This chapter reflects on the nature and limitations of ethics.
This chapter introduces some basic ethic principles.
Formalizing the World
This chapter defines terms to talk about the world.
This chapter enumerates the damages that shall be avoided.
This chapter tells what to do in case a damage occurred.
This chapter lists the issues that are not covered by the present essay.
This chapter lists the changes that this essay underwent.
# General Thoughts
# BackgroundI have no education in law or philosophy. Hence the following thoughts are purely personal attitudes. Since I grew up in Western Europe, the values proposed here are influenced by a Western model of ethics, based on the ideas of secularism, Humanism, and the Enlightenment.
Ethical norms are highly disputable and by no means universal. Behaviors respected by one society may be rejected as amoral by another. Even people within the same society may have different attitudes concerning the moral acceptability of a certain behavior. This entails that the ideas presented here are only one particular view on ethics, which is open to debate. The subject of ethics also changes with the time. New inventions (such as the Internet or cloning) may require new laws. Therefore, this essay presents only a snapshot of ethics at the current point of time.
The ideas of this essay are presented in natural language. It is well known that natural language leaves much room for ambiguity and interpretation. Although this essay tries to define its notions in an exact way, it cannot avoid depending on a good-natured and thoughtful reader. Even though all thoughts in this essay apply to both men and women, this essay will use the male form of pronouns for simplicity. This is maybe pardonable, given that this essay is mostly about perpetrators.
This essay defines notions that may already have a slightly different meaning in everyday language or jurisdiction. Hence all notions defined here are to be considered local to this document. Assume the suffix “... in the sense of this essay” attached to all notions defined here.
This essay takes a liberal stance on ethics. This means that this essay will consider immoral only those behaviors that are so bad that we want to punish them. This, however, is only a baseline for human behavior. Following these guidelines alone does not make you a friendly person, a respectable member of society, a good parent, or a good friend.
# Ethical Standards
# Ethics and NatureThe study of “right” and “wrong” is called “Ethics”. There are numerous approaches to define the concept of ethical behavior. One common approach is to declare something “right” if it is somehow “natural” — and “wrong” if it is not. It is difficult to define “natural” here. If “natural” means what the speaker considers reasonable, then morality would be purely subjective. Since different people consider different things natural, the result would be anarchy. By “natural”, one can also mean “something that appears in nature”. Unfortunately, nature is a difficult guide. Humans do many things that do not happen in non-human nature (such as riding a bicycle or brushing their teeth). Still, these things are morally acceptable. Worse, animals do many things that humans would not consider moral. Cats torture their prey apparently for fun, some spider species eat their mates and lions routinely kill the baby lions when they take over a harem. Thus, a behavior is not necessarily morally acceptable if it appears in nature. This shows that nature cannot be taken as a guide in matters of ethics.
# Perpetrator’s JusticeOne of the most catchy ethical principles is the principle of reciprocal ethics, “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man”. It is mirrored by the biblical instruction to “love your neighbor as yourself”. Unfortunately, this principle places the assessment of a deed entirely in the hands of the perpetrator. For example, someone who supports communism will be allowed to take your bike — simply because in his eyes the concept of individual property does not exist and he would have no problem if you took his bike. You might beg to differ. Thus, we cannot leave the moral judgement of a deed to the perpetrator. This would entail a world of “perpetrator’s justice”.
The same applies to Kant’s Categorical Imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”. With this, a communist will happily start redistributing people’s property, because this is his vision of the universal law. Proponents of the death penalty will start executing convicted murderers, because in their universal law, the death penalty is the punishment for capital crimes. Opponents of the death penalty will start imprisoning the proponents, because they are murderers in their view. It becomes clear that for every law that someone considers universal there will be someone else who thinks it is not. In summary, the Categorical Imperative tells us to behave reasonably, but it does not tell us what “reasonable” is.
# Victim’s JusticeAn alternative is to judge a behavior as “wrong” if it makes somebody suffer. However, taking the victim’s suffering as a proof of wrong conduct leads to the problem of “victim’s justice”. Take the following example:
# Existing NormsIn order to avoid perpetrator’s justice and victim’s justice, we have to define bad behavior independently of the opinions of the people involved. Such a definition of bad behavior is called a “norm”. A well-known example for norms are for instance the Ten Commandments. One might argue that they already provide a reasonable guidance and that no further discussion of norms is necessary. However, if we take a Humanist view point, the Ten Commandments are not sufficient, on the contrary. First, they prescribe monotheism, which we may not impose on everybody. Second, they fail to prohibit such essential things as the deprivation of personal freedom. That is, they do not prohibit kidnapping somebody. Thus, the Ten Commandments allow something we want to prohibit (kidnapping) and prohibit something we want to allow (polytheism or atheism).
The national law of different countries may be a valuable alternative. However, these systems are seldom applicable in everyday life, because they do not coincide with our intuition of “right” and “wrong”. Here are some examples:
- Lying is morally wrong, but not punished by law.
- Breaking a speed limit is not morally wrong, but punished by law.
- Stealing is wrong, but not necessarily punished. For stealing a car, you go to jail, for stealing a pencil, you merely get into trouble with the owner.
# The Nature of NormsThe moral quality of a behavior is not an intrinsic property of the behavior itself. We cannot say that a certain behavior is objectively morally wrong. Such a statement would be unfalsifiable. We can only say that certain people find certain actions morally wrong. Hence, for this essay, a norm is a moral valuation that a person, a document, or an authority gives to a behavior. For example, a norm is:
Typically, norms come in the form of a whole package of norms. These can be national laws, religious books, or philosophical frameworks. Such packages list behaviors that the author of the norms labels as morally wrong. Usually, the document itself is seen as an abstract entity that labels the behavior as wrong. For example, the national civil law will state that the law (as an abstract entity) condemns theft. Analogously, the present essay will say that “This essay labels theft as morally wrong”. Thus, technically speaking, the essay is an entity that attaches moral labels to behaviors. I discuss logical and philosophical properties of norms in Thoughts on Rationality / Properties of Moral Frameworks.
Norms are a human artifact, a personal view on behavior. Hence, a behavior is never “wrong” by itself. It can only be “wrong” with respect to a given norm. It is impossible to judge a behavior as wrong without naming the norm. Hence, in order to reach a common judgement, one first needs to agree on a common norm. Unfortunately, in everyday disputes, the norms are often not clear, let alone agreed on.
Since norms are labels that people attach to behaviors, they are necessarily subjective. Different people (or different documents) can attach different labels to the same behavior. This is indeed what we observe: In some countries, the death penalty is in force. In other countries, the death penalty is shunned. In some countries, people cannot marry people of other religions. In other countries, people are free to marry whom they wish. The same is true across time: Slavery, for example, was socially accepted during centuries. Today, the norm is that slavery is shunned. I discuss this variation in detail in The Atheist Bible / Chapter on Morality / Diversity in Laws.
Since something is never right or wrong by itself, a norm can never be right or wrong by itself either. Hence, it cannot be said whether one norm is better than another norm. No norm is “better” than another norm. Existing norms are nothing more than an arbitrary consensus by people. The only way in which a norm can be compared to another norm is by judging it with respect to a reference norm. For example, we can judge a national law with respect to the Human Rights. We can say that one country has “better” laws with respect to the Human Rights than another country. However, the choice of the Human Rights as a yardstick is in itself arbitrary. Humans create norms, and humans enforce, change, follow, break, or abandon norms.
This essay, too, is an arbitrary definition of labels. It is not “better” than other norms. It aims to be “right” with respect to the consciences of people in the Western world, and with respect to the ideals of Humanism. I elaborate on Humanism in The Atheist Bible / Chapter on Atheism / Humanism
# Implementation of NormsWe see norms as moral labels for behaviors. However, this does not explain why people should obey a norm. People may learn that a norm labels a certain behavior as wrong, but there is no reason why people should then avoid that behavior. We can argue that violating norms causes harm to the victim. However, it is not clear why harm should necessarily be avoided — as long as it is harm to somebody else. We can also argue that norms are the only means to guarantee maximal welfare to all people. However, it is not clear why maximal welfare for all people should be desirable. A society with slaves, for example, will guarantee even greater welfare for the people (except for the slaves). We can also argue that violating a norm will cause harm to the perpetrator, e.g. in form of punishment, revenge, the danger of becoming a victim himself, or in form of burning in hell. However, in principle, nothing prevents a perpetrator from breaking a norm, if he does not fear the consequences. This shows that norms are at most conventions, which have no compulsory foundation in logic or nature.
Norms come into existence if someone defines them. This is done mostly by writing them up. The creators of the criminal law, for example, gathered and produced a document that contains norms. Such a package of norms comes into effect if people vow to adhere to it. For example, the government of the country decides that from now on, it wishes to enforce its criminal law, and to use its jurisdiction and executive power to prosecute people who behave morally wrong according to this law. This does not make the law “true” or “right” in any sense. It just means that the law is enforced.
# Reasons for NormsWe have seen that norms cannot be derived from nature. This leaves us to wonder where norms come from. From a religious point of view, there could be two answers: One answer is that God gave us the norms in form of a holy book. But that would assume that people before the revelation of that book did not have any morals. That is wrong. Babylonian and Sumerian laws, e.g., date from the year 2000 BCE. These law systems predate the major world religions by several hundred if not thousands of years. The laws codified family laws, punishments, property laws, leasing, debt, warranty, and the presumption of innocence [Wikipedia / Ancient legal codes].
Alternatively, we could argue that God gave humans the divine moral understanding (The Atheist Bible / Chapter on Morality / God gives us the rules). However, moral standards are not absolute. They change over time. Slavery, e.g., was widely regarded as normal in the Medieval Ages. Nowadays, it is shunned, and considered immoral even in retrospect. Polygamy is illegal in Christian countries, but legal in some Muslim ones. The death penalty is upheld in some countries, but regarded as immoral by the others. This defies the idea that moral standards would be absolute and divine.
Still, basic ethic behavior might have a foundation in evolution, as I elaborate in The Atheist Bible / Chapter on Morality / Section on Pacts: At first glance, norms are just a restriction of personal liberty. Throughout the evolution of mankind, however, it turned out that societies that did not have norms were much less successful than societies that did. The restriction of personal liberty is outweighted quickly by the gains in security and trust, which in turn facilitate survival, co-operation, and task sharing. These benefits, to be sure, do not come immediately to the individual who decides to behave morally. But if all members of a group obey certain norms, they create a stable social environment, which ultimately benefits everybody. A stable social environment promotes the survival of the group and ensures procreation. Hence, groups that had a concept of ethics had an evolutionary advantage over groups that did not. This might be the reason why humans today seem to have some built-in basic sense of justice or at least empathy. This sense of empathy is surely not evenly distributed. But most people abhor violence and most people feel compassion if they see somebody suffering.
This built-in rudimentary sense of empathy is combined with a more pragmatic reason for ethics: The majority of people in a society do not wish to live in a lawless environment. The dangers, the cost for protection, the cost for missing trust, and the inconveniences are too large. Therefore, most people desire that there be rules by which everybody plays. Hence, societies give themselves rules. This applies to small societies (such as clubs, families, or even Mafia gangs) as well as to large societies (such as countries or the world). People define norms and decide to enforce them, because otherwise their lives would be too insecure.
# Using NormsNorms can label certain behaviors as morally wrong. However, norms cannot enforce themselves. They cannot prevent a person from behaving in a certain way if the person does not care about the norm. This entails that a norm, however thoughtful, is useless if nobody enforces it.
Furthermore, norms, however perfect, cannot do away with the need for interpretation. We still need people to judge whether a certain circumstance of the real world falls under a definition of a norm. The essay tries to make its definitions precise, but still has to rely on a benevolent mapping of the real world to its technical terms.
New inventions may also make new laws necessary. For example, computer technology allows data to be copied effortlessly. This means that we have to protect intellectual property much better than it was necessary when the only means of data exchange was printed books. New developments, such as cloning, 3D printing, and genetic engineering, will require updates of our norms. This essay also undergoes such changes. They are listed in the change log.
All of these considerations show us that the study of ethics — much more than the study of mathematics, for example — is a highly contingent enterprise. In spite of this, mankind benefits a lot from moral standards.
# General Ethics
# Maxim of MoralThe leading norm throughout this essay is what I would like to call the Maxim of Moral: damage and a “retrospective” part aimed at making up for actual damages. The following chapters will define the notion of damage and show how the maxim can be implemented in reality.
This essay builds its terms on the notion of damage, i.e., the ground terms of this essay are negative notions like “Theft” and “Injury”. Alternatively, it is possible to build law on the notion of “legal goods” (“Rechtsgüter” in German Law). Legal goods are positive values like “Property” and “Health”. Damage would then be defined as a reduction of these values. Some offenses can be described easily in terms of legal goods: theft, e.g., is a reduction of property. Others, however cannot: it is difficult to see what legal good is reduced by lying. Hence, this essay uses the notion of damage instead of on the notion of legal goods.
# Misconceptions about OffensesFrom the point of view of the Maxim of Moral, there are a number of common misconceptions about offenses:
- # An offense can be resolved by retaliation.
- Obviously, this is wrong. About the only effect of retaliation is that the amount of damage in this world increases.
- # If you don’t get punished, your behavior is morally acceptable.
- Again, this is incorrect. A deed is wrong if it causes damage to a victim, no matter whether it is punished or not. In fact, it is deplorable that some bad deeds do not get punished.
- # If somebody is just doing his job, his behavior is morally acceptable.
- The fact that somebody gets paid for something does not mean that what he is doing is morally justified. A Mafia gang member also just does his job.
- # If it brings me a disadvantage, it must be morally wrong.
- As we have seen in the discussion about victim’s justice, this is not true: If we own a butcher’s shop and someone opens another butcher’s shop next door, then this is a disadvantage to us, but still morally perfectly OK.
- # If I have the means, I have the right.
- This is wrong. We have the means to scratch a car with a key, yet that doesn’t make it right.
- # If they let me do it, I can do it.
- Again, this is wrong. We cannot prevent everybody from doing bad things. People are responsible for their own behavior.
- # I am poor, so I have to steal and lie.
- Survival can indeed justify some deeds. However, it cannot justify all of them. If we accept that poverty justifies theft, we can never eradicate poverty.
- # If nothing physical gets broken, it’s OK.
- Quite a number of offenses are non-physical, for example lying, extortion, intellectual property crimes, privacy violation, or insult. It may even be an offense to do nothing (denial of assistance).
- # If nobody notices it, it’s OK.
- Paradoxically, something can be wrong even if nobody notices it. If, e.g., a spouse cheats their partner with another person, then we want to condemn it — even if the partner does not notice.
- # People are bad to me, so I can be bad to them.
- Such thinking only reinforces the wickedness in this world. Nothing entitles people to commit an offense.
- # There are so many bad things in this world that we should not try to resolve each of them.
- It is actually vice versa: There are so many bad things in this world because we not try to resolve each of them. Every single bad thing that gets resolved is a step ahead — no matter how many more there are.
- # An offense that has happened in the past belongs to the past and hence we should not talk about it.
- This is wrong. Talking about an offense can warn other people — both those who are tempted to commit it and those who are likely to fall prey to it. Hence, talking is useful.
- # We should not deal with internal matters of a family/relationship/nation etc.
- An offense that happens inside a social structure is not any better than an offense that happens outside the structure or across its boundaries. Calling it an “internal matter” is just a weak excuse for not dealing with it.
- # A thief may not accuse somebody else of theft.
- This essay is of the opinion that every single contribution to justice is valuable — including the contribution of somebody who has stolen something.
- # Others do wrong things, therefore I can as well.
- One bad deed cannot justify another one. All bad deeds should be prevented or compensated, no matter who committed them.
- # If he did something bad to me, then I may do something bad to him.
- Since this principle can be iterated, it is a recipe for conflict. If he did something bad to you, that bad deed shall be repaired and not repeated.
- # If it is done for religious reasons, it’s OK.
- This is wrong, because the victim of an offense suffers no matter with what intention the offense was committed. Religion may not be used as an excuse, and does not free people from their responsibility.
- # Only the victim may blame the perpetrator.
- If justice is the goal, then everybody should work towards it. There is no reason why third parties should be forbidden to contribute to the solution of a conflict.
- # Moral rules are useful, but have to be broken from time to time.
- If the rules are well-designed, they also regulate exceptions to themselves. For example, most legal systems allow for self-defense. Self-defense is not outside the rules, but part of it.
# Principles of this EssayBesides the Maxim of Moral, this essay relies on the following principles:
- Fundamental principles
- # Harm Principle
- Damage is the central notion of this essay. Anything that does not cause damage is allowed. In particular, there is no thoughtcrime.
- # Causality Principle
- A person can only be held responsible for a damage, if that person caused that damage. Unrelated people cannot be held responsible.
- # Equality Principle
- Everybody has the same rights and duties under this law. Laws can be made only on the basis of behavior, and not on the basis of race, gender, religion, or world view (even if a certain behavior may coincide with a certain world view).
- # Openness to change
- The advances in culture and technology may make us change our concepts of morality (see discussion about the Use of Norms). Hence, this essay acknowledges that we may have to add new laws, abandon old laws, or change existing laws. A change log lists the changes implemented so far in this essay.
- # Principle of Personal Responsibility
- Everybody is responsible for his own actions and its consequences. This is the basic assumption of law. It is commonly agreed that mentally ill people and children shall be exceptions to this rule.
- # Principle of Universal Responsibility
- In the spirit of the Maxim of Moral, everybody is obliged to prevent damage whenever this can be reasonably imposed. This holds regardless of whether one is directly involved in the damage or not.
- # Principle of Proximity
- The agent who could have avoided the damage most easily shares the largest part of the responsibility.
- # Dixit-Principle
- People have to assume full responsibility for the truth of their statements. If somebody makes a false statement with appropriate seriousness, he has to compensate those who believed in it (see lying). Thus, we have the right to act as if these statements were true. In particular, we have the right to take any permission and any waiver as well as any promise or desire or threat for true. Not only does this principle simplify life considerably, it also forms the basis of social trust.
- # Erring on the side of liberty
- The Maxim of Moral, and in fact this entire essay, depends on how we define damage. Can a conservative family father say that a homosexual couple kissing causes him emotional harm? In such questions, this essay errs on the side of liberty: Only substantial encroachments will be recognized as damage.
- # Intentions are secondary
- In criminal law, the intention of the perpetrator is crucial to distinguish negligence from malevolence. In everyday life, however, it is difficult to prove whether somebody did something with the intent to harm or not. This is why this essay is based principally on people’s observable behavior. There is, however, a way to take into account the perpetrator’s intention in the penalty.
- # No excuse for religion
- Some people justify their behavior by their religious beliefs. This essay grants everyone the right to believe whatever they wish (through the Harm Principle). However, it does not admit religious conviction as an excuse for an offense. A damage remains a damage, no matter whether it was done out of religious conviction or not. If we allow damage to be done in the name of religion, then everyone could just found a religion that justifies his behaviors. Religion does not free people from their personal responsibility.
- Protecting the Victim
- # The rights of the victim override the rights of the perpetrator
- This essay concentrates on the victims of offenses. This entails that when the rights of the victim and the rights of the perpetrator conflict, preference is mostly given to the rights of the victim. One consequence is that an offense may be prevented by force even if the perpetrator suffers more from the prevention than the victim would have suffered from the offense.
- # Principle of Self-Ownership
- This essay considers it a personal right to do whatever you please, as long as no damage to outsiders is done. This includes doing damage to yourself. Thus, everybody has the right to inflict damage to themselves. This does not apply if the victim cannot grasp the consequences of their deed, as, e.g., in the case of children.
- Protecting the Perpetrator
- # Volenti non fit iniuria
- That is, we will not care about an offense if the victim agrees with it. The goal of this essay is preventing undesired harm. If the harm is desired, there is no need to intervene.
- # No Sulking
- The principle of “Volenti non fit iniuria” also extends to cases where the victim does not show interest in resolving an offense. If the victim does not co-operate in finding the perpetrator or in clarifying the circumstances, it may be assumed that the victim agrees with the offense. Hence no further action is required.
- # No Silent Suffering
- If a victim is currently suffering from a damage and he knows that the perpetrator is unaware of the damage he is causing, the victim has to report the damage to the perpetrator. Otherwise, the victim would be suffering needlessly.
- # If you cannot do something, you don’t have to
- Moral duties cannot impose something that cannot be done. For example, if you do not know about an offense, you cannot be obliged to provide assistance. Thus, when you always do your best, you can be sure you are unassailable.
- # There must always be a way to apologize
- People err and people make mistakes. Hence there must be a way for a perpetrator to clear his guilt. If the perpetrator shows serious regret and makes up for the damage, he will be free of guilt. This does not cleanse his history and maybe it does not restore confidence in him, but it erases all further claims against him.
- # You own what you see
- People have the right to record whatever happens in their lives. They may not be allowed to share it, but they can record it. This does not apply to unlawfully obtained information.
- Handling Offenses
- # Audiatur et altera pars
- Reality is non-monotonous: A discovery of a new fact may challenge previous beliefs. This is why a dispute may not be decided by hearing only one party, but requires hearing all involved parties.
- # Principle of Modularity
- The Principle of Modularity says that the victim of an offense can always demand compensation from the direct originator of that offense — no matter whether the originator can blame somebody else for his behavior. For instance, assume that Alonso lends his bicycle to Bertram. Unfortunately, Bertram has it stolen by Cedrick. Then, by the principle of modularity, Alonso can claim direct compensation from Bertram. In a separate case, Bertram can demand compensation from Cedrick. This compensation will cover both the bicycle itself and all additional efforts Bertram had to make to compensate Alonso. This two-step process establishes a certain modularity: It ensures that the victim of an offense can always turn to the direct perpetrator for compensation. The victim does not need to care for the perpetrator’s reasons or for the legality of these reasons.
- # Material Principle
- The Material Principle says that guilt can be expressed in terms of money. Although this is certainly close to impossible for some offenses (such as murder), it seems to be the only way towards an objective judgement. Thus, we have to assume that guilt can be quantified.
- # Claim of Exclusiveness
- This essay binds the conventional, inter-personal notion of “guilt” to its own, technical, quantified notion of guilt. That is, if this essay declares a person free of guilt, the person shall also be free of guilt in the conventional sense: He shall have a clear conscience and people shall not blame him.
The goal of applicability in everyday life entails that this essay does not rely on a central institution (like a government). The procedures described here can be (and should be) carried out by any individual.
# ResolutionsThis essay proposes the following procedure after an offense:
- The perpetrator has to make up for the damage he caused.
- This effort (the “compensation”) shall restore the state before the damage.
- The perpetrator has to apologize.
- According to the Material Principle this apology can be a financial amount paid to the victim. The apology is tailored to the victim. The idea is that the very fact of being a victim to an offense shall also be compensated by the perpetrator. Imagine someone steals a bicycle. It is not sufficient if he gives back the bicycle after one year. Rather, he has to compensate the very fact of stealing the bicycle.
- The perpetrator has to make an effort for the community (the “penalty”).
- The penalty shall prevent him from committing the offense again. This effort is related to the penalty in criminal law.
# The PenaltyOne could argue that the compensation and the apology are enough to make up for a bad deed. And yet, we need the penalty to avoid the problem of the “rich slave”:
# Basic FormulaIn summary, the basic formula is: Compensation for the damage, apology for the victim, penalty for the perpetrator. This formula also applies to minor offenses: It is important that the perpetrator makes up for the damage, he shall apologize, and he shall make sure that the offense will not happen again. An apology that does not make up for the damage, or that does not ensure that the offense will not happen again is worthless. Likewise, a compensation without an apology, and without the guarantee that the damage will not happen again is only half of the cake.
# OverviewAfter the general principles of this essay have been discussed, the notion of damage still has to be defined more precisely. The following sections will do this in all rigorosity, defining a model of the world, the concept of damage itself, together with the idea of resolutions. Since these sections are very technical, the present section already gives an informal overview of these things. The definitions in the present section are not normative. For more precise definitions, including discussions of alternative definitions, click on the links.
# Direct DamagesDirect damages are damages where a victim suffers directly from an action. These are
- Physical damages
- Some person or animal suffers bodily harm.
- Some person or animal gets killed.
- Undesired physical contact, including rape.
- Property violation
- Somebody’s property is affected.
- Something or someone trespasses on somebody else’s territory.
- An animal or a person is forced to do something or not to do something.
- Repeated or extreme stress on someone’s sensual organs.
- Declaration damages
- Someone says something that turns out not to be true.
- Someone threatens somebody else with some damage.
- Someone says something about somebody else that is (1) unproven and (2) pejorative.
- Graphical violence
- Suffering is described in detail, in particular through images or video.
- Someone disturbs the working of a machine or computer.
- Data damages
- Intellectual Theft
- Intellectual property is shared in a way that is not allowed by the author.
- Privacy violation
- Private information is extracted by (1) causing damage or (2) using technical means.
- Embarrassing information is shared.
- Personally identifying information is made public.
- Damages caused by non-action
- Missing Credit
- Intellectual property is used without giving due credit.
- Denial of assistance
- Someone suffers a damage and someone else just stands by without rushing to help.
- A child is not given a proper upbringing.
- An offense is committed repeatedly, in particular against a dependent person.
The above damages do not include things like adultery or walking out of a restaurant without paying the bill. These things are not regulated by this essay. Instead, they are regulated by agreements between the people (husband and wife; landlord and customer). This essay lets them agree on whatever they think is reasonable and then ensures that this agreement is respected (see contract and breach of contract).
# Indirect DamagesIndirect damages are cases where the responsibility shifts from the person who caused the damage to somebody else. These are
- Provocation of assistance
- If someone provides emergency assistance, he is not liable for the damages he causes while doing so.
- Bad surprise
- If someone does something normal and reasonable, he is not liable for damages that he could not foresee.
- If two people are jointly responsible for a damage, they share the liability.
- Lying is a declaration damage, but it can also free the victim from liability.
# Sharing ContentOne of the more complex domains of ethics and law is the sharing of content (e.g., a picture on social media). This essay protects three entities in this context: the creator of the content, the depicted person, and the receiver (as shown in the picture).
The creator of the content owns the intellectual property. Intellectual property is protected in 4 stages:
- Before publication by the creator (e.g., on the Web or on sale), the intellectual property may not be shared outside the personal circle of the creator.
- Once the intellectual property is published, but its term has not yet expired, it may not be shared outside the personal circle of those who obtained a legal copy of it.
- After the term expired, the work can be shared freely, but the creator can still claim credit for the work.
- When the creator dies, he can no longer claim credit for the work. However, the work is still protected against plagiarism.
The receiver is protected along two axes:
- He may not receive material of graphical violence.
- He is protected against declaration damage, i.e., essentially against false information, plagiarism, and threats.
The depicted person is protected by personality rights. This happens, likewise, in 4 layers:
- Private information may never be shared. This information may be facts about the victim, but it can also be any other type of data over which the victim has a de facto control.
- Embarrassing information (even if in public) may be recorded, but not shared. Embarrassing information necessarily concerns a particular person, but it may not be shared even if it has been anonymized.
- Anything else about a person may be shared, but not broadcast in public (although there are exceptions).
- Orthogonally to all this, insults may never be shared.
# ResolutionsOnce a damage has occurred, we have to find the perpetrator. Then, we have to identify the person who is the guarantor for the perpetrator (in case the perpetrator is a young child or an animal). Then, arguments have to be brought for and against the guarantor. Last, a compensation, an apology, and a penalty have to be determined. This process is called a resolution. Even though this essay defines resolutions in a very technical way, resolutions can also be quite informal, see here. To read about a list of limitations of this essay, go here.
# Formalizing the World
# Moral EntitiesWe will now define the beings that can be involved in offenses. The picture on the right gives an idea of the subsequent technical definitions.
- A dead person’s property is transferred to the heir as stated in the will.
- A dead person (or rather: his heirs) will be compensated for any offense against that person, if the offense was committed before the death and has not yet been resolved.
- A person owns his body, so a person may state what shall happen to his body after his death.
- The dead person’s intellectual property remains protected against plagiarism.
- A dead person cannot be insulted. However, if something insulting is said about the dead person, and if this statement is provably wrong, the perpetrator may be charged with lying.
Note that there is an easy default form of the interface contract: No action is performed by the body and the body does not have any property. Since moreover contracts can have quite an informal character, any group of persons with a common goal can form a corporate body. This corresponds to the “civil law association” in the Civil Codes (“Gesellschaft Bürgerlichen Rechts”, “GbR” in German).
# Events and States
- the representation of one item is used only to establish a difference to the representation of another item
- the same type of representation is used for both items
- the type of representation is fine-grained enough.
State1: A cup is placed 3 m above ground, there is no obstacle in the way to the ground and no other force is involved
State2: The cup is crashed on the ground
State1: A dice is thrown
State2: The dice shows the number 4.
State1: I’m sitting and nothing prevents me from standing up
State2: I’m standing
State1: There is no cloud in the sky
State2: It’s raining
The fact that it is not raining is a necessary consequence of State1.
State1: Alonso is an analphabet.
State2: Alonso writes a letter.
The second state contradicts the ability of an animal.
- The probability of S2=“Alonso paints his car green on this very day” in the state S1=“Alonso’s car is red on this day” is 1.0
- The probability of S2=“Alonso paints his car green” in the state S1=“Alonso’s car is red” is 0, because this is the first time that Alonso changes the car’s color from red to green.
- The probability of S2=“Alonso paints his car” in the state S1=“Alonso’s car has some color” may be quite high if Alonso often changes the color of his car.
- The probability of S2=“Somebody paints his car” is even higher.
- in the German Civil Code, a person is the cause of a state if the action “leads to the state according to common life experience” (adequacy-theory). So grandma is safe — unless she lives in a criminal society in which the majority of people steals.
- in the German Criminal Law, one distinguishes between “causing” and “being responsible for” (equivalence-theory). Although someone may be the cause of a damage, he is only responsible for it if his action caused the danger of damage, as defined by the law. In the example, the grandma is the cause of her grandson stealing a car. However, she is not responsible for it, because having a grandson is not seen as a danger of damage in the law. The problem is that someone might find a way to cause a damage without producing a danger of damage as defined in the law.
The notion of double causality is necessary to avoid the problem of cumulative actions: Imagine that Alonso and Bertram each give a deadly portion of poison to Cedrick (2 actions). Cedrick dies. Each of the two actions can be left away without helping Cedrick. But if both actions are left away, Cedrick survives. Hence, both Alonso and Bertram are the agents of Cedrick’s death. Double causality includes the case in which it cannot be determined which action exactly caused the damage. The standard example is the car accident, in which a car hits a biker and causes deadly injuries. Some seconds later, a lorry passes by and also causes deadly injuries. The biker is brought to a hospital, but dies. It cannot be determined which injuries exactly caused the death. So both the lorry driver and the car driver count as agents.
Different cases of direct agents can be imagined:
- There is no direct agent at all (like for instance for natural disasters)
- There may be one agent (this is the easy case)
There may be multiple agents if the agents acted simultaneously or if double causality applies. This is, e.g., the case when two cars bump into each other. In this case, the agent that could have avoided the damage most easily receives a bigger share of the responsibility. There are two special sub-cases of this scenario:
- If one person wilfully causes harm to another person (e.g., Alonso wilfully bumps his car into Bertram’s), then obviously the harming person receives all resposibility, because he could have avoided the damage very easily by refraining from the action.
- If someone creates a dangerous situation, where the other party is forced to react (e.g., if Alonso blindfolds himself and then rides his car), then the reacting party becomes the direct agent, but can still shift the burden by invoking bad surprise.
- The direct argent is an animal, child, or mentally ill person. In that case, the direct agency passes to the agent who knew that the state would happen (or was likely). This applies, e.g., to agents who as children to commit a crime, or to agents who use an animal to harm someone.
The data can be shared in an altered form: the phrasing can be changed, the resolution can be different, or the data can be transmitted in an aggregated form. The different types of damages that rely on the notion of sharing will impose different constraints on such modifications: declaration damages impose that a statement is shared; privacy violations apply independently of any transformation; intellectual property damages require the result to be sufficiently complex; exposure is about embarrassing information; and disclosure requires personally identifiable information to be shared.
- making a verbal utterance
- letting someone know the statement, e.g., by showing him physical evidence of an event
- artwork creation
- display of data
- a service consent
Phrases are to be taken seriously only if they are uttered with seriousness. Set phrases, e.g., shall not be taken literally if they imply damage to the utterer. For instance, imagine that Bertram proposes to Alice to go on a 4-week hike through the inner Congolese jungle. Alice answers politely “What a cute idea”. Alice’s reaction cannot be understood as an consent, because
- participating in the tour is “damage” to Alice in the sense that it prevents him from doing something else (obstruction)
- the declaration lacks explicitness
The question of what humans actually mean when they speak is enormeously complicated, especially because a declaration shall comprise all of its implications (the so-called implicatures). The study of pragmatics is dedicated to this issue. To determine the meaning of a statement, this essay proposes the following simplistic procedure as a rough guideline.
- “I would like to go dancing with you”
- “I would just like to know whether you like dancing”
Note that this procedure may result in no meaning at all, or in multiple meanings. In that case, you should clarify the speaker’s intention by asking him. The Indian Nod principle applies.
- is about the speaker in the form of a threat or declaration of knowledge; OR
- declares consent to a damage, including promises, if this consent is made in an appropriately serious form; OR
- is made in exchange for remuneration (either by the listener or someone else); OR
- is made in the form of a guarantee, i.e., with an affirmation that the speaker guarantees the truth of the statement for damages up to a certain value.
If the speaker says that his statements are hypothetical, or that he does not take responsibility for their truth, then he does not lie. This can happen through the form of presentation. A novel, e.g., is not supposed to represent the truth and is hence not a lie.
- Entering a train
- The damage is trespassing the service provider’s territory. The declaration accepted by the customer are the terms of service.
- Entering an auction hall
- Again, the damage is trespassing. By trespassing, the customer accepts that by raising his hand he buys the item that is being auctioned.
- Taking a newspaper out of a sell box
- The damage is theft. The customer agrees to pay the price noted on the sell box.
- Entering private property
- If a sign at the entrance of a museum prohibits photography, then the customer makes a promise not to take pictures by entering the museum.
A contract can also be established without writing. Since declarations can be quite informal, a simple verbal consent already constitutes a contract. Since a declaration can also be made implicitly (e.g. by entering a restaurant), contracts may even spring to life without a single spoken word (see the definition of declaration).
The technically cleanest form of a contract is the following:
Bertram says: “I will do Y”
The above definition of a contract differs from the definition in the German Civil Code, where a contract consists of “two coinciding declarations of will”. With this definition, though, lying, breaking a promise and breaking a contract have to be treated separately.
The concept of heritage poses the question whether a death duty is reasonable. Without a death duty, the heir of a millionaire does not have to work, because he could simply have his father’s money work for him. Although this does not cause damage to anybody (on the contrary), it might be a fair assumption that everybody should work to earn his livings. Under this assumption, we may give part of the heritage to a charity. This would greatly benefit the community, but it would not cause damage, because, under the assumption, earning his livings is not a damage to the heir. Since people can circumvent death duties by transferring property before their death, one could envisage that people can never own land, but only lease it from the state for a fixed period of time (say, 50 years). After that period has elapsed, the lease has to be prolonged. This avoids the accumulation of land in one family’s hands. This principle is implemented, e.g., in Singapore.
# Intellectual Property
Data that can be memorized by a human is not protected. This allows citations and summaries of intellectual property. It also disallows copyrighting words or patenting trivial mechanisms. Human nature as a yardstick may seem highly arbitrary as a choice. However, the argument goes as follows: In early times, there was no notion of copyright. People would just copy other people’s ideas, stories, or musical tunes. The problem appeared when recording became available. Then, creative works could become so complex that people expected to be paid for it. We would like people to pay for books, CDs, or software. So, in order to draw the line where complexity begins, this essay says that anything that requires recording is worthy of protection.
Intellectual property encompasses all transformations of such data (change of resolution, modification, combination, etc), as long as the result is also sufficiently complex. This essay protects intellectual property data against unlawful sharing. Different from classical copyright, this sharing can also be transient: When a bystander listens to the music played by a street band, there is no act of “copying” — but the event still counts as sharing. Since this essay does not distinguish between “observing something” and “making a private copy of something”, it will allow people to keep a copy of whatever they see or hear (“You own what you see”). Thus, if someone plays his (legally obtained) music to his friends, his friends have the right to keep a copy of this music. However, as soon as the friends then let other people listen to the music (or give away a copy of it), the copyright is infringed.
There is some debate as to whether “fair use” of a copyrighted work should permit posting excerpts of it — such as a 10 second excerpt of a song on Wikipedia, a 2 page excerpt of a book in a magazine, or a 30 second teaser of a movie on Youtube. This essay does not permit such a possibility. The reason is that if the creator envisages such a possibility, he can always publish the excerpt on his own without any strings attached. Then Wikipedia, the magazine, or Youtube can pick it up. If the creator makes no such choice, then others should not do it for him. The reason is that such excerpts can be put together to form the whole. They can also misrepresent the work.
Intellectual theft differs from declaration damages such as lying in several ways: First, intellectual theft is not concerned with simple statements. The data has to be more complex to be protected. Second, the victim is the source of the data, not its recipient. Third, the perpetrator is the person who shares the data, not the one who created it. Finally, the damage happens when the data is shared, not when it is perceived by someone.
We could argue that true artists (and real programmers) produce their works not for profit, but for the enjoyment of it. There are many free software products, e.g., which are developed by the community, and there are many artists who just give away their work for free. However, at the same time, many artists and software companies do not give their work away for free. And even if there are free alternatives, people still use the non-free works. For example, there are free operating systems. Still, 90% of consumers use Microsoft Windows or Mac OS. There is also free music by amateur artists. Still, people buy CDs. This indicates that the non-free works are worth having. Furthermore, if we protect intellectual property, we do not prohibit that people make their works available for free. Creators can still do that.
One way to protect intellectual property is to count on the honesty and generosity of the users. For example, many artists make their music available for free, and then invite the user to make voluntary donations. Likewise, some software is available as “donation-ware”. This means that it can be used for free and that the client pays a voluntary amount of money to the programmer, if he decides so. This concept, however, works only because of a general awareness that the creator deserves something for his work. If we remove the concept of intellectual property from the law book, then this awareness will most likely go away. Already today, very few people are actually aware that they are using other people’s work, and that they should reward these people. For example, if we find a song for $1 on Amazon, but for free on some other Web site, then few people hesitate to download the free version. Few people have ever thought that they could pay for their virus scanner. This seems to indicate that the awareness for intellectual work is weak unless it is enforced.
The solution is to limit the protection of intellectual property in some way. Several methods can be envisaged: We could protect the property only against commercial use. The creator of the artwork would be entitled to benefits if his work is used in cinemas, concerts, books, CDs, and so on. Any other, private, use would be free of charge. This would mean, however, that the work itself has no financial value. The value would only be induced by an additional commercial service on top of it. That would mean that a work that requires no such mediation by an additional commercial service would have no financial value. E-books, e.g., can be copied and read without any commercial mediation. Music by smaller artists can be copied and played on any computer without the need for buying a CD. Software, likewise, can be copied without any commercial mediation in between. Furthermore, we will still have to come up with terms for the intellectual property, because we do want free commercial exploitation at some point of time.
Another solution is to allow the creator of the intellectual property to earn, say, 100 times the amount of money that he has spent for the creation of the work. After that, the work would be in the public domain. This would encourage people to create intellectual works, and at the same time limit the price that humanity has to pay. This solution, though, has 3 problems. First, it is difficult to estimate how much money the creator invested in the work. Does a trip to China count as an investment, if the artist needed it for inspiration? Second, the approach will allow people to sit on their intellectual property forever, if they decide to not make money from it (or do so in an inefficient way). That would be against the goal of giving the work quickly into the public domain. Third, and maybe most importantly, it would reward creators of great work with the same amount as creators of bad work. If a good author spends one year and writes a fantastic book, he should earn more money than a mediocre writer who spends one year and writes a bad book.
Therefore, a common solution is to limit the term in which intellectual property is protected. Current copyright law protects artwork for 70 years after the death of the creator. This is against the harm principle of this essay: The creator cannot be hurt by events that happen after his death. Hence, his intellectual property is not worthy of protection after his death. This essay proposes shorter terms of protection, in particular in the light of the large amount of money that media companies make. The essay limits the term of protection explicitly for some types of intellectual property. It leaves the terms for other, potentially future, types of works undefined. Such a term restriction allows copyright holders to make money from their work. At the same time, it transfers the work into the public domain quickly, even if the the creator does not make commercial use of it.
This essay protects artwork for a fixed period of time, no matter whether the creator is alive or not. This allows creators to sell the rights in the work to a company. The company can then count on income from the intellectual property no matter whether the creator dies or not.
If a term ends, the intellectual property can be used freely. This does not mean, however, that the creator of the work would have to provide the work to the public. For example, if a blog writer replaces his blog article by a slightly modified version of the blog article right before the end of the term, then a new term starts. The old article becomes free for use, but if no one has downloaded it, then no one can use it.
This offense concerns the person who receives the work, and who is misled by the sender. In addition, and in a separate case, the creator of the embedded work can demand credit for his work.
If (1) the data is installed permanently, and perceivable in public space, or (2) the data is made available freely on the Internet by the rights holder, or (3) the data is produced during a public speech, then the data display allows unlimited sharing with the public.
These declarations take effect only if the provider does not object explicitly. If the provider sends the data, he can object only with prior consent by the receiver.
It is worth considering whether data on the Internet should in general be available for arbitrary use. Yet, the Internet will most likely be the mainstream medium in the future. It will not be an exceptional space of interaction, with different laws, but the normal space of interaction. Therefore, all arguments that we bring forward to the protection of data in the real world should also apply on the Internet.
Data senders cannot object to enjoyment of the copy that they provide. Thus, if we send a letter, a mail, or a picture, we grant the receiver personal use. This includes limited enjoyment of the piece by others. If we want to make sure that the receiver treats the letter as a secret, we need a prior consent. For example, we can make the receiver promise to keep the letter secret, and then send it.
# Personality Rights
- unjust damage
- a means that has perceiving capabilities beyond the capabilities of the human sense organs.
- a means that has perceiving capabilities like the human sense organs, in the absence of the owner of that means.
- automated data processing.
This is sad, because the pressure comes solely from the stigma that our society attaches to nudity. In the ideal world, we would re-educate our society so as to de-stigmatize nudity. However, this is unlikely to happen in the near future. Therefore, this essay declares sharing such pictures an offense. This also means that it is an offense to use them for blackmailing.
Normally, one would expect people to be in private when they are nude. However, even pictures taken legitimately in private have to be protected against further sharing. Moreover, moments of suffering, injury, and even nudity can appear also in public. The offense of exposure provides a comprehensive protection against such embarrassments.
We could also completely prohibit the creation or possession of embarrassing material. However, if someones observes another person in an embarrassing situation, then this event becomes part of the observer’s life as well. Thus, the observer shall have the right to record this event (think of bodycams). However, he may not share this information. This constitutes a compromise between the right of privacy for the depicted person, and the right to document one’s own life for the observer.
It is highly controversial whether we may take pictures of people and use them. DougNZ provides a survey of regulations in many countries. These vary from very restrictive (virtually no use of pictures, as in Germany) to very liberal (everything is allowed, as in the US). We could say that everything that happens in a public space can also be distributed in a public space. Following this argument, it is no different whether I see a person in public, or whether someone else sees that person in public and sends me a picture of them. Furthermore, future on-body devices will most likely monitor anyway everything we see and hear. It would be implausible to require that pictures of other people be removed from these data streams. An extrapolation of this setting is discussed by Antoine Amarilli in his blog “Privacy in public space”. On the other hand, people do not like it if their picture is distributed in public. This holds even more so if the person is known in public, and if the picture shows the person in an unpleasant situation. Therefore, this essay prohibits the public sharing of portraits.
Independently of the rights of the portrayed person, the creator of the portrait has intellectual property rights in the image — as he does with any other image he creates.
This essay does not distinguish between a photo and a recording of someone’s voice. Thus, this essay permits recording someone’s voice as long as this is not shared publicly. This is a very controversial stance. In Germany, for example, it is prohibited to record someone’s voice. This essay acknowledges the controversy, but follows a liberal interpretation of justice: By talking, we influence someone else’s life. Therefore, we become part of that person’s life, and that person has a right to the content of the conversation.
# Other Terms
By default, the compensation shall be restoring the current state to the state without the damage. Subsequent more specific definitions of compensation override this definition.
- Compensation does not cover other unjust damages.
- Example: Alonso’s car is stolen. Alonso decides to walk instead of driving, falls into a drain and breaks his leg. This damage is not covered by the compensation for the car theft, because in reasonable courses of time, people do not suffer accidents (which fall under the definition of unjust damages).
- Compensation covers consequential losses.
- Example: A machine in Alonso’s factory is destroyed. Hence Alonso cannot use the machine for production. However, he is assumed to use the machine in the closest reasonable course of time without the destruction. Hence the loss in productivity is covered by the compensation.
- Compensation does not cover unreasonable behavior.
- Example: A machine in Alonso’s factory is destroyed. Alonso decides to cease production completely, although the remaining machines could continue production. However, he is assumed to continue production with the remaining machines in the closest reasonable course of time despite the destruction. Hence this additional loss is not covered by compensation.
- Compensation covers contingent events.
Example: A fire-extinguisher in Alonso’s house is stolen. A fire breaks out and the house burns down. In the closest reasonable course of time without the theft, the fire would have broken out as well. However, in this course of time, Alonso would have extinguished the fire with the fire-extinguisher. Hence the compensation for the theft covers the house. That means: Whoever stole the fire extinguisher is liable for the destruction of the house.
Example: Alonso’s lotto coupon is stolen. In the lottey, it turns out that the lotto coupon would have won. Hence the compensation covers the lotto win. This may seem unfair. On the other hand, winning the lottery is the very purpose of the lotto coupon — exactly like extinguishing fires is the purpose of the fire-extinguisher. The value of a thing comprises the value of its use.
- the state was declared to him with appropriate clearness not too long ago OR
- the state lies in the immediate attention of the subject OR
- the moral subject declares that he knows the state OR
- the state is expressed by a clear stimulus to the subject’s sense organs OR
- the state is common knowledge
- the state follows by necessary events from known states.
The notion of knowledge is central to define denial of assistance: A person can only help somebody in an emergency if he knows about the emergency. The notion is also used as one way to make a declaration: A person can let another person know that something happened (or will happen) by showing physical evidence for it, without actually uttering a sentence. This act still counts as a declaration.
Promised states are always desired. Thus, if Alonso sells his car, the damage that results (namely the loss of his car) is desired. Hence the damage is no unjust damage and we do not need to prevent it (see obligatory assistance). Likewise, an action by a moral subject implies that all its highly probably consequences are desired. For example, if Alonso enjoys shooting at his own car, then the consequence that the car is damaged is extremely likely. Hence we may assume that Alonso desired to destroy his car. Hence the damage does not constitute unjust damage and we do not need to prevent it (see again obligatory assistance). Furthermore, a state counts as desired if the person says that the state is desired (by the the Dixit-Principle, see lying).
As the notion of knowledge, the notion of desire is a mental notion. It is hard to define it convincingly. Therefore, this essay simply assumes that a person desires a state if certain conditions are given. Naturally, a person may also desire a state if these conditions are not given. For this essay, though, it is only important to define when we can be sure that a person desires something. It does not matter if the conditions do not catch all cases where people desire something.
- desired, as defined in “desire”
- detested, i.e. the person desires the contrary of the state
- neutral or unknown, i.e. we do not know whether the person desires or detests the state
We need the notion of expected damage to quantify how dangerous a behavior is.
- Least damage
- There are no less damaging actions that could be performed by the moral subject to reduce the expected damage
The damage and effort caused by the actions is less than the reduction OR
the damage affects the guarantor or the direct agent of the expected damage directly
- No severe damage
- If the damage caused by the actions is severe, the reduction of the expected damage must be immediate.
The compensation for refundable assistance is the damage caused to the helper (see provocation of assistance). This includes any loss of property as well as the effort itself (which counts as obstruction) and any offenses committed by the helper.
The assistance should not cause more damage than the expected damage, i.e. the effort of the helper is bound from above by the reduction of the expected damage — unless the damage affects the perpetrator of the expected damage directly. This direct effect means that the perpetrator must be the immediate victim of the damage, if the damage caused by the assistance exceeds the expected damage. This definition is necessary because any damage caused by the assistance affects the perpetrator on the long run, since he has to refund the assistance. Severe damages count more than other types of damage. Severe damages among themselves are compared as usual. As a result, any assistance that prevents severe damage is adequate, as long as it does not cause more severe damage. If severe damage is used, its benefit must be immediate. It is not allowed to use severe damage to coerce somebody into doing something (torture is prohibited). The reason is that it may be impossible to determine whether the person can fulfill the demand or not. Torturing thus always bears the danger of unjustly causing severe harm in vain.
- Perpetrator can pay
- The perpetrator of the expected damage is likely to be able to refund the assistance
- No severe damage
- The assistance does not cause severe damage to moral objects other than the perpetrator.
- No danger
- It is certain that the assistance causes less damage to moral objects other than the perpetrator than the expected damage.
- The helper knows about the expected damage and is able to help
- Victim can’t help himself or silent suffering
The damage caused by the assistance is less than the effort of actions by the victim that could prevent the expected damage OR
the helper is the victim of the expected damage and the helper knows that the perpetrator is a moral subject who does not know about the expected damage (“silent suffering”).
- No reflexivity
- The helper is not a guarantor of the damage
- Nobody can be forced to accept severe damage to help somebody.
- You have to help only if the victim can’t do it for himself.
- You may expect your efforts to be refunded.
The obligatory assistance is an “obligatory purchase”: The helping person is obliged to help and the victim is obliged to “buy” this assistance, i.e. to compensate the effort. If an offense is prevented, the wannabe-perpetrator will have to pay for the prevention.
# DamageThe following chapters define states that count as damage. If a damage requires a compensation other than the default value, the definition of the damage will mention this explicitly.
# Physical Damage
- alters the state of the thing OR
- withholds the thing from actions by the owner OR
- constitutes a transferral of property away from the owner
The compensation for a property violation is, as the default definition suggests, giving back the thing and making up for the period of loss.
- in the frame of a normal upbringing of a child as defined in dereliction
- in the frame of common local social norms, unless opposed by the victim
- in the form of an injury
Littering is an offense against Mother Nature, i.e., the ensemble of plants and animals in that area. Because mother Nature is non-human, it will be represented by a lawyer and the penalty will go to a charity, see resolutions.
Obstruction raises the question of whether livestock may be kept, because keeping the animals means locking them up. Admittedly, it is disputable whether mankind shall keep livestock at all, given that one could in principle live without animal products. However, at this point of time, it is unrealistic to require mankind to give up animal products. Therefore, this essay allows keeping and eating livestock (see Food Killing). We ask only that farmers keep their livestock in a reasonable environment, and that customers buy products that have been produced without harming animals.
If the victim was owned, the killing is to be treated as theft, and not as killing. Otherwise, if the victim was not a human, the compensation is payable to a charity engaged in raising beings of the victim’s kin.
The German Criminal Law does not punish killings of animals unless it provokes public anger. Apart from the fact that it is a pity that killing animals usually does not provoke public anger, the killing itself should be punished regardless of the public reaction. Due to the distinction of humans and animals, special laws in the criminal law are needed to protect endangered species.
Note that killing oneself is a desired damage and hence not unjust. People are allowed to commit suicide. This does not apply if they kill themselves to evade their duties. For example, if someone has children, he is expected to care for them (because he is guarantor for them, s.b.). If he tried to kill himself and would thus leave the children to starve, the suicide would cause damage to outsiders and is hence to be prevented. [Thanks to Jennifer for pointing this out.]
The main reason against abortion is the protection of unborn life. The definition of “life”, however, is disputable: An egg is not a chicken. This holds even if the egg is fertilized — as are, indeed, a large number of the eggs that we eat. Yet, we do not consider these eggs chicken. Similarly, a human ovum, even if fertilized, is not a human.
Other arguments against abortion are of religious nature. A common Christian argument goes that abortion is a destruction of life against the will of God. However, Christianity had different stances towards abortion. The Bible, e.g., states that abortion is not murder (Bible / Exodus 21:22). Saint Augustin, an important Christian scholar, held that an early abortion is not murder, because the soul had not yet entered the fetus. This belief got passed into canon law, and was upheld by Saint Thomas Aquinas, Pope Innocent III, Pope Gregory XIV, and the Council of Vienne [Wikipedia / Christianity and abortion]. Muslims, likewise, mostly condemn abortion today. However, during the Golden Age of Islam, abortion was not prohibited. It was thought that the soul had not yet entered the fetus, and that hence the killing of an unborn was not murder. This interpretation was based on the quranic descriptions of the development of the fetus (Quran 23:12-14 and 22:5), and on a Hadith [Wikipedia / Ensoulment]. In any case, around 20% of pregnancies end with a natural premature death of the fetus, and we know no way to avoid that. If God is the cause of everything, then God is also the cause of these deaths. This makes God the most active abortionist.
- the compensation is small, or the animal or plant has been farmed.
- and the killing is necessary for the physical well-being of an animal or human.
- and the owner of the being (if any) agrees
By being a special case of killing, food killing is still technically a damage. Note that food killing also covers plants. Food killing applies in two cases: Either the animal or plant has been farmed for the purpose of consumption. In this case, the animal or plant may be killed. If the animal or plant has not been farmed, the animal may only be killed if the compensation is small. This entails, e.g., that you may not kill members of a rare species. Food killing excuses the killing itself, but it does not excuse the detention of animals (see the remarks at obstruction).
- the compensation is small
- the animal is not owned
- the animal poses a risk to hygiene or causes damage — in a probable course of time or the real course of time.
- the animal is on its own area OR
- the animal did not move towards the source of the sensation while perceiving the sensation (relative to the inertial system).
The German Criminal Law states that making penetrant noise is a crime — although, sadly, this does not apply to vehicles, which contribute most of the noise in our environment.
The compensation for disturbance means ending the disturbance.
# Declaration Damage
A declaration does not count as a lie if it does not have appropriate seriousness.
For the offense of an insult, it does not matter who is the recipient of the statement. Most notably, the victim does not have to be the recipient. The perpetrator is the author of the statement.
It is strange that a reciprocal insult makes the victim feel “healed” from the first insult. This is an “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth”-behavior. But since it works and since no consequences result, this essay subscribes to this solution. It is a convenient way to avoid the legal claim mechanism. The German Criminal Law shares a similar view. This retaliating solution does not apply to other offenses such as theft or injury. If the victim of an insult does not reply by a reciprocal insult, the insult counts as an offense.
This is a conditional threat, i.e. extortion.
There is a possible course of time in which the person insults you again, but bringing him to court is not an unjust damage.
Often, threats are bound to certain requests, like for instance in extortion. In this case, the threat itself counts as damage, independent of whether the victim obeys the perpetrator’s conditions or not. Furthermore, the threat counts as a declaration, i.e. the victim may assume that the perpetrator fulfills the threat (by the Dixit-Principle, see lying). Hence, if the victim obeys the perpetrator and does as he requests, the victim performs refundable assistance to rescue himself. Thus, the victim will get a compensation for all damage he suffered while following the perpetrator’s request. This may be direct damage (like giving money to the blackmailer) as well as indirect damage (like committing an offense and having to pay the compensation). However, while following the perpetrator’s request, the victim shall not cause damage that is greater than the damage he is threatened with. In this case, the victim is expected to disobey and to suffer the damage he is threatened with. The definition of refundable assistance makes sure that this does not apply for severe damage.
If the victim does not obey the perpetrator and the perpetrator makes his threat come true, the perpetrator will be held responsible for both the threat itself and the actual damage caused to the victim (as covered by the other definitions).
The compensation for a threat means revoking the threat and making up for the distress.
If the author wants to criticise the suffering (or the distribution of such graphical violence), then he may share such descriptions. However, only moral subjects can be the target then, not children.
# Data Damage
In principle, intellectual property may not be shared at all. However, if you receive a copy of the intellectual property, then you may assume that you have the right to personal use. This means that you can share the data in your personal circle. For example, you can show an email that you received to your friends. However, your friends may not share the email any further. The principle that “You own what you see” means that we cannot prevent them from recording or storing what they hear or see for themselves (in their email account, or through a body cam), but they cannot share the data with others then.
Now what happens if they share the data with others? If they do, they commit themselves an intellectual theft. However, they will point out that you shared the data with them in the first place. Thus, they were allowed to assume that they can share it further. Thus, the damage will fall back on you.
If you want to avoid this, it is sufficient to let them know that your sharing with them does not entitle them to share it any further. Then the implicit display of data declaration does not take effect, and your friends will be liable for any sharing they do.
If you gain hold of private information through a privacy violation, then the case will be treated as a privacy violation, and not as intellectual theft. After an intellectual theft, the perpetrator also loses his right to the data. This step is necessary because the “destruction of the data from the domain of the receiver” is meaningless if the receiver did not store the data. The perpetrator will usually be the owner of the source domain, but it could also be a third person.
(A recording done in the absence of the listener constitutes private information)
(Documents obtained by theft are private information)
(privacy violation by sabotage)
(Information about someone that was generated by automated means is private)
Sometimes people tell their secrets to other persons. These secrets are not protected by this law on privacy violation. If the person tells the listener afterwards not to disseminate the secret, this request has no legal value. Instead, the person should ask the listener to promise to keep silent (and it is even better to do so before telling the secret).
This definition also protects people from having their data or behavior analysed by automated means in order to construct psychological profiles (or any other type of summary). Any data gained from such an analysis is private data.
If a privacy violation is necessary to unveil an offense, the privacy violation may be committed. It will be compensated by the perpetrator of the offense as refundable assistance. This entails that perpetrators of offenses are not protected against privacy violations concerning their own offenses.
It is not necessary that the embarrassing information contains personally identifiable information. This is because even if the victim cannot be identified by permanent identifiers, he could still be identified by the circumstances in which the embarrassing information was recorded.
It is not sufficient for the offense of exposure that the material is funny or awkward. It has to be so embarrassing that a reasonable person would be willing to pay money to prevent the sharing.
Exceptions are granted for anything that related to a public speech. Such speeches can be freely related and criticized. Exceptions are also granted for talking about corporate bodies. Basically everything can be said about a corporate body — as long as facts, fictions, and opinions are distinguished. It remains prohibited to use the name of a company for any other purpose — such as to advertise, to suggest approval, or to appropriate.
# Damage by Non-Action
Missing credit is also a state where the creator of intellectual property is declared to be someone else than the creator. The victim is the creator of the intellectual property. The perpetrator is the author of the declaration.
Giving false credit is not just a lie, it is also an offense of missing credit. The victim of the lie is the recipient, and the victim of the missing credit is the creator.
This law puts the question of whether homosexuals may adopt children into the hands of science. Should science find that an upbringing with two fathers or two mothers is harmful, then it becomes illegal. Otherwise, it is not. A divorce, likewise, is considered harmful. It cannot always be avoided, but it is considered unjust damage to the child. Incest, likewise, is punished under this law, if it leads to predictable and known congenital defects.
The victim is the child. This means that the child is entitled to damages if the parents mess up his youth. The law also implies that we may have to take away the child from his parents, if these are unwilling or incapable of executing their duties. This is to be done (1) in the best interest of the child and (2) seeking consent of the old parents, the new parents, and the child (as far as the persons are capable of deciding).
It seems strange that the victim shall receive compensation just because somebody watched the damage. There is not more damage just because someone watches. On the other hand, denial of assistance has to be punished and it seems best to have the victim profit from it.
The compensation increases with the damage. It decreases with the effort that is required for the assistance. It also decreases if the helper did provide some kind of assistance, but not the full required assistance. By default, this essay suggests a compensation that is equal to 1/3 of the compensation of the damage.
In general, a victim can never be obliged to provide obligatory assistance to himself, because he cannot commit an offense against himself. However, if the victim knows that the perpetrator is unaware of the damage he causes, he has to notify him (see silent suffering).
# Indirect damage
Provocation of assistance is not modular in the sense of the Principle of Modularity. I.e. if victim and perpetrator differ, the helper can demand compensation not from the victim but from the perpetrator. This is because the victim may be unknown, see the remarks at “expected damage”.
- there is a damage with an indirect and a direct agent
- the direct agent did not know about the indirect agent’s action
- the direct agent’s action is more probable than the indirect agent’s action OR the indirect agent knows about the direct agent’s action
- complicity does not apply.
This rule also proves quite useful for minor cases. Suppose, e.g., that Alonso eats some jam and does not close the top of the jar properly. Bertram comes and takes the jar by the top, the jar falls down and crashes. Here, the state that a jam-jar is not closed properly is less common than somebody taking it. Hence it was Alonso’s fault.
Conveniently, conventions may be used to establish a high probability. For example, it is a convention in Germany to drive on the right-hand side of the road. Thus, anybody who uses the left hand side performs an uncommon action and can be held responsible for eventual damage.
- there is a damage with an indirect and a direct agent
- the direct agent’s action would cause unjust damage in the hypothetical course of time without the indirect agent’s action and this instance of damage did not occur
- the indirect agent’s action would cause unjust damage in the hypothetical course of time without the direct agent’s action and this instance of damage did not occur
The compensation of complicity is computed as follows: Be IA the indirect agent. Be d(IA) the compensation for the hypothetical damage caused by IA alone. Be DA the direct agent. Be d(DA) the compensation for the hypothetical damage caused by DA alone. Be D the compensation and apology for the actual damage. Then the compensation of complicity is D*d(IA)/(d(IA)+d(DA)). This is the compensation that the direct agent DA may expect from the indirect agent IA.
Note that the joint damage D may well exceed the sum of the respective hypothetical damages! It is necessary to treat complicity apart from bad surprise, because bad surprise relies on the probabilities of the actions, which would not make sense for complicity. Furthermore, bad surprise cannot allow proportional sharing of the damage (potential division by zero), whereas complicity relies on proportional sharing on principle.
In this essay, corruption is a special case of breaking a contract, which is by itself a special case of lying. The government official has an employment contract with the government. If he gives an illegal advantage to someone, he breaks his employment contract. This makes him liable to prosecution under the laws of this essay. This holds regardless of whether the official obtains money for his actions or not.
The party who bribes the official is conscient of the misbehavior of the official, but does not prevent it. Therefore, this party commits a denial of assistance to the employer of the offical (which is the government). This way, both parties have to be punished.
By default, the victim is the perpetrator. However, someone else may be the guarantor for the damage. Assume for example that a young child falls down the stairs. There is no direct agent for this damage. Hence the child himself is the perpetrator. Since the child’s parents are the guarantors for all damages of which the child is the perpetrator, the parents are the guarantors for this event.
It is unfortunate that if the perpetrator and the victim agree on a compensation, the perpetrator evades the penalty. The penalty prevents the perpetrator from repeating the deed. However, the liberal principles of this essay prohibit a resolution for a case that is already solved.
There is no apology for provocation of assistance, because helping people in need is assumed to be a civic duty by this essay. There is no apology for complicity because the indirect agent is not morally worse than the direct agent. There is no apology for killing because the victim cannot benefit from it.
- a transferral of property to a charity
- locking him up
- forcing the responible to promise that he will or will not do certain things during a certain period of time
The penalty shall include all fruits that the perpetrator harvested from the offense. These fruits do not go to the victim (because the victim is compensated by the compensation and shall not benefit from the perpetrator’s diligence) and they cannot remain with the perpetrator (because this would encourage him to commit the offense again). Hence they go, with the remainder of the penalty, to a charity.
In case of an offense by a corporate body, a penalty shall be applied to both the corporate body and to the individual person who caused the damage. This individual responsibility avoids that the boss of a company engages in illegal behavior and then makes the company pay for it.
The punishments that this essay establishes do not include the death penalty (or in fact any other corporal punishment). There are several reasons against the death penalty (do a Google search). The main argument is that juries may err in their decision. In particular, laws can change. In this case, the perpetrator has to be able to challenge his conviction. If he is killed, this is no longer possible. Or, if you want a deontological argument by Jacques Chirac: “Death can never constitute an act of justice”.
- A lawyer is chosen. By default, this is the victim himself.
- A suspected guarantor of the offense is determined
- The suspected guarantor is informed about the resolution procedure. If there is the danger of the suspect escaping, he may be detained.
- A jury is chosen. By default, this is just the lawyer and the suspected guarantor.
- All involved persons bring arguments. In case of an alleged insult, the insulter has to prove the truth of his statement.
If the suspected person is indeed the guarantor for the offense
- The jury determines the compensation. The compensation is transferred from the guarantor to the victim.
- The jury determines an appropriate apology. The apology is transferred from the guarantor to the lawyer. For offenses that carry no apology and where the lawyer is not the victim, an appropriate amount is determined nevertheless for the lawyer.
- The jury determines and implements an appropriate penalty.
- The guarantor owes the involved people (except for the jury) all damages that were necessary to complete this resolution, per provocation of assistance, where the expected damage is the non-payment of the compensation.
In general, all necessary efforts by investigators (including offenses) and all necessary efforts by the lawyer and the victim (including prior, failed searches for the guarantor) are to be refunded by the guarantor. In case of doubt, another resolution is necessary on this issue. Note that the jury does not get paid.
Since this essay relies on the Principle of Modularity, indirect damages entail two resolutions instead of a single one (e.g. bad surprise). This modularity ensures that the victim can turn to a single guarantor for his claims (instead of having to resolve the problem of shifted responsibility). Furthermore, the principle ensures that the direct agent of the damage (e.g. the victim of a bad surprise) works together with the jury, even if he will not be held responsible in the end. Nevertheless, it may be reasonable to join two resolutions, if the offenses are related.
The lawyer will get the apology upon conviction, any person involved in the search for the guarantor will be refunded, the jury promised to act to the best of their capabilities and the suspect will want to proof his innocence. Hence, all people involved should have an interest in a speady resolution. If the victim proves uncooperative, the case is dismissed (see No sulking). If a suspected guarantor proves consistently uncooperative, it may be assumed that he is indeed responsible for the offense.
# Meta Considerations
# Unsolved IssuesSeveral issues are not solved by the present essay. These include:
- Blind protection of good faith
This essay protects the receiver of data from any need to verify that data. This applies to:
- factual data. By the Dixit Principle, the receiver of a message can always act as if the message were true, if the message is uttered with the appropriate seriousness. If it is not true, the sender has to make up for the damage that results (see lying).
- private data. We commit a privacy violation only if we actively collect the data — not if we distribute it without knowing that it was private data.
- intellectual property. We can always assume that any copy that we legally bought is authorized by the rights holder (see display of data).
- Missing detail
- This essay does not do away with the need for interpretation. See the discussion about the use of norms.
- This essay leaves a number of issues open to conventions. For example, the question of what constitutes a declaration or who counts as a child are not answered by this essay.
- This essay shies away from regulating the more subtle aspects of human social life. For example, it does not say that it is morally bad to push to the front in a queue of people. See the discussion about liberalism.
- Missing generality
- This essay does not provide a guide for good human behavior in general. Rather, it defines what is not good behavior. See the discussion on general thoughts.
- This essay does not guard against self-inflicted harm. It does not protect people from drug-abuse, addictions to smoking, gambling or alcohol, or dangerous behavior in general. In fact, protecting people from such activities would, ironically, amount to an offense under the principles of this essay. See the discussion at self-ownership.
- Missing centrality
- This essay does not know the notion of the “greater common good” that would force individuals to renounce their rights for the advantage of society.
- This essay leaves contracts to the individual parties. Therefore, it does not guard against discrimination.
- This essay does not regulate common goods that are usually provided by the state, such as infrastructure, emergency services or education. It also does not know the concept of taxes.
- This essay does not say how penalties can be enforced. In particular, it allows rich people to buy themselves out of any offense, just by paying the victim to stay silent.
# Change logOver time, our moral standards change (see Using norms for a discussion). The regulations of this essay evolve, too. Here are some of the changes:
- 2005: The first version of the essay was written.
- 2008: The jury was allowed to consist of just the victim and the perpetrator, instead of a larger group of people.
- 2009: The problem of the “rich cab driver” was introduced in the section on resolutions. The penalty now also covers the fruits of the stolen goods.
- 2010: Sexual assault was introduced as a separate damage. It was grouped under injury before. The damage of abuse of a dependant was added.
- 2010-12: The Indian Nod Principle was added.
- 2011: Several types of killings were explicitly legalized: abortion, food killing, and mosquito killing.
- 2012: The philosophical foundation of ethics was introduced based on my Thoughts on Rationality. The section Nature of Norms was rewritten.
- 2013: Adoption by homosexual couples was legalized, unless science proves that this is harmful for the child. The damage of dereliction is introduced to regulate this.
- 2013-12: Intellectual property rights were completely refactored. While the previous version allowed the creator of the intellectual property to prohibit any use, the new regulations make this power expire after 7 years. Detailed discussions and definitions of intellectual property were added. The damages of sabotage and missing credit were added.
- 2014-09: Liability for lies was restricted to cases where the statement was made with appropriate seriousness. The definition of seriousness was added.
- 2015-06: The principle of change was added, allowing the law to legally evolve.
- 2015-07-26: The notions of publication and personal circle were made explicit. Private communication was declared intellectual property. It was clarified that display of data is not transitive.
- 2016-07-29: The offense of incitement was abolished, because its essence is captured by the offense of a threat and an insult. Its definition was: “A state where a declaration is made that unjust damage shall happen in a possible course of time.”
- 2016-07-29: Personality rights were introduced, most notably the offenses of exposure and disclosure. The rights on portraits are now personality rights, and no longer intellectual property.
- 2017-08: My Atheist Bible was published, causing this essay to be slightly adapted. Excerpts of intellectual property were explicitly outlawed. It was clarified that an insult includes saying that someone would deserve punishment for no accepted reason. The act of exposure was tightened to prohibit also the sharing of the embarrassing information in the personal circle of the creator — because otherwise the creator could still blackmail the victim in cases where both personal circles intersect (or are made to intersect).
- 2018-09-26: It was conceded that farming is an important part of human reality, and that, hence, animals can be owned. It was clarified that farming shall still keep the animal in a near-natural environment.
- 2019-04-17: Previously, the essay distinguished between transfering data to someone, and letting someone enjoy it (without actually transfering it). This was incompatible with the principle that “You own what you see”. Therefore, the notion of sharing was redefined to include the transient sharing of data, and all definitions were rewritten to target this new notion. The offense of graphical violence was added. The definition of abuse of a dependent was generalized to harassment. Consequently, it is no longer a shortcoming of this essay that more subtle damages would be left undefined.
- 2019-11-04: The concept of maliciousness was defined.
- 2021-01-09: As a consequence of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, (1) private information was broadened to include automated analysis of data and (2) the penalty is to be applied also to individuals in case of damages by corporate bodies.
- 2021-02-14: What was sexual assault before was broadened to touching in general — first to avoid ambiguities, and second to cover also physical rapprochement, even if it falls short of sexual assault. The subjective suffering (the third person undergoing the damage) was moved from the compensation to the apology. A lack of schooling was explicitly added to dereliction.