Action or Inaction and the Ethics of Choice

Jerry Sandusky , Joe Paterno

08 Nov 2012

Action or Inaction and the Ethics of Choice

One of Peter Singer’s four main principles of ethics is that we are just as responsible for our inactions as we are for our actions. This means that we as human beings have an ethical obligation to act if we witness something wrong happening. Even if we do not see it but we know it is going on, then once we possess that knowledge we have also incurred a moral duty to act. Without this obligation, we become a liability to the community because we are no longer taking responsibility for the well-being of others when it is in our power to do so.

Examples of this are easily found in the modern media. The first example of such an understood and implicit responsibility would be in the case of Penn State and their football defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky. Jerry Sandusky committed horrible crimes, molesting and sexually assaulting numerous young boys who were looking to him to help them out of already bad situations at home via his charity, Second Mile. These were at risk youth. The head coach of Penn State’s football team, Joe Paterno, had been alerted to the crimes possibly being committed by his defensive coordinator but he had failed to act or contact law enforcement. The president of the university also was accused of knowing but taking no action. (1) In the eyes of the public, once the criminal trial began to get underway, the head coach and the president were both equally guilty for allowing such atrocities to go on under their noses. To the American people and the plaintiffs, simply saying, “It wasn’t me that hurt these boys.” was not enough to excuse their inaction. They had failed in their civic duty to protect the community and its children. To fail a society in this manner means you have become a hindrance and a liability to the people who once sustained you.

It is no small question to wonder where the line is drawn between an obligation to action and the freedom to do...
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