Moderate Deontology Requires Thinking That the Fact That Some Action Causes Other People to Do Wrong Things Sometimes Counts in Favor of It
This implication seems implausible
Moderate deontology holds that one should violate rights if the stakes are high enough, but that one shouldn’t merely to produce slightly better outcomes. For example, it holds that it would be wrong to kill one to save five, but perhaps it would be right to kill one to save 50,000. Suppose that the moderate deontologist sets the threshold at which one should kill one person at 100. Thus, they think that you should kill one person to prevent any number of deaths over 100.
Suppose that there are three rings of people—the first ring has one person, the second has 12 people, and the third has 144 people. Each person in each circle is paired off with 12 of the people in the circle outside of them. Thus, the person in the first circle is paired with all 12 of the people in circle 2, and each of the 12 people in circle two is paired off with 12 of the people in circle 3.
The person in circle one is given two options—the first option would be killing someone, the second one is passing the buck. Passing the buck involves doing nothing, which automatically, after five minutes, gives the twelve people with whom they’re paired the same options they were given. Thus, if the person in circle one passes the buck, the people in circle two would have the choice of whether to pass the buck to the people in circle 3 or to kill someone. If the people in circles one and two pass the buck, the people in circle 3 would have to kill someone. Or we could stipulate that the people in circle 3 are sadistic murderers—it doesn’t matter at all for the argument.
The person in circle one is deciding whether to pass the buck. Well, given that the threshold is 100, they should pass the buck only if doing so will cause fewer than 100 deaths, given that the alternative is them directly killing someone. But it will cause fewer than 100 deaths only if a large enough number of the people in circle two will kill rather than passing the buck. Thus, passing the buck is permissible only if it will cause—cause is used counterfactually here—the people in circle 2 to kill rather than pass the buck.
But the people in circle 2 shouldn’t kill—they should pass the buck. In this case, they’re deciding quite directly between them killing one person or doing nothing and having fourteen people die. Given that 14 is less than the threshold of 100, the people in circle 2 should pass the buck rather than killing. Thus, the action of passing the buck for the person in circle one is right only if it causes the person in circle 2 to do the wrong thing. This means that the fact that it causes people to do the wrong thing counts in favor of it.
But this is implausible. It shouldn’t favor acts that they make others do the wrong thing. You shouldn’t hope that your acts cause others to do wrong things.