Act-Omission Distinction

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The debate over the act-omission distinction is whether there is a moral distinction between choosing to take an action or choosing to not take an action.

For instance, suppose Person sees that Person is about to fall off a cliff, could stop that from happening, but chooses not to. Across the ravine, Person pushes Person off the cliff. Is Person just as responsible for Person 's death as Person is responsible for Person 's death?

Those in favor of the act-omission distinction would say that is not responsible for 's death because did not actively kill . Those against the act-omission distinction would say that is just as responsible for 's death because made the choice to not save .

Debate Applications

Often, debaters running utilitarianism will justify there not being an act-omission distinction and say that only consequentialist frameworks can hold agents morally culpable in such a manner. It's worth noting that this argument doesn't actually justify util but more-so excludes frameworks that operate under the assumption of there being an act-omission distinction.

Common Arguments

Act-Omission Distinction

[1] Ethics cannot hold agents accountable for an infinite number of untaken decisions, otherwise that would impair action because agents would simultaneously have an infinite number of obligations.

[2] Illogical – we wouldn’t hold an agent who chooses a morally repugnant act equally culpable as an agent who chooses not to prevent a morally repugnant act, like saving a drowning baby from a pool.

[3] Omissions aren’t intrinsic to the will because agents don’t proactively choose not to take certain actions, e.g. you don’t wake up and say, “Today is my day to not donate to charity!” – so we shouldn’t hold agents morally accountable for these omissions.

No Act-Omission Distinction

[1] Choosing to omit is an act itself – people psychologically decide not to act which means being presented with the aff creates a choice between two actions, neither of which is an omission.