Assignment for Philosophy class:
Was Andy morally responsible for the death of his wife?
ANDY: My wife used to say I’m a hard man to know. Like a closed book. Complained about it all the time. She’s beautiful. God, I loved her. But I just didn’t know how to show it, that’s all. I killed her, Red. I didn’t pull the trigger. But I drove her away. That’s why she died. Because of me, the way I am.
Whether or not Andy was responsible for the death of his wife is an interesting thing. According to the law, he was guilty of the actual murder of his wife and the man she was with. When there was possible proof for Andy’s innocence, it was all pushed under the rug and he was still “responsible” for the death of his wife. Because of the sketchy system at Shawshank prison, in accordance with the law, he was responsible for his wife’s death even after he escaped. He will never be free of that statement unless more evidence shows up. Andy on the other hand, knew that in accordance to the law, he was in fact innocent of all charges. He knows he did not physically kill her, that’s why he tried to escape because he knew he was not guilty. In terms of ethics and morality however, Andy believes that he is responsible for the death of his wife.
The moral/ethical theory I chose to answer this question is Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism has two basic ideas that help define it; in terms of ultimate morality, happiness is most important and the actions a human being does or does not do is what determines human happiness. If we are to agree with Andy’s thoughts that he is guilty, then this theory makes sense for him. If the moral good is human happiness and what a person does is a huge factor of human happiness, then based on the quote from Andy, he is responsible for his wife’s death. Andy believes that he did not fulfill his obligations as a good husband and that caused her to leave him and put her in a place where she shouldn’t have been. Our textbook says that in terms of morality, “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.” (Rauhut, N. C.) The book also says that, “When we calculate the consequences of our actions, we need to take into account the happiness of everybody affected.” (Rauhut, N. C.) With this thinking, Andy admits that he is guilty of pushing his wife away by being a “closed book”; he told us that he loved her so much but never showed her because he never knew how. If Andy feels as though he did not make his wife happy enough that it drove her away, then he is more or less right in his thinking that he is responsible for her death.
If wanting to go further, then we could talk about obligatory actions and supererogatory actions.
With obligatory actions, they are actions that are morally required. Supererogatory actions are ones that are “praiseworthy but are not strictly required.” ( Rauhut, N. C.)For an individual to decide whether or not Andy is responsible is whether or not you believe making your wife happy is morally required. If it’s not morally required then he wouldn’t be responsible, if it is morally required then perhaps he is morally responsible for the death of his wife.
RED: That doesn’t make you a murderer. Bad husband, maybe. Feel bad about it if you want to. But you didn’t pull the trigger.
ANDY: No. I didn’t. Somebody else did, and I wound up in here. Bad luck, I guess.
Rauhut, N. C. (2004). Ultimate questions: thinking about philosophy. New York: Longman.