Comment on Paterno

A student’s comment on last week’s post about Joe Paterno:

I came across an article that may be of interest to the student who inquired about Joe Paterno being used as a scapegoat:   Although this isn’t the main focus of the article, it does suggest that Paterno’s actions or lack thereof, are a classic example of the bystander effect, when “people may assume someone else is taking action, or that those above them are handling the situation” (Kirk Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and a social ethics professor at Santa Clara University in California). CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin also points out that “Criminal law imposes very few affirmative obligations on people . . . criminal law is mostly about ‘don’t do this, don’t do that. Don’t kill somebody, don’t do drugs, don’t engage in fraud.” Technically Paterno did not break any law, and according to our textbook, “you have no duty duty to assist someone in peril unless you created the danger” under the bystander’s obligations rule (Business Law 74). Being that Paterno was not directly involved with the heinous crimes committed, perhaps he will remain safe under this general rule.

Though I do not subscribe to these views (for I cannot imagine neglecting to report such blatant crimes to the proper authorities), they raise an interesting point: is Paterno guilty in the eyes of the law? Or only in the moral sense? It goes back to the first day of lecture when you asked the distinction between law and ethics, which Toobin addresses in a similar fashion: “the difference between the legal and the moral (obligations), while important, obscures the fact that every individual who sees the abuse, who sees an evil like this, should feel morally obliged to act in order to protect the victim and future victims.”

Again, I propose this as merely food-for-thought, devil’s advocate kinda stuff, and am by no means defending Paterno’s shameful silence.

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