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Geoff Holtzman

This is really interesting, John!

And I rather agree that knowledge of what a criminal principal is trying to do is not sufficient to establish criminal intent to aid and abet. I see no reason that philosophers should either, regardless of their views on the relevant issues in X-Phi.

I think that the simplest way to put this view—thought this phrasing will probably not be satisfactory to most readers of this blog—is that aiding and abetting criminal behavior is as a general rule a means to an end, where that end is criminal. On this view, driving someone to a robbery as a means to facilitate that robbery is a manifestation of intent, but driving someone to a robbery in an effort to forestall that robbery is not. In the latter case, facilitation of the robbery is an unfortunate side effect, not an (intended, primary) end.

This stark line I draw between side effects and primary, intended consequences might raise hackles among philosophers, as “side effect” has picked up a rather unusual connotation in philosophy over the past decade. Philosophers now use “side effect” to refer to any kind of event caused by an act that does not mediate the desired outcome of that act, whereas in ordinary language, a side-effect is an unintended and secondary result—it is not at bottom resultant of the action toward the desired end and not primary effects of behavior. I think this new philosophical connotation is rather disingenuous, since knowingly harming the environment is only a (“secondary,” “unintended”) “side-effect” of enacting a particular money-making strategy in the same sense that killing 200,000 Japanese is a (“secondary,” “unintentional”) “side-effect” of enacting a particular war-ending strategy. On the other hand, we can genuinely say that facilitating a robbery is not the intended result of an attempt to forestall a robbery, not is it a primary result (it is caused by driving, not by forestalling, and so is secondary).

That said, we could think of this in a different way if we want to do away with side-effect language altogether, which might be for the best: A driver is taking a gamble on directly competing prospects. One of these is a low-probability, high-payout prospect of helping bank X (preventing bank X from being robbed), and the other is a high-probability, low-payout of harming bank X (making it marginally more likely or slightly easier for bank X to get robbed). Because these are directly countervailing, it makes sense that full intent for either might be questioned. This is completely different from “side-effect effect” cases in philosophy, where company X is benefitting, and rainforest Y is losing out; there is no wager in good faith.

Do you have thoughts on that? I've mapped my second, X-Phi-neutral understanding of the case below.

Drive---->Harm A (facilitate robbery)
Help A (prevent robbery)

Enact the CEO’s plan----->Harm A (hurt the environment)
Help B (pad the company’s coffers)


Turns out SCOTUS has been down this road a few times before! A couple of references:

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