Unproven guilt

February 7, 2003

The argument that someone who downloads pornographic images from the internet without showing or distributing them to others bears responsibility for the child abuse involved in making the images is unconvincing (Why I, THES , January 24). There is a distinction between causing or partly causing something and being responsible or partly responsible for it. There is a related distinction between causality and culpability.

To destroy supply where a market exists can be to increase the price and stimulate production, according to elementary economics. Suppose that in destroying pornographic photographs, policemen stimulate their production. They would not be held responsible or culpable with regard to any child abuse.

Similarly, if looking at child pornography were to stimulate the taking of such photographs, the viewers would not necessarily be responsible for nor culpable of the abuse.

If we did not look at images of terrorist atrocities, such as the Twin Towers, would such atrocities be less common or spectacular? It can be argued that our interest fuels the terrorists' actions. Nonetheless, whatever our motives, as viewers we are neither responsible nor culpable for such acts.

Hugh V. McLachlan
Reader, School of Law and Social Sciences
Glasgow Caledonian University

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