Cause vs Responsibility: Casinos, Drugs, Violent Video Games, and Rap Music

Most people tend to equate cause and responsibility. For example, when someone punches you in the face, we correctly believe that the puncher is both the cause of the harm and the responsible party for the harm. But, even though they do often overlap, there is a difference between causing something and being responsible for it. Example:  what if I suggested to my friend Bill that he go outside and jog regularly in order to be healthier. He listens to my advice and then starts jogging, only to get hit by a careless truck driver and he dies. Technically, I was one of the causes of his death because he wouldn’t have been out jogging unless I told him to, just by the simple principle of cause and effect. There are multiple causes here (obviously the truck driver is one of the causes), but the truck driver is “responsible” for Bill’s death, not me. Even though I do not here formally define the distinction between causation and responsibility, I think we can agree that they are different just from the above example.

We can apply this concept to many situations. Being a libertarian, I often say that we should be legally free to do as we please as long as we are not “being responsible” for the harm of others, … property rights, etc… What if someone wants to outlaw casinos because they claim that it harms others because some people, let’s say John, gets morally corrupted by it and starts to violently kill and rob others to fund his gambling addiction. Even though it’s possible that John may have lead a peaceful life if the casino did not open up, but instead started harming others because he was corrupted by gambling, (and so it is technically correct to say that the casino is one of the causes of the harm that John inflicted on others) who should we consider legally responsible for the murder and robbery that John committed? I say John, not the casino. Gambling at a casino does not necessarily harm people or necessarily cause harm because it’s possible that some people can gamble very responsibly and not go out and kill and rob people. In this scenario, I think that gambling and casinos should be legal (even though they may sometimes “cause harm” and can then be said to “harm others”) since gambling and casinos are not ultimately “responsible” for the harm that is sometimes loosely associated with them. John was responsible for the murder and robbery.  In the same fashion, rap music, violent video games, violent movies, and drugs should be legal even if they sometimes corrupt/influence people into doing harm to others.

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