As this is being written, Dr. Blasey has yet to testify before the Senate. At this point, the most critical issue is whether the accusation is true. If it is, this raises the matter of morally assessing a person today for what they did in the past. Obviously enough, a person is not morally accountable for misdeeds they did not commit.
When consider present accountability for past misdeeds, one obvious concern is whether the person was morally accountable when they did the misdeed. If they were morally accountable, there arises the question of the degree of accountability. As discussed in previous essays, factors such as age and intoxication can have an impact on a person’s moral agency and thus on their accountability. The first accusation against Kavanaugh is from when he was a minor and it is alleged that he was drunk. Both factors could be taken to mitigate a person’s moral accountability, but it would be unreasonable to accept that they would eliminate all moral accountability. The second accusation against Kavanaugh is that he engaged in sexual misconduct at a party while drunk. If the accusation is true, Kavanaugh would have been an adult at the time—albeit a young adult and this would be relevant to considering the degree of agency and accountability. Naturally, it could be argued that at that age he would have full agency and accountability. If he was drunk at the time, this could also be taken as a mitigating factor because of the impact on his agency. However, as argued in an earlier essay, the drunk defense is not a very effective defense. As such, if Kavanaugh committed these alleged misdeeds, then it is reasonable to hold him morally accountable—while factoring in his age and intoxication.
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A second matter of concern when assessing the impact of past misdeeds is whether the person was punished for these misdeeds. To use the obvious analogy, if the punishment was just and proportional, then it would be like paying off a debt. It is not that the punishment would erase the misdeed, but the person would have paid for their misdeed. If the punishment was inadequate, then this would be analogous to only partially paying off a debt. If Kavanaugh committed the alleged misdeeds, he was not punished for them, hence they would remain on his moral ledger. There is also the concern that a person could be punished for a misdeed yet remain unchanged—which leads to the matter of repentance.
In general terms, true repentance involves the person recognizing that their action was wrong, that they feel remorse for what they did, and that they are unlikely to do the misdeed again because of a change in their character (which can be as simple as learning that something is wrong). From a moral standpoint, if a person repents a misdeed, then this would impact the current moral assessment of the person they are. After all, while a repentant person acknowledges they have done wrong, they have taken steps to address their misdeed. Since it is not known (to those other than the people involved) whether Kavanaugh committed the alleged misdeeds, it is also not known whether he repented (or if he needed to do so).
A final area of assessment is, obviously enough, the person’s current character relative to their past character. If a person who committed a misdeed has changed in appositive manner regarding their virtues and vices, then the weight of the judgment should be on their current character. To use a sports analogy, while a person’s past athletic performances remain in place historically, what matters more now is their current abilities. As an illustration, while I once ran a 2:45 marathon, I can no longer do that, and my athletic ability should not be assessed on what I did then, but what I can do now. In the case of being a better person, what wrongs a person did in the past matter, but what matters more in assessing them now is the sort of person they are today.
Assessing a person does, obviously, include assessing their history. So, if a person committed a misdeed, has not done serious wrongs since then and has improved meaningfully as a person, then their past misdeeds should not completely define how they are assessed today. While some might not be inclined to apply this approach to Kavanaugh (if he committed the alleged misdeeds), as with all principles there is a moral and logical requirement to be consistent in its application.
If Kavanaugh did not commit the alleged misdeeds, then they cannot be used to assess him morally. If he did, then they would be relevant. However, the current assessment would need to consider his current character. Naturally enough, if he is lying about the events in question, then this would make the assessment a matter of current misdeeds rather than the alleged sins of the past.