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Accountability and Intervening Agency: An Asymmetry between Upstream and Downstream Actors


Suppose someone (P1) does something that is wrongful only in virtue of the risk that it will enable another person (P2) to commit a wrongdoing. Suppose further that P1’s conduct does indeed turn out to enable P2’s wrongdoing. The resulting wrong is agentially mediated: P1 is an enabling agent and P2 is an intervening agent. Whereas the literature on intervening agency focuses on whether P2’s status as an intervening agent makes P1’s conduct less bad, I turn this issue on its head by investigating whether P1’s status as an enabling agent makes P2’s conduct more bad. I argue that it does: P2 wrongs not just the victims of φ but P1 as well, by acting in a way that wrongfully makes P1 accountable for φ. This has serious implications for compensatory and defensive liability in cases of agentially mediated wrongs.

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Sanford Kadish , ‘Complicity, Cause and Blame’, California Law Review 73 (1985), pp. 323410

Michael Zimmerman , ‘Intervening Agents and Moral Responsibility’, The Philosophical Quarterly 35 (1985), pp. 347–58

Heidi Hurd , ‘Is it Wrong to Do Right When Others Do Wrong?’, Legal Theory 7 (2001), pp. 307–40

Michael S. Moore ( M. S. Moore , Causation and Responsibility (New York 2009)

Michael S. Moore , ‘The Metaphysics of Causal Intervention’, California Law Review 88 (2000), pp. 827–78

Jeff McMahan , ‘The Basis of Moral Liability to Defensive Killing’, Philosophical Issues 15 (2005), pp. 386405

McMahan , Killing in War (New York, 2009)

Thomas Nagel , ‘The Value of Inviolability’, Morality and Self-Interest, ed. Paul Bloomfield (Oxford, 2007), pp. 102–16, at 108

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  • ISSN: 0953-8208
  • EISSN: 1741-6183
  • URL: /core/journals/utilitas
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