Wrongdoing

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Why Is Virtual Wrongdoing Morally Disquieting, Insofar As It Is?

This essay was the winning entry in the undergraduate category of the 6th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Written by University of Oxford student, Eric Sheng.

In the computer game Red Dead Redemption 2 (henceforward, RDR2), players control a character in a virtual world. Among the characters represented by computer graphics but not controlled by a real-world player are suffragettes. Controversy arose when it became known that some players used their characters to torture or kill suffragettes. (One player’s character, for example, feeds a suffragette to an alligator.) In this essay, I seek to explain the moral disquiet ­– the intuition that things are awry from the moral perspective – that the players’ actions (call them, for short, ‘assaulting suffragettes’) provoke. The explanation will be an exercise in ‘moral psychology, philosophical not psychological’:[1] I seek not to causally explain our disquiet through the science of human nature, but to explain why things are indeed awry, and thus justify our disquiet.

My intention in posing the question in this way is to leave open the possibilities that our disquiet is justified although the players’ actions are not wrong, or that it’s justified but not principally by the wrongness of the players’ actions. These possibilities are neglected by previous discussions of virtual wrongdoing that ask: is this or that kind of virtual wrongdoing wrong? Indeed, I argue that some common arguments for the wrongness of virtual wrongdoing do not succeed in explaining our disquiet, and sketch a more plausible account of why virtual wrongdoing is morally disquieting insofar as it is, which invokes not the wrongness of the players’ actions but what these actions reveal about the players. By ‘virtual wrongdoing’ I mean an action by a player in the real world that intentionally brings about an action φV by a character in a virtual world V such that φV is wrong-in-V; and the criteria for evaluating an action’s wrongness-in-V are the same as those for evaluating an action’s wrongness in the real world.[2] Continue reading

Wrongdoing and the Harm it Causes

One of the arguments against military humanitarian intervention (or wars or invasions justified on similar grounds, viz., averting harm) is that given how much such actions cost, those resources could be better used to alleviate more harm elsewhere. Against such arguments it could be suggested that humanitarian intervention stops wrongdoing and so, while we might be able to alleviate more harm elsewhere, the fact that the harm is the result of wrongdoing makes it more important. Such arguments are something I’ve been discussing with people over the past week so thought I may set them out here.

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