in Gamble,rf a man sellsa gun to another which might be compared with. The same goes for proximity as to defi-
he knows will be used for murder, he cannot escape from guilt as an ni teness, w hi c h depends on how clear ly t he co- oper at ion point s t o
abet t orm er e l y b e c a u s eh e s o l d th e g u n o n l y for the money and not i n order 'm or al
the pri mary a ct . Her e we m ay speak of a connect ion' wit h
t hat t he v ic ti m b e k i l l e d . E v e n i f th e c o -operatordoes not desi rethe com-
the l atter. E xa m ple: selling a gun t o a r obber is pr oxim at e because it
mission of the principal offence, both morality and the common law
recognizethat intent to assistmay be implied by the circumstances.But poi nts defi ni tely t o t he planned wr ong; but selling som e scr ap ir on
whet her , in a g i v e n c a s e , a s s i s ta n c ei s best characteri zedas i mpl i ci tl y to a robber w h o happens t o be an exper t gunsm it h is r em ot e. Selling
formal or only material (though still unlawful) dependslargely on difficult a burgl ar a c r owbar , t or ch and set of lock- picking equipm ent is
questions surrounding the distinction between knowledge and intent proxi mate; se lling him a balaclava is r em ot e, as he m ay want it only
which have long dogged the philosophy of mind and action. to keep warm rather than to prevent identification. Again,
206 207
. l David Oderberg Ethics of Co-operation in Wrongdoing
. t

t combine evaluations of knowledge, intent, circumstance, vagueness,
i proximity is a relative matter and a matter of degree. Of course the
robber might only want the gun so he can shoot tin cans, and the causal nearness, dispensability, and so on. The significance of one
may be mitigated or exacerbated by that of another. Whilst we
burglar might specifically ask for the balaclava in the middle of
l should expect our moral evaluations to converge on definite
summer. Here we can draw the first general lesson about moral
theorizing: that it is one thing for relativity to enter into it, and answers, this does not mean we should expect the relevant informa-
another for relativism to do so. There is nothing relativistic about tion in a given case to accumulate mono-dimensionally, as though all
saying that a co-operative act was relatively proximate. The that were required, for example, were the amassing of units of util-
circumstances and nature of the case are fixed, including the range ity whether these be measured in terms of preference satisfaction,
of choices and actions open to the participants. Given these, we can desire fulfilment, increase of pleasure or whatever other unit of cal-
reach wholly objective evaluations of their behaviour. culation might be the consequentialist flavour of the month.
Another general lesson immediately suggests itself: namely that Moral i ty j ust is not like t hat .
these sorts of sliding scale militate against, not in favour of, a math- Finally, as to level of responsibility, co-operation can be unjust or
ematical approach.t We can say that Charlie's co-operation was more merely unlawful. It is unjust if it involves an injury to a third party,
remote than Donald's assuming the cases are sufficiently similar for and this would then entail a duty of restitution or reparation, such as
a comparison to be made. We can even say that Charlie's act was in when someone receives stolen goods. If the co-operation is only
itself proximate on any reasonable interpretation of his case in isola- unlawful there is no duty of restitution but there will be still be a
tion; but we will only be able to fall back on similarly non-mathe- number of other duties, as with any immoral act: satisfaction where
'definitely', 'clearly', 'unmistakably', 'to possible, acts of repentance evincing a sincere desire not to perform
matical terms like any ratio-
nal person', and so on. There can be no mathematical standard of the wrong again, the duty to make amends for any scandal, and sub'
proximity any more than an absolute one when circumstances are mission to any penalty imposed. An example of unlawful (but not
unjust) co-operation would be supplying drugs: the recipient carries
considered; both points were made long ago by Aristotle in respect
of moral judgment in general, and we do well to heed them. out the primary wrong and the supplier co-operates with it, but no
The third lesson concerns the multi-factorial and multi-dimen- third party is involved. Although the principles under examination
sional nature of moral evaluation. Suppose George co-operates here apply to both kinds of co-operation, our concern will not be co-
remotely with Harry's ernbezzlement inasmuch as he supplies him operation qua act of injustice but only co-operation in general (qua
wit h a c o mp u te r to p ro d u c e v a ri o u s fraudul ent documents. A com- wrong against charity, where the duty of charity involves the desire
puter as such points only very vaguely to a nefarious intent and to promote and be the agent of virtue in others rather than vice).
remoteness as such lessens the guilt attached to the co-operation.
But if George shares the purpose for which Harry requires the 3. Lawfulness of co-operation
computer, the mitigating effect of the vagueness will be cancelled as Formal co-operation is always wrong. If performing an act is wrong,
G eor ge b e c o me s a fo rm a l c o -o p e rator. S i mi l arl y, suppl yi ng a then so i s con spir ing t o do it , at t em pt ing t o do it , t oler at ing it , and
revolver to a robber is a very determinate form of co-operation but a fortiori assisting someone to do it. Formal co-operation involves
t he pot en ti a l g u i l t o n th a t s c o re i s c ancel l ed i f the suppl i er does not approval of the wrong and willing participation in its guilt, hence it
share the guilty purpose and is otherwise a lawful co-operator. And is opposed to charity, to the virtue or duty violated by the principal,
these are only simple abstract cases; in reality there are many vari- and also to the virtue or duty violated by the co-operator when the
ables that have to be considered and the moral judge has to perform act of co-oper at ion has it s own m alice, e. g. per jur y.
t he delic a te a c t o f h o l d i n g o n e v a ri a bl e fi xed w hi l e determi ni ng the Evaluating material co-operation, on the other hand, is a more dif-
effect of another. The evaluation is multi-dimensional since the ficult matter. In itself it would seem to be unlawful, for the simple
variables move along different axes; for instance one may have to reason that charity requires you to strive to prevent another from
doing wrong, whereas in material co-operation you help him to do it.
s For an egregiousexample of the idea that there can be such a thing as The duty of charity, however, has its limits. There is in morality no
'moral mathematics', see D. Parfit, Reasonsand Persozs(Oxford: general duty to prevent the doing of evil at any cost, any more than
University Press, 1984). there is a general duty to bring about the doing of good. The first
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David Oderberg The Ethics of Co-operation in Wrongdoing

pr inc iple o f mo ra l i ty i s i n d e e d to do good and avoi d evi l , but thi s altogether, and belongs not to genuine moral theory but to the
must be correctly interpreted. Every person must not intentionally sophi stry of consequent ialism , t he sor t of ends- just if ies- t he- m eans
do evil himself, and so he is equally prohibited from intentionally, modern moral philosophy derided by Elizabeth Anscombe as cor-
that is formally, assisting another to do evil. But he cannot be oblig- rupt.6 (Whether one is ever allowed to adaise the doing of a lesser
ed to avoid any and every bringing about of evil at his own hands, evil is a more complex matter, however.t)
even if unintended, for the simple reason that there is very little Applying these thoughts to material co-operation, it can be seen
people do in the ordinary course of their lives which does not that one may co-operate materially with another's wrongdoing in
involve their bringing about evil effects, even as a consequence of order to prevent a greater evil than the evil one permits to occur by co-
wholly g o o d a c ti o n s . H e n c e i f mo ral i ty i s not to reduce peopl e to operating (and this by means of permitting the principal to exploit the
virtual inaction, it has to permit the bringing about of evil effects in co-operator's lawful behaviour). What is the greater evil? It is the evil
some circumstances, as long as those effects are not intended but that would result from the potential co-operator's refusing to co-oper-
only tolerated or permitted as side effects of intended actions not in ate, which will involve either or both of evil suffered by the potential
themselves objectionable. Providing assistance to another in the co-operator himself and evil caused to others. It should by now be
commission of a wrong, so long as that wrong is not intended by the becoming clear that the conditions and provisos that have been stated
pr ov ider , c a n th e n b e s e e n a s j u s t a speci al case of a general pri nci - above in respect of material co-operation amount to just those
ple. The evil committed by the wrongdoer may causally depend to condi ti ons and pr ovisos t hat t oget her const it ut e one of t he
some degree-though never wholly, since the exercise of free will indispensable planks of any moral system worthy of serious consider-
pr ev ent s o n e p e rs o n ' s i n te n d e d a cti ons bei ng causal l y determi ned ation: the Principle of Double Effect (PDE). It turns out that the
by anothsl's-en the acts of the assistant, but so long as the assis- ethics of co-operation just is a special caseor application of PDE, and
t ant only to l e ra te s o r p e rmi ts th a t evi l , responsi bi l i ty need not be this indicates another general lesson: the caseof co-operation provides
sheeted home to him as well. To put it another way, although there good grounds for the explanatory necessity of PDE for morality.
may be a causal dependency, the sort of causation is only instrumen- Defenders of PDE usually argue for it directly, and this is of course
tal: the co-operator, as long as he does not intentionally do anything important; but it is an equally necessary and potentially fruitful
which is itself forbidden, acts lawfully in a way that he knows the exercise for supporters of PDE to argue for it indirectly by examining
c o- oper a to r w i l l a b u s e a n d e x p l o i t in order to commi t a w rong. ways in which other, disparate parts of morality ultimately depend on
But under what circumstances is material co-operation lawful? The it as the best explanation of their own theoretical plausibility.
duty of charity, as was said, has its limits, and one of those is relatively
serious inconvenience to oneself. For instance, if on your way to pick 4. Application of PDE to the ethics of co-operation
up your child from school you walk past a beggar on the street and
It i s not th e int ent ion of t his paper t o expound and dir ect ly
have no money on you, you are under no obligation to go to your
defend the Pr inciple of Double Ef f ect : t his can be f ound else-
nearest bank and make a withdrawal so you can give some to him,
however admirable it may be if you did so. Would the inconvenience o See G. E. M. Anscombe, 'Modern Moral Philosophy' in her Ethics,
really be serious? It would, relatiaely so, inasmuch as it would be dis- Religion and Politics: Philosophical Papers, aol. III (Oxford: Blackwell,
proportionately inconvenient for you to go to your bank just so you 19 8 1) , 2 6 4 2 ,
7 The most probable answer is that one generally may not advise the
could hand over a few pence. Hence the need for a grasp of propor-
tionality in evaluating such cases. Another way of putting the same commission of a lesserevil for the generalreasonsstatedabove; but that if
point is that you are entitled to permit a lesser evil in order to prevent the lesserevil were already a virtual part of the greater,one could advise
a greater one: you are allowed, in the example just mentioned, to per- that the other person commit it instead. Example: Anna intends to steal
mit the beggar to go without a cup of coffee to spare yourself having d100 from Bertha; Christina, to prevent the theft, advisesAnna to steal
to go to the bank. That it is allowable to permit a lesser evil in order d50 i nstead. Her e t he act of st ealing d50 is a vir t ual par t of t he act of
steal i ng{100; Anna has alr eadym ade up her m ind t o st ealf r om Ber t ha,so
to prevent a greater evil is one thing, and it is hard to see how one Christina is not acting at all as a causeof theft (or seducer into theft), a
could object to it. But to say that one is allowed to chooseto do a
fortiori not as a causeof the theft of d50 (or seducer);and Anna thereby
lesser evil in order to prevent a greater one is another thing preventsthe greater evil, namely the theft of d100.

2t0 211
David Oderberg The Ethics of Co-operation in Wrongdoing

wher e. ' R a th e r, i t i s to a p p l y th e p ri nci pl e to the speci fi c case of co- the strict sense of nature bad'-and those that are bad because in
operation; this will, one hopes, have the threefold outcome of the context there is no way any good could reasonably be thought to
'bad by nature, all things
ex plainin g th e e th i c s o f c o -o p e ra ti o n, as w el l as i l l ustrati ng P D E i n come from them-what might be called
action, and defending it indirectly by showing its explanatory value considered'. Holding down a rape victim is strictly bad by nature;
for the particular subject under examination. distributing poison itt circumstances where there is no reasonable
The first plank in the explanation is the fact that material co- expectation of a good use for this (e.g., there are no pests that need
operation involves two effects: the evil effect of the wrong commit- destroying, rlo medicinal use for the poison, etc.) is bad in itself, given
ted by the principal and the good effect of avoiding a loss and/or the relevant considerations. We can see that the distinction between
retaining or procuring a good on the part of the co-operator. Next, the latter sort of wron g act and acts that are wrong in the circum-
s inc e P D E p ro h i b i ts th e u s e o f a b ad means to obtai n a good end, stances is a fine one; but some such distinction should be drawn'
the co-operator may not use the principal's wrong to secure some In the case of circumstantial wrong, the act is not of its nature
good: that would be formal co-operation. Hence Martha may not bad but may in the circumstances signify approval of evil, give
help Nicole to defraud her employer in order that Nicole obtain scandal , enda nger t he vir t ue of t he co- oper at or , and So on. Hence it
money to donate to her local charity. A fortiori, the co-operator may is not in itself wrong to pick up a hitch-hiker, but it is wrong in the
not intend the evil effect whether or not she uses it as a means to a circumstances to pick up a hitch-hiker who asks to be taken to a
good end . place where he can carry out a robbery.'o Nevertheless, co-operation
What it is crucial to consider at length, then, are the requirements is not necessarily evil in virtue of one's certain knowledge of the
(a) that the act of the co-operator must be good or at least morally wrongful purposes of the principal, or that the principal will be
indifferent, and (b) that he have a sufficiently weighty reason for strengthened in his evil designs by one's assistance. In this regard
permitting the wrong of the principal. The first requirement is sim- t*o poittts needs to be made. First, circumstances which appear at
ply the obligation never intentionally to do wrong, and so one may first glance to point to scandal or danger might be such that these
not do it even as part of a larger context involving co-operation with ur" not really present on examination. For instance, if you are forced
another and the potential securing of some good for oneself or oth- at gunpoint into handing over the details of your business partner's
er s . B ut h o w d o w e a s s e s sw h e th e r the co-operati ve act i s good, evi l bank account so another can steal from it, have you acted wrongly
or indifferent? We have to look at the nature and circumstances of in the circumstances? Of course if you were forced at gunpoint into
the case. As to nature, we can say for example that assisting in a robbing your partner yourself you would be an accomplice to theft,
r ape, s a y b y h o l d i n g d o w n th e vi cti m, i s i ntri nsi cal l y w rong, as i .e. a co-pti ncipal, and as t he Socr at ic m axim goes it is bet t er t o suf -
would be assisting in the enslavement of another, say by providing fer evil than to do it: the theft is an intrinsic wrong. On the other
a v enue fo r s l a v e a u c ti o n s . S u c h c a s esare cl ear. B ut i t i s al so the case hand, gi vi ng over som eone's bank account det ails is not of it self
that assisting in the distribution of harmful drugs is intrinsically wrong. Also, since you do not share the thief intent you are not a
wr ong, a s i s a s s i s ti n g i n th e p ro d u c ti on of pornography.n A central formal co-operator; presumably your will is set directly against that
ques t ion to b e a s k e d i n th e s e c a s es i s w hether the co-operati ve act of the thief- And the circumstance of your being held at gunpoint
(or the material involved in it) has any potentially innocent or good manifestly vitiates any potential for scandal." Even if it does not,
us e in t h e a c tu a l c o n te x t: i f n o t, i t i s by nature bad. On the other however, the second point is that scandal, like any evil effect, may
hand, where the act has potential good and bad uses, it is in itself be permitted for a sufficient reason, and in this case the threat to
indifferent, for example assisting in the manufacture of firearms or
r0 Note: if you do not know the hitch-hiker's purpose until after the
poisons. To say that the act is by nature bad should not be seen as
gliding over the distinction between acts that are bad of themselves- event you are an unwitting, and hence not even material co-operator'
'r Should you worry that some people will be scandalizedby your behav-
t S ee D . S . O d e rb e rg , M o ra l T h e o ry (Oxford: B l ackw el l , 2000), ch. 3. iour in virtue of not having been informed that you were held at gunpoint?
S eeals o T . D . J . C h a p p e l l , ' T w o D i s ti n cti onsthat D o Make a D i fference' , No, sincethere is no obligation to suffer a great loss(e.g.your own life) just
Philosophy77 (2002), 211-33. to avoid the scandal of those who rush to judgment (what is 'If sometimes
e If you think the latter is permissible, you can change the example to called Pharisaic scandal).The right answer to such people is: you are
child pornography. scandalized,that's your Problem.'

21,2 213
David Oderberg The Ethics of Co-operation in Wrongdoing

y our life w o u l d s u re l y c o u n t a s j u st such a reason. (A r w e w i l l see, also requires that one take steps to minimtze the evil effects that one
the threat to life allows not just the permission of scandal but of the permits, and in this case the employee should, if possible, make well
evil resulting from the theft itself.) known his disapproval of the terrorist's behaviour.
': Contrast the above with the case of the hitch-hiker, where the As we have anticipated, the evaluative brunt of cases of material
dr iv er i s u n d e r n o c o m p u l s i o n , h a s ful l know l edge of w hat hi s pas- co-operation falls on the requirement of PDE that there be a suffi-
1'l senger intends, and although he does not share that intention he is ciently weighty reason for permitting the evil that results from.it.
indifferent to it because he freely assists (for whatever purpose, say The conditions that make up this requirement apply to all double
because he might receive some money at the end of it or because it's effect cases, and their application to co-operation is especially illu-
' no
s k in o ff h i s n o s e ' s i n c e h e i s travel l i ng i n the desi red di recti on minating. Here again we enter a realm of sliding scales, multi-
any way ). T h e th o u g h t th a t h e m i g ht dri ve al ong to the pl ace of rob- factorial and multi-dimensional evaluations that do not pretend to
ber y wh i l e mu tte ri n g u n d e r h i s breath,' I don' t l i ke thi s one l i ttl e mathematical precision and that require sensitivity to circumstance,
bit ' , ha rd l y c o mme n d s i ts e l f to right-thi nki ng peopl e as absol vi ng the sort of sensitivity that only the truly practically wise person can
him of wrongful co-operation: such behaviour is scandalous and a demonstrate in its fullness. Absent such wisdom we are all never-
danger to the virtue of both parties. One might distinguish the theless bound to aspire to it and to make the best judgments we can
hitch-hiker case from the theft case by applying the plausible pre- on the facts of any case that come before us. But whatever our abil-
sumptionr2 that a person intends the freely chosen (i.e. duress-free) ity to judge, the principles themselves that will be outlined com-
natural and probable consequences of his acts: this would make the mend themselves for their adherence to common sense. In fact, as I
driver an implicit formal co-operator. Better, however, to rest it sim- have said elsewhere," the Principle of Double Effect just is the
ply on the principle that morality requires one to avoid evil as far as codification of ethical common sense, not the arcane, logic-chop-
one reasonably can, and that as far as PDE goes, the good effect ping invention of philosophers it has so often been portrayed as.
achieved by the driver (getting his passenger to his desired destina- First, the graver the wrong of the principal, the graver the reason
tion) is not a sufficient reason for scandalously allowing the passen- must be for co-operation. Thus you need a greater reason for co-
ger to exploit the driver's hospitality by committing a serious operating in an assault than for co-operating in theft. Secondly, the
wrong. nearer in the causal chain the co-operation would be to the princi-
Another case is where the co-operator knozps that his assistance pal wrong, the greater the reason. Thus a greater reason is needed
will giv e s c a n d a l , e i th e r to th e p ri nci pal or to thi rd parti es. (In the for proof-reading a terrorist-training manual than for selling paper
bank case the assistant knows precisely the opposite because of the to its printer. Thirdly, the greater the dependence of the wrong on
public fact of his being held at gunpoint. In the hitch-hiker case the the co-operation, the greater the reason. Hence you need a greater
driver, let us suppose, does not know his behaviour is scandalous reason for selling heroin to an addict if he cannot get the drug else-
because his state of mind is one of indifference; scandalous, though, where than if he can easily do so. Nonetheless, the easy availability
his behaviour really it.) For instance, is it permissible for an of co-operation from another does not of itself entitle you to sell the
employee of a funeral director to assist in the burial of a known ter- drugs, if the other conditions are not fulfilled, for instance if there
rorist when he knows he will be sacked if he refuses but that if he is no loss on your part if you do not sell them. Fourthly, the more
participates he will give great scandal, perhaps signifying (wrongly) certain the wrong, the greater the reason. If Ellen has made up her
appr ov a l o f th e te rro ri s t' s b e h a v i o ur? There i s nothi ng i n the nature mind definitely to burgle a house, you need greater reason to assist
of t he a c t th a t m a k e s a s s i s ta n c e at a funeral w rong, but ci rcum- her than to assist Fiona who has decided to do it only if a number
s t anc es i n d i c a te o th e rw i s e . N e v e rthel ess, there may be good reasons of other uncertain conditions are fulfilled (e.g. as long as she can
f or per m i tti n g th e e v i l o f s c a n d a l (i n most cases), and l osi ng one' s find a suitable house and muster enough boldness). Again, the mere
liv elihoo d w o u l d a p p e a r to b e o n e of them. In other rvords, the ci r- fact that the wrong is not certain to be carried out is not enough rea-
c um s t an c e o f s c a n d a l d o e s n o t re nder the act w rong consi dered i n son of i tsel f t o per m it co- oper at ion; it is just anot her f act or t o be
abstraction from its effects and from other circumstances. But PDE taken into consideration. Fifthly, the greater the obligation to avoid
r 2P r e s e n tw i th q u a l i fi c a ti o n si n the common l aw unti l i ts abol i ti on by
statute in 1967. ' ' S eenote 8.

2t+ 215
The Ethics of Co-operation in Wrongdoing
David Oderberg

the co-operation or prevent the wrong, the greater the reason. A rel ati ve' i n the wor st , viz. philosopher 's, sense; t hat it is a m at t er
much greater reason is needed on the part of those who are duty- purely of convention or stipulation; worse' that it is arbitrary' or
bound ex officio to prevent a wrong-such as a policeman' parent or inut it is not susceptible to rational discussion and solution.
teacher-than on the part of those who are not. Again, this is com- Fortunately morality provides us with principles for even the worst
mon sense: a policeman who defends his assistance of a criminal by dilemmas, for instance that if one is in doubt one should take the
claiming that he was held at gunpoint rightly receives less sympathy safer course. which would be for instance to preserve one's moral
than an innocent bystander precisely because it is part of the police- integrity at the cost of a material loss; or that if, as between two
man's job to take on risks to life and limb in preventing crime. .o,rir"r- of action, it is impossible on all the available evidence to
So far we have spoken of the gravity of the principal wrong and decide which one to take, then one may take either'
of scaling reasons for co-operation against such factors as proximi- Having settled rationally upon a base level of seriousness for
ty, dependence and certainty. But how should we calibrate the scale goods and evils in a particular context, however, it is then much eas-
of seriousness of principal wrongs and reasons for co-operation ier to calibrate our scale with that context kept relatively stable. For
themselves? To reiterate, the calibration cannot be mathematical; it instance, having determined that the loss of a day's wages is a seri-
must incorporate other factors that are themselves susceptible only ous evil in such--and-such a context, we can then confidently assert
of judgments of degree and of relative importance that are respon- that the loss of a large proportion of one's material goods would
sive to circumstance. In general, we can Say that reasons for co- constitute a very greaievil and hence provide a very grave reason for
operation correspond in gravity with the importancq of the goods co-operati on . So would sever e, pr ot r act ed pain' unem ploym ent , or
and evils involved. The greater the good lost or evil incurred if co- gr.ui shame or indignity. Even worse would be such things as com-
disease, perpetual loss
operation is refused, the greater the reason that obtains. But what it"t. loss of one's fosition in life, incurable
and so on. And we can say that the most serious reasons
constitutes a great good as opposed to a small good? Circumstances tf lib.rty,
are provided by the most serious evils, such as pub-
will be crucial: for instance, we can plausibly say that a day's wages fo, co-operation
security, loss of life, impoverishment, the utter
is a great good for an average worker, and the loss of them a great lic safety, national
evil; but it would be only a small good for a rich person. The ques- rui n of one 's r eput at ion, and so on.
tion has to be what effect the good has in that person's life, taking Armed with a scale of goods and evils we can proportion these to
into account her work, her family commitments, her broader com- the scale of seriousness of wrongful actions co-operation with
munal obligations, her lifestyle, and so on. There is simply no way which is to be evaluated. We can start with a grave wrong by the
of saying that such-and-such an amount of money or property is or principal and move upwards, and this will indicate how to approach
is not a great good in the abstract; the loss of a day's wages by a poor *ro.rg. that are less than grave. Where the principal wrong is grave
third world farmer might be catastrophic and hence count as a very but does not involve an injustice to a third party, the reason for co-
serious evil indeed rather than just a great one. Similarly with an operation need not be as serious as when the wrong is grave and
ev il s u c h a s p a i n . T h e th re a t o f physi cal pai n l evel l ed at a brave and unjust. To take the former case first, we need to factor in both the
highly disciplined soldier if he refuses to co-operate in some infrac- di spensabi lit y or ot her wise of t he co- oper at ion and it s pr oxim it y.
tion of the rules of war will not give him as serious a reason for Immedi ate and indispensable co- oper at ion is m ost closely connect -
justified by a
offering assistance than it would a woman, a child or a sensitive, ed morally with the main wrong and so can only be
bed- r i d d e n R o m a n ti c p o e t. Wh at about the anger of an empl oyer, grave loss to self (or another, which is implicit in what follows).
or a reaction from others that puts one to shame, or the stirring up Fred may co- oper at e in t his way wit h his em ployer 's m inor decep'
of f ee l i n g s o f d i s g u s t o r g re a t sadness?A gai n, on the w hol e, and tion of a client ty, for instance, supplying information to which only
speaking quite generally, such things can plausibly be counted as he is privy, if he risks a public dressing-down by the employer if he
great evils, things that one would naturally go a fairly long way to ,efuses. N eedless t o S?Y, t he r ef usal t o co- oper at e would be
av oid . Bu t i n th e c o n te x t o f a p a rti cul ar case, taki ng i nto account al l admirable, but it would not be strictly obligatory. It should be noted
relevant circumstances, we will have to modify our judgment of just agai n that n o m at er ial co- oper at ion, not even of t he im m ediat e kind,
how serious the good or evil is in that person's life. Which is not to is the same as complicity. The accomplices share wrongful intent
say that anything goes; that the judgment is subjective or (unless one of them is labouring under fear or ignorance, which can
David Oderberg The Ethics of Co-operation in Wrongdoing

proportionally decrease responsibility for the act). The immediate would be a loss of a higher kind than that suffered by the third
material co-operator has no wrongful intent; further, an act that party, e.g. loss of health as opposed to loss of property. Yet another
would be wrong in one context, such as intentionally carrying stolen *orld be a greater loss of the same kind, such as loss of a lot of
goods to a waiting car, is indifferent or even good in another. After money as against loss of a small amount. Example: George is threat-
all, it is plausible to argue that a starving man may indeed take food ened with death if he does not hand over his employer's private
from the owner without her consent, because her will would be papers to a burglar. The basic principle is that it would be unrea-
unreasonable if she refused. Similarly, from the viewpoint of the sonable of the third party to expect someone to suffe r a greater loss
victim of harm due partly to material co-operation, one can say that so as to spare him: again, it might be heroic, but it is not obligatory.
it would be unreasonable not to allow the co-operator to act for a What if the loss to the co-operator and to the third party are the
sufficiently serious reason. same? Here the duty of charity would again oblige one in the ordi-
Co-operation which is immediate but dispensable or mediate but nary course of m or alit y ( i. e. , leaving aside her oic behaviour ) t o
indispensable would be lawful to avoid a moderate loss since neither attend to on e's own goods f ir st .
is quite so close to the principal wrong as immediate and indispens- Perhaps there is room for debate over the last point, but what is
able assistance. Example: giving drink to an alcoholic in a crowded more clear is that if the co-operation is immediate and dispensable
bar, in order to avoid a scuffle (a moderate loss), would be immediate or mediate and indispensable it would be allowed in order to avoid
but dispensable, and hence permissible. Giving the drunk the address an equal loss to self. For instance, suppose George is not threatened
of his favourite off-licence, assuming that only the co-operator knows with death if he refuses to hand over the papers, but the burglar,
or is in a position to give it (the drunk being too ill to remember), who is able after a protracted search to find the papers himself,
would be mediate but indispensable, and the same rule would apply. threatens to steal equally valuable papers from George if he is put
Note that one can (as in most of these cases)argue about how the rel- to such trouble. G eor ge's co- oper at ion would be im m ediat e and dis-
ative seriousness is assessed:is a public dressing-down by one's boss pensabl e, but allowable in or der t o avoid t he com par able loss t o
worse than a scuffle in a bar? Again, circumstances need examining, hi msel f. A n ot her exam ple: Bill int ends t o r ob a house but cannot get
but in the abstract one can say that a loss to others is not always worse there w i thout Char les's dr iving him : t he co- oper at ion is m ediat e but
than a loss to oneself. Indeed, all things being equal, natural charity indispensable. If Charles refuses, Bill will arrange for his henchmen
obliges one to attend to one's own goods before the comparable goods to rob Charles's own house, stealing items of comparable value.
of others, and hence to regard their loss as more serious for the agent Here Charles may co-operate; but if he knows that his house does
that a comparable loss to a third party. Finally, mediate and dispens- not contain anything as valuable as what Bill proposes to steal from
able co-operation is permissible even to avoid a slight loss. Example: the third party's house, his loss will not be equal and so he cannot
a butcher may sell meat to a cook who will serve it to an irresolute but co-operate even if he knows his own property will be violated.
serious vegetarian (say, one who has taken a vow not to eat meat) if Could we speak of a greater loss of a lower kind justifying Charles's
the cook can easily get the meat from another source and some prof- co-operation? It is doubtful that such a term is meaningful: differ-
it will be lost if the butcher refuses to sell it. ence of kind makes comparisons of quantity all but impossible,
When the wrong by the principal agent is grave and an injustice unl ess the lossescom par ed ar e m easur ed in pur ely subject ive t er m s.
t o a th i rd p a rty , th e re a s o n fo r co-operati on needs to be proporti on- If w e take pur ely physical pain t o be of a lower kind t han pur ely
ately greater than where no injustice is involved, but if the third mental (even such a distinction is doubtful), perhaps we can say that
party is a private person the reason need not be as great as when the a co-operator might suffer more physical pain by refusing than the
injustice is against the public good: wrongs against the public good third party would suffer mental torment: and this might justify co-
ar e w o rs e th a n a g a i n s t p ri v a te p arti es. If the co-operati on i s i mme- operati on.
diate and indispensable, one may co-operate to avoid a loss to self Fi nal l y, if co- oper at ion is neit her im m ediat e nor indispensable,
that would be worse than the loss to the third party. How do we tell i t i s j usti fi e d by t he avoidance of a loss t o oneself less t han t he loss
if it is worse? One way would be if the harm to self were more cer- to the injured third party but at least comparable to it. For exam-
tain than the harm to the third party, e.g. a certain serious loss of pl e, i f seve r al t hir d par t ies st and t o lose a lot of m oney by your co-
property as against a merely probable loss of property. Another operati ng, you m ay st ill co- oper at e t o avoid, say, t he loss of a lot of
l)avrd Uderberg
The Ethics of Co-operation in Wrongdoing

money yourself, but not to avoid a minor ticking-off for refusing to

private good. It might be argued that, as in the previous categories, co-
operation that is immediate and indispensable might be justified by
I f th e w ro n g b y th e p ri n c i p al agent i s agai nst a publ i c good but
appeal to a greater danger to public safety, which would have to be one
not against public safety, even greater reasons are necessary for co-
of degree rather than one of kind; that co-operation which is immedi-
oper a ti n g th a n th o s e a l re a dy gi ven. If the co-operati on i s
ate and dispensable or mediate and indispensable is justified by appeal
immediate and indispensable it is permitted in order to avoid a
to an equal threat to public safety; and maybe even that mediate and
gr ea te r p u b l i c e v i l (i n q u a n ti ty or ki nd), or an equal publ i c evi l pl us
dispensable co-operation is permitted to avoid a very serious loss to
a gtave loss to self. The basic principle is that certain evils may be
the co-operator or at least a very serious public evil falling short of a
tolerated for the sake of the public good, e.g. if not co-operating
threat to common safety. This is arguable, but I would submit that
with their production would lead to even worse public disturbance.
there is a strong moral intuition to the effect that when it comes to a
So for instance, suppose a large company planned to introduce a
real threat to public safety, such as wat terrorism, mass outbreak of ill-
defective (but not dangerous) product into the marketplace, and an
ness, mass environmental damage, and so on, one ought not to co-
employee responsible for quality control who wanted to blow the
operate in any way but resist, because the cost is too great. If this
whistle was told that if he denounced the plan publicly the compa-
intuition is not as commonly held as might be thought; then one can
ny would take its production overseas with the loss of thousands of
simply argue as just suggested but make a distinction between public
jobs (i n c l u d i n g p e rh a p s h i s o w n). In thi s case the empl oyee w oul d
safety in general and a supreme threat to public safety of the kind that
be permitted negatively to co-operate by not blowing the whistle.
amounts to the worst a society can suffer, such as massive loss of life
If the co-operation is immediate and dispensable or mediate and
and threats to future generations, the sort of threat that full-scale war,
indispensable, it is permitted when necessary to avoid an equal pub-
for instance, can generate. In such a case at least, the intuition is strong
lic evil or a very serious personal evil proportionate to the public
that one ought never to co-operate: the principle behind it that the
harm done. In the example just mentioned, suppose the product
individual has a fundamental civic duty to suffer any loss, including
were moderately below standard and the company could still get its
death itself, to save the state and its major institutions.
product into the market and issue a press statement mitigating the
A further point, implicit in what I have already sketched but
effect of a denunciation; then the employee could co-operate if the
worth stating explicitly, is that loss to others as well as to oneself can
alternative meant that he lost his job or the company delayed plans justify co-operation. So for instance, one may co-operate to save the
f or f u rth e r e x p a n s i o n . O r s u p p o se the empl oyee' s know l edge i f di s-
principal himself from loss, for example giving unadulterated hero-
seminated were an ineliminable obstacle to the company's plan, but
in to an addict who would otherwise die by taking an impure dose.
he could only inform the public by passing on sensitive information
One can co-operate to avoid a worse loss to the victim of the prin-
that would eventually lead to a denunciation by someone else, say a
ci pal , e.g. by assist ing in ( but not oneself per pet r at ing) an assault t o
consumer organization: the same principle would apply.
avoid a murder. Co-operation is also possible to prevent greater
F in a l l y , i f th e c o -o p e ra ti o n i s medi ate and di spensabl e, i t i s
injury to the common good as long as one is co-operating only in
per mi tte d i n o rd e r to a v o i d a g ra ve l oss to sel f w hi ch cannot be pre-
i ndi fferent m at t er s ( i. e. , not int r insically evil) . For anyone in poli-
vented except by co-operating. The 'cannot' is the cannot of moral
tics who manages to retain some principles this is of course a high-
not physical necessity. The employee might be able to prevent the
l y current a nd sensit ive issue. O ne m ay com pr om ise wit h polit ical
loss of wages, say, by resigning and taking on a less satisfying job
opponents whose policies are in general objectionable in order to
els ew h e re (a n d th e n b l o w i n g th e w hi stl e on hi s former empl oyer),
secure the passing of good laws, assuming the good to be secured
but it is doubtful whether he would be obliged to suffer that sort of
sufficiently outweighs the likely harm done by the compromise.
inconvenience if the public evil he could prevent did not amount to
What about voting for unjust laws in order to prevent the passing of
a real threat to public safety.
even worse ones? There are at least two possible ways of looking at
S u p p o s e , e v e n mo re s e ri o u s l y, that the w rong by the pri nci pal
such cases,though one needs to know the detail before being able to
agent is against the public safety-then one may not co-operate but
apply the principles with any confidence. One is to say that voting
should resist. The reason is that there is no greater good to justify
as such is indifferent and hence that the politician may seek to
the co-operation, and a fortiorz it cannot be justified by appeal to a
prevent one public evil by voting for a lesser one.
lJavrd Uderberg The Ethics of Co-operation in Wrongdoing

On the other hand, one might argue that voting for an unjust law certai nl y say t hat no such int er pr et at ion could r easonably be put on
is not morally indifferent-it is not simply putting one's name down his behaviour. and so he must have intended murder. Well and good,
on p a p e r, o r l i fti n g a fi n g e r o r sayi ng' yes' . R ather, i t i s both maki ng but not every context would allow such a conclusion, and yet in no
a statement and directly enabling legislation with practical effects to context would we wish to exculpate the decapitator from murder
be p a s s e d , e v e n i f a p e rs o n ' s v ote i s onl y one of many el ements that short of a world where, s?y, heads really could be reattached to their
have to be in place for the bill ultimately to reach the statute books. bodies without loss of life.
Further, there is the question of whether the vote will cause a harm The point is that although it is ultimately the private intention of
bey o n d th a t o f m e re s c a n d a l : i t i s common to be put i n the posi ti on the agent that determines responsibility, and although reasonable
of having to decide whether to vote for a law which the politician interpretations in the circumstances can verify that intention, the
knows will not in the end be passed, but which is part of a process natural description of an external act can conflict with both, and all
that may stymie the passing of a worse law. As was noted earlier, we can say is that in the private or internal forum the agent may be
scandal may be permitted for a good reason, but again the act that innocent, but as far as public morality is concerned he must be
causes the scandal must not itself be intrinsically wrong. One ques- treated as having acted wrongfully. Hence whatever one's private
tion to ask is: what reasonable interpretations of the actare open to intent, and whatever the circumstance, voting for an unjust law just
impartial observers? In the case mentioned above of attending the is an act that constitutes support for injustice, and so, I would sub-
funeral of a terrorist, it is quite reasonable to assume that the mit, it could not be permitted even if doing so prevented a worse
employee of the funeral parlour is simply doing his job and no injustice, and scandal were minimal, and even if the law voted for
more; but it is not reasonable to assume that he approves of were certain never to come into effect. The act would amount to the
t er r o ri s m i f h e i s w e l l k n o w n fo r hi s opposi ti on to i t. In pri vate cases explicit doing of wrong at worst, implicit formal co-operation in the
such as that, nevertheless, his views are unlikely to be well known, doi ng of wr ong at best . As t o whet her t he polit ician could adaocqt e
and reasonable people could well take him to be showing solid arity the law even if he had no intention of voting for it himself, apart
with the terrorist: hence the need to try to minimize potential from the potential charges of scandal and hypocrisy we need to
s c an d a l b y d e c l a ri n g h i s o p p o si ti on w herever possi bl e. apply the principles mentioned earlier regarding the advocacy of a
Yet politics is a very public matter, and a parliamentarian who is lesser evil.'o I would argue that the legislator could only do so if he
well known for his opposition to certain things may be thought to were advocating what was already an implicit part of the unjust law
be permitted at least to allow the scandal of voting for a law unlike- already on the table, e.g., if his fellow lawmakers planned to vote for
ly to be passed, because his act could not reasonably be interpreted a law confiscating millions of pounds from innocent people, he could
as a declaration of support for what is unjust. Nevertheless, there is advocate that they vote for the confiscation of thousands of pounds
something disquieting in the idea that one can, as it were, hide instead. But he could not advocate that they vote for a different
behind a reasonable interpretation of one's external acts in order to wrong altogether, such as the imprisonment of the innocent people
avoid the guilt that attaches to what, considered in itself, is an from whom they wished to steal. In any case he should broadcast his
intrinsic wrong. Circumstances are part of the determinant of the disapproval of their plan to the widest possible audience.
morality of an act but they are not the whole story, and the Principle
of Double Effect should not be taken to imply it has so often
been caricatured as implying-that if the motive is pure and the 5. Some further problems and cases of co-operation,
circumstances not necessarily incriminating, one can escape the
responsibility that attaches naturally to one's deliberate acts. Can a In this section I want to look at some miscellaneous matters and
m ad s c i e n ti s t re a l l y a v o i d th e c h arge of murder si mpl y by decl ari ng: further cases to help sharpen our understanding of how to apply the
didn't intend to kill him by chopping his head off, only to test my ethi cal principles of co- oper at ion. Fir st , as t o t he sale and m anuf ac-
theory that decapitated people can actually survive the loss of their ture of potentially harmful items, the general rule is that the greater
head s .' (M a y b e h e h a s b e e n readi ng some strange papers on the wrong that will be committed by the principal, the greater the
per so n a l i d e n ti ty a n d c o n c l u ded that the head i s not the most reason needed for making, repairing or selling the item. The most
im po rta n t p a rt o f th e b o d y fo r survi val .) Of course one w i l l al most r* S eeno t e 7.

222 223
Lravro LrclerDerg The Ethics of Co-operation in Wrongdoing

who, then he
serious wrongs require the most serious reasons for co-operation. cirstomershave wrongful purposesbut does not know
loss of profit'
Hence, one may not sell poison or drugs to someone contemplating can sell for the usual reasons,such as the avoidanceof
suicide or murder, except at the peril of death to oneself or another. The reasonhere is that he should not (without further
T he l e s s c e rta i n th e p ri n c i p a l ' s i ntent, the l ess seri ous the reason, presume evil on the part gf any particular person, and so the
of identity lessens the reason required to
but since the evil contemplated is of the gravest kind, lack of io*pl.t" lack of .".tuinty
that some-
certainty can only go so far in excusing co-operation. One could .o-op.rute. so if, for example,a seller of firearms knows
of tn. guns to commit a robbery, the lack
plaus i b l y s a y th a t i f th e p l a n (e.g. for murder) w ere hi ghl y l i kel y to one will probably use one
for the usual
be frustrated anyway, one need not be under threat of death oneself of knowledge of identity mean. t" .utt sell his wares
say, if the law of the land requires him to
to be allowed co-operate, but there must still be a threat of serious reasons.ltNledless to
weapons, he
loss. The more closely connected an item is with wrongful use, the .ur.y out checks as to who may or may not buy the
not require
graver must be the reason for participating in its sale, manufacture must do so; but if there is no such law, morality does
or repair. Can a corporation sell devices which are easily converted enquiries unless he has reason to suspect par-
that he make special
who might
to use for torture to a country with a bad human rights record? ticular individuals. To say that he must check routinely
Since there is potential injustice to third parties, a high likelihood of out a robbery with the_ guns he sells would be
or might not carrv
is he bound
abuse of the items, and the sale may well be indispensable (e.g. if unduly burdensome.Again, supposehe sells crowbars:
*ii.n .rntt-.rs might use a crowbar bought
the devices are specialized), the corporation could not simply plead io .r,q.rire wil\ nilly
an assault? Having said that, if the items he
loss of profits as an excuse, or even potential bankruptcy, since these from him to carry out
are not proportionate to the injustice constituted by torture (assum- sells are typicalli used to do wrong, rather_than merely frequently,
his customers'
ing we are talking about innocent victims). But suppose the devices he should -uk" lnquiries unlesshels morally certain
For example, he cannot sell poison to a total
are ordinary items with a multitude of uses, one of which could be intentions are not bad.
customert, ,uy-to that it is for medical use'
for torture if they were converted. Then they would be more strangermerely on the
remotely connected with the probable injustice and a lesser reason concerns wirether the co-operation would
Another consideration
law' You need
would suffice, such as loss of profit. Proximity is not just about be with an act violating natural law or merely positive
where in the causal chain the co-operator's act is located, but a more serious reasonto co-operate with the former than with the
whether the act in some way provides a probable instrument of latter where the two are of a comparable nature' since natural
that merely man-made law' Of course
wrongful use. For instance, the inventor of a device that is easily morality is of a higher order
law simply reflects and enforces
converted to use for torture needs a greater reason for going ahead insofar as a part[ular human
on the character of a violation of
with his invention that the seller of prison clothing to a regime noto- natural law, ,riolutirrg it takes
violation of positive law' For example, co-
rious for human rights abuses. Generally speaking, one can say that natural law as well as a
it is s e ri o u s l y w ro n g to ma k e o r sel l arti cl es w hose ordi nary use i s operating with a principal's theft requires a more serious
tax; co-operating with someone's adul-
seriously wrongful, bearing in mind that if the article can only be than as.[tirrg her to .,rud"
' can' , reason than assisting him to conceal financial
us ed w ro n g fu l l y (a g a i n , w i th th e moral use of i .e. the onl y rea- tery requiresa greater
sonable interpretation of how the object will be used in the circum- information from a spouse contrary to court order, assuming
a moral requirement as well. In addition, a
stances is to do wrong) the co-operation might well be implicitly for- disclosure is not itseli
m al.
The more a customer depends on a particular manufacturer or ,s What about knowledge by the seller that somewrongful act will be
merchant for an item of potentially wrongful use, the more serious committed, but ignorance as to u.,hich?The same considerations
identity of the offence as to lack of
t he r e a s o n fo r m a k i n g o r s e l l i ng i t. In the real w orl d co-operati on apply to lack of f,1,o*tedge of the
of th. offender. Needless to say,formal co-oper-
will rarely be absolutely indispensable, in that there are nearly kntwledge of the identity
always ways of getting around someone's refusal to assist, so all we ation in both casesis impermissible. In common law, intentional
of the offen-9e is suffi-
ation involving lack of knowledge of the identity
can say is that indispensable co-operation is such that refusal would a Maxweu ER 1140;
cient for liabili ty: DPP for I',iorthirnIreland 119781All
at least seriously hinder the carrying out of the wrongful purpose. the same would apply to lack of knowiedge
it is difficult to know whether
Further, if the seller, for instance, has knowledge that so?neof his of the offender.
cr8 The Ethics of Co-operation in Wrongdoing

les s s eri o u s re a s o n w o u l d b e n e e ded for co-operati ng w i th the and their application, but many questions require exploration that
violation of a positive law whose breach is more easily excused than there has been no room to undertake here. In particular, I would sin-
the violation of some other positive law. For example, if Michael gle out three issues. The first concerns the identification of principal
shows Norman a useful illegal parking spot, the justification for wrongs. The ethics of co-operation is in a sense independent of what
doing s o i s l e s s th a n w e re h e to s how hi m a good pl ace i l l egal l y to one takes to be the sort of action with which assistance is morally
dump toxic waste, since the former is more easily excused than the questionable. One might go so far as to say that it is wholly topic-
latter. (What if Norman has no excuse for parking illegally, and neutral, and so should be employed by all moral theorists who at
M ic hael k n o w s th i s ? T h e n th e o r di nary reason for co-operati on, Ieast recognize that some actions are wrong, including those who
such as grave loss to self, would suffice: the comparison between reject the idea of intrinsic wrongness or evil broadly construed. On
par k ing a n d d u m p i n g i s n o mo re than that, vi z. a compari son; the other hand, the ethics of co-operation is obviously parasitic upon
es t ablis h i n g i n tri n s i c g ro u n d s fo r co-operati on i s a separate matter.) an adequate grasp of right and wrong: that is to say, if we want to
A s f ar a s th e c o -o p e ra ti o n o f e m pl oyees and subordi nates i s con- apply the principles correctly in order to reach true judgments about
cerned, we can also make a few observations. Merely keeping how to act, we have to identify what is genuinely right and wrong.
records, for instance, is morally indifferent, but helping to cover up Here moral theorists are in notorious-dare one Say scandalo
fraud would normally make the employee a formal co-operator, disagreement, and so it must be asserted that the correct ethics of co-
ex plic it i f th e e m p l o y e e s h a re s th e pri nci pal ' s fraudul ent i ntent, operation depends crucially on an adequate theory of the good.
implicit if he is motivated by, say, pity or loyalty. If the co-opera- Secondly, the ethics of co-operation depends on a correct theory
t ion is r e mo te a n d d i s p e n s a b l e , th e mere fact that one i s empl oyed of i ntenti o n and act ion. Wit hout t he concept ual r esour ces t o indi-
by t he p ri n c i p a l w i l l e x c u s e , b e c a u se empl oyees are not expected to viduate thssg-lyhich in turn depends on the metaphysics of
go about questioning their employer as to the reason for every mind-the ethics of co-operation breaks down in its early phases, as
instruction. Employees are not responsible for their employer's does the Principle of Double Effect on which it depends.
intentions but merely for the performance of what is assigned to Specifically, if we are to be able to single out initial acts of co-
them. If, however, co-operation is proximate, the mere fact that one operators for the purpose of characterizing them as good, bad, or
is employed is not sufficient excuse: there must be some other rea- indifferent, we must be able to give a convincing account of horv
s on jus t i fy i n g th e a s s i s ta n c e a n d proporti onate to the w rong this singling out is done. Here it is difficult to see how anything
planned. For instance, ?o employee could justifiably drive his other than a strongly realist theory of intention can suffice.'o
employer to a place in which he will carry out a fraudulent transac- Thirdly, further work needs to be done on concepts such as prox-
tion if he is under threat to life and limb. Nevertheless, the easier it imity and dispensability of co-operation in order to see how precise
is t o r ef u s e , th e l e s s e x c u s a b l e i t i s to co-operate: e.g., i t mi ght be they can be made without falling into spurious characterizations that
easier for a pupil to refuse a teacher's request for help in concealing i l l egi ti mately par t ake of m at hem at ical or quasi- m at hem at ical
bad beha v i o u r a t th e s c h o o l th a n fo r a tradesman empl oyed by the approaches. As I have claimed, such concepts and the distinctions
s c hool. O n th e o th e r h a n d , i n s ome ci rcumstances co-operati on built on them are not reducible to mathematical formulae, and do
m ight be m o re e x c u s a b l e o n th e p art of a natural subordi nate than commend themselves to our intuitions as to how actions receive their
an em plo y e e , s i n c e th e fo rm e r m i ght fi nd i t harder to escape the moral flavour. They are generally workable as they stand, but there
aut hor it y fi g u re ' s i n fl u e n c e : fo r i n stance, a chi l d mi ght be depen- is no doubt that hard casesstretch them to the limit in the absence of
dent upo n a ty ra n n i c a l p a re n t a n d so unabl e to avoi d co-operati ng further precision. Like the Principle of Double Effect itself, such
because incapable of, say, running away from home if the parent noti ons are , I claim , non- negot iable; but our under st anding of t hem
as k s f or c o -o p e ra ti o n i n a s e ri o u s wrong. may only grow incrementally, and this will depend at least in part on
the sort of prudent and sensitive judgment of which modern moral
philosophy, unfortunately, is in such great need.
6. Conclusion

W e hav e s e e n th a t th e e th i c s o f co-operati on i s a compl ex and 16 For a defence of realism about intention, see Moral Theory, pp-
subtle area of moral theory. I have merely sketched the principles 1,10-26.
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