For example, let's say that I borrow a friend's laptop and it breaks. Should I be held morally responsible for breaking the laptop? It depends on whether my handling of the laptop caused it to break.
Case 1: My handling of the laptop caused it to break. That is to say, it would not have broken if I had not mishandled it. Therefore, since prefer our laptops in working condition, my mishandling should be discouraged. That is to say, I should be held morally responsible for the mishandling.
Case 2: My handling of the laptop did not cause it to break. That is to say, it would have broken anyway. Discouraging my treatment of the laptop is pointless because the results could not have been prevented. So I shouldn't be held morally responsible.
"I didn't do it, honest!"
In this context, causality just means that the results wouldn't have happened if not for the actions. Moral responsibility means that the actions should be encouraged or discouraged. We intuitively understand that causality is a necessary condition for moral responsibility, because there is little point in encouraging or discouraging actions that have no bearing on the results.
On the other hand, causality is not a sufficient condition to establish moral responsibility. Most obviously, the laws of nature are what cause earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, but we don't hold them responsible for anything. This is because the laws of nature are not human and don't respond to encouragement or discouragement.
But even when all parties are human, this is still true. Consider a general scenario where Alice performs action X. Bob, in response, performs action Y. Y results in negative consequences. Both actions caused the result, in the sense that if either action had been avoided then the consequences would have been avoided. But should Alice or Bob be held morally responsible?
This is an outcome table for our scenario. It's assumed that Alice and Bob have some motivation for acting the way they do, and are inconvenienced if they don't do it. Depending on the precise situation, this inconvenience could be great or small.
If both parties are being coerced with threats of violence, then the "inconveniences" are quite large, and we couldn't hold them morally responsible. If both parties are just being lazy, we might hold them both morally responsible. For example, if Alice is a lab safety supervisor, and Bob is a lab worker, then we expect Alice to inspect the lab conditions and for Bob to be prepared for any hazards. Safety is more important than laziness.
But sometimes, one party is much more inconvenienced than the other. Unsurprisingly, the first example that comes to mind is queer-related. If Alice goes out in public with her girlfriend, or if she is MTF and goes out in public presenting as female, then this might cause Bob to harass her. But it's a pretty major inconvenience for Alice to never show herself in public, and not a big inconvenience for Bob to stop harassing people. So Bob should be given all the moral responsibility. Alice may recognize the chain of causality, and may choose to be more discrete, but she is not morally obligated to do so.
On the flip side, it could be Alice who holds all the responsibility. For example, Alice could be someone who advertises healing touch therapy with false claims, and Bob could be a customer. Certainly Bob bears some responsibility for investigating the validity of the services he pays for, but Alice is far more responsible because she is lying.
Come to think of it, in the above scenario, Alice has the greater inconvenience, because she's missing out on a lot of money that she could have conned from people. Perhaps it's better to measure it by inconvenience to society in general rather than inconvenience to Alice or Bob specifically. Or maybe there are other factors I'm not considering. Point to ponder.
In general, this is a very difficult ethical dilemma, finding out who is morally responsible. For many situations, there are social conventions for who is expected to step aside. Sometimes, these conventions are neither good nor bad, it's just that society has to pick one or the other (like the convention that all cars drive on the right side of the road). Other times the conventions are bad, but they're hard to change without some intermediate negative consequences. Ethics is hard.
(This post came to mind when I read something on The Thinker. I have no comment on the specific example he uses.)
Other posts in this mini-series:
Colds and Causality
Women and Causality
Responsibility and Causality
Nature/nurture and Causality
Physics and Causality
Math and Causality