Yesterday I posed a question about how clear you conscience can be if you leave your post and bad things happen. A couple of people responded with some good comments, but I feel that perhaps the details of the example got in the way — it is assumed that in this case The Company is ultimately responsible for their product. But the question is more along the lines of “culpable inaction” — is avoiding responsibility less morally reprehensible than taking it on and making a mistake?
As another example, let’s say you see an injured animal on the side of the road. You want to help the animal by taking it to a vet, but you’re not sure if moving it will cause further injury and possibly kill it. You decide that someone else will probably come along soon and they will be able to take it to the vet. Sure enough, someone else comes along, sees the animal, and picks it up to put it in their car. Unfortunately the animal struggles, the person accidentally drops it, and it dies.
Clearly it’s not your fault that the animal died — it would have died anyway even if you’d never observed the situation (Schrödinger notwithstanding 😉 ) — but you had the opportunity to make the situation better. By deliberately choosing to avoid the situation, are you really a “better person” than the poor soul who tried to help the animal but inadvertently killed it? What about if you had good reason to believe that an average person would accidentally kill the animal? What if you had experience handling injured animals and were more likely than not to have successfully helped the animal? And so on.
Obviously there’s no real answer to the question — that’s the great thing about philosophy. Some things are clearly bad (and possibly illegal — for example, choosing not to report a violent crime you have witnessed) and some things are clearly benign (need…good…example…) but there’s a huge grey area in the middle.
I’m sure there’s been a lot of thought on this subject, and some very smart people have written much about it; I’m just too lazy to go out and read about it 😉