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Ethically speaking, should private businesses be allowed to refuse service to

Ethically speaking, should private businesses be allowed to refuse service to individuals on account of any characteristic that is related to their behavioral choices? For example, in the US, restaurants are allowed to refuse service to patrons who spit on the floor or don't wear shoes but are not allowed to refuse service to a black man (since he did not "choose" to be black). In that case, supposing a restaurant owner does not like obese people, why should he be forced to serve obese patrons (some of whom might be black) since many of them chose to eat their way to obesity?

While I think you are right to observe that business owners are generally not allowed to discriminate against persons on the basis of their unchosen characteristics, it does not follow that they are allowed to discriminate on the basis of chosen characteristics. Religion, sexual orientation and political commitments are paradigm examples: they are chosen at least in their outward manifestations, but as a society we have decided not to rank people on the basis of such choices and to impose this non-discrimination upon businesses. This makes sense insofar as such choices are ones that the person is deeply identified with. They are part of a person's identity and, by refusing to serve a person on the basis of such a choice, or by requiring a person not to express such a choice as a condition of admittance, one is rejecting and disrespecting the whole person -- just as one is rejecting and disrespecting the whole person when one refuses to serve her on the basis of her gender or skin color.

The same does not typically hold when a business excludes those who wear no shoes, i.e. requires shoes as a condition of admittance. The choice to walk barefoot is a superficial choice, not part of a person's identity, and so the requirement to wear shoes is not demeaning or disrespectful (though it could be in special cases such as that of Mahatma Gandhi). Still, even with regard to such superficial choices, the business owner must still have a plausible reason for imposing the requirement. Business owners have a legitimate reason to preserve a certain ambiance in their establishment, and this may justify the exclusion of barefoot patrons and certainly the exclusion of those who spit on the floor. But this would not typically justify the exclusion of those who wear a belt or brown socks.

Obesity is an interesting case in that is has some features of unchosen characteristics: the obese person cannot suppress the outward manifestation of her obesity in the way people could remove any outward manifestations of their religion, sexual orientation or political commitments. Moreover, obesity is typically part of a person's identity, albeit sometimes an unwanted part; and so refusing admittance to a person on the basis of his obesity constitutes a rejection of, and disrespect for, the whole person.

While I think you are right to observe that business owners are generally not allowed to discriminate against persons on the basis of their unchosen characteristics, it does not follow that they are allowed to discriminate on the basis of chosen characteristics. Religion, sexual orientation and political commitments are paradigm examples: they are chosen at least in their outward manifestations, but as a society we have decided not to rank people on the basis of such choices and to impose this non-discrimination upon businesses. This makes sense insofar as such choices are ones that the person is deeply identified with. They are part of a person's identity and, by refusing to serve a person on the basis of such a choice, or by requiring a person not to express such a choice as a condition of admittance, one is rejecting and disrespecting the whole person -- just as one is rejecting and disrespecting the whole person when one refuses to serve her on the basis of her gender or skin color. The same...

Are spousal hires unethical? Do companies have an obligation to consider job

Are spousal hires unethical? Do companies have an obligation to consider job candidates on their merit as individuals alone? I would have thought that spousal hires were obviously unfair, and therefore objectionable. But I've talked to many people who think that they are often legitimate.

This is an interesting and difficult question. One might start with the presumption that a company's hiring may be conducted in whatever way its top officers deem most advantageous. Thus imagine a company that has two positions to fill and is considering four candidates. The hiring officers rank these candidates in the following order: Alice, Ben, Celia, David. So they would like to hire Alice and Ben. But unfortunately Alice is married to David, and she will decline unless David is also made an offer. So the hiring officers discuss whether the firm is better off with Alice and David or with Ben and Celia. They determine that the Alice-David combination is more advantageous, and so they promise Alice that, if she accepts, David will also be hired.

Does Ben have a complaint in this case? I don't think so. It is true that, other things equal, he would add more value to the firm than David would. But other things are not equal: if Ben is hired over David, then Alice will decline; whereas if David is hired over Ben, then Alice will accept. The firm prudently prefers Alice-David over Ben-Celia, and Ben has no good claim that the firm should reward some specific merit that is distinct from contribution to the firm's overall success. In the relevant sense, David does contribute more than Ben after all because he ensures Alice's services for the company.

Despite this presumption, spousal hiring might still be deemed unethical on two distinct grounds. First, participation in a hiring practice might be unethical because of its large-scale effects. Here is a clear-cut example. Firms have reason to hire people whom their customers will like. If most customers have some religious or racial prejudice, then the practice of preferring job candidates whom customers will like constitutes systematic discrimination against job candidates of the disliked religion or race. Firms ought not to participate in such a pattern of discrimination even if they are legally permitted to do so. Does this example have an analogue in spousal hiring? It might. There might be in some society a group of people held in low esteem -- short males, say -- who find it hard to find a spouse. The social disadvantage of this group would be compounded by a practice of spousal hiring: while short males are very rarely beneficiaries of spousal hires (nearly all of them are involuntary bachelors), they would much more often lose opportunities on account of spousal hires. If such a situation obtained, firms have a moral reason not to engage in spousal hires, at least in cases where the passed-over candidate would be a member of the disadvantaged group.

The second ground for judging spousal hiring unethical despite the presumption is connected to the fact that those insiders who can influence the hiring process do not always act in the best interest of the firm. Imagine a case where three candidates have applied for a job opening. In terms of qualifications, it seems rather clear that the candidates should be ranked in the order Frank, Gina, Henry. But Henry's wife Edith is already working for the firm, and she lets it be known that she would leave if someone other than Henry were hired. Now Edith is actually less qualified than Gina; if Frank were hired and Edith left, the firm would -- with Frank and Gina -- be better off than it would be with Edith and Henry. So the firm would be well advised to ignore Edith's threat. But Edith lobbies the people she knows in the firm and pressures them to help her get Henry hired. If the relevant people succumb to this lobbying and damage the firm by offering the job to Henry rather than to Frank, then their conduct would normally be unethical by violating their fiduciary duty to the firm in a way that also unreasonably deprives Frank of a job offer he merits.

I have sketched reasons of two kinds that, if present, might make a spousal hire unethical. I don't think such reasons are decisive -- there might always be further morally significant reasons in play on the other side (e.g., Henry needs the job to survive because his daily medicine is unaffordable without the company's health insurance policy). But I do think that these reasons typically support the conclusion that a spousal hire is unethical -- and that most cases of unethical spousal hiring involve self-dealing by insiders (reasons of the second kind).

This is an interesting and difficult question. One might start with the presumption that a company's hiring may be conducted in whatever way its top officers deem most advantageous. Thus imagine a company that has two positions to fill and is considering four candidates. The hiring officers rank these candidates in the following order: Alice, Ben, Celia, David. So they would like to hire Alice and Ben. But unfortunately Alice is married to David, and she will decline unless David is also made an offer. So the hiring officers discuss whether the firm is better off with Alice and David or with Ben and Celia. They determine that the Alice-David combination is more advantageous, and so they promise Alice that, if she accepts, David will also be hired. Does Ben have a complaint in this case? I don't think so. It is true that, other things equal, he would add more value to the firm than David would. But other things are not equal: if Ben is hired over David, then Alice will decline; whereas if David is...

What is the meaning of loyalty? If I work in an organization and am committed

What is the meaning of loyalty? If I work in an organization and am committed to its purpose but feel that the organization is not meeting its purpose or is perhaps subverting it, to what do I owe my loyalty? To those currently in the organization or to what I understand to be the purpose of the organization?

I don't think the dilemma you sketch is really about the meaning of loyalty. You might be loyal to the organization's purpose (as you understand it) or you might be loyal to your current fellow members. The question really is which more deserves your loyalty. There is no general answer, but here are a few reflections that you may find helpful.

One important factor is whether the purpose of the organization has independent importance. Suppose the organization is the Silly Hat Society. It's purpose is for members to come together for fun monthly meetings wearing silly hats. Over the years, the hat part recedes into the background, many show up with uncreative headgear and some even without anything -- but members still enjoy one another's company and are having a good time. In this case, it would be a little silly to place loyalty to the organization's purpose above loyalty to its members: silly to berate members to live up to the purpose of the organization and so on. Here it does not really matter that members gradually abandon the original purpose of the Society or revise this purpose.

By contrast, suppose your organization works against torture and solicits funds from the public for this purpose. In this case, if many of your fellow workers spend a lot of the organization's money on expensive education trips, wasting funds that could be spend on effective anti-torture initiatives, your loyalties clearly should lie with the organization's purpose rather than it's present members.

Even if the organization's purpose is important, you may owe some loyalty to its present members. This is true when there are good-faith disagreements about what the purpose is, precisely, or about what it demands under given conditions. Thus suppose that you work for an organization devoted to the realization of human rights. Most of your colleagues want the organization to launch a major initiative in behalf of a human right that you find unimportant or even questionable. You try to convince them, but fail. The majority decides to go ahead with the initiative. If you believe that your colleagues are genuinely convinced of the merits of the initiative, then -- rather than resign -- you might well defer to their judgment and support the initiative. One reason here might be that you come to have some doubt about your own judgment when you find it unshared, upon reflection, by many others you respect. Another reason might be your appreciation that the organization will be effective only if it concentrates its efforts, that it can concentrate its efforts only if its members collaborate according to a common plan, and that such collaboration according to a common plan will work only with a shared willingness to accept majority decisions.

Perhaps the most important application of the question you pose is to a special class of organizations: states. Most of your fellow citizens probably believe that the purpose of the state is to secure and increase its wealth, power, and territory. Others will think that the justice of the state's internal institutional arrangements is also of great importance. And some will hold that the state's purpose also includes or requires a just foreign policy that deals fairly with weaker states and foreigners and also aims for greater justice in international institutional arrangements. Those who recognize all three purposes will have a quite different understanding of patriotism than those who recognize only the first. In this sort of context, "loyal opposition" makes sense: a sustained effort to convince one's compatriots coupled with a disposition to defer to their judgment at least by respecting the law. But if the gap becomes too large, then one may want to place loyalty to one's country's true purpose (as one understands it upon reflection) above loyalty to its present people -- one may, for example, leave one's country when the fascists come to power or even join a resistance movement aiming to overthrow the fascist regime.

I don't think the dilemma you sketch is really about the meaning of loyalty. You might be loyal to the organization's purpose (as you understand it) or you might be loyal to your current fellow members. The question really is which more deserves your loyalty. There is no general answer, but here are a few reflections that you may find helpful. One important factor is whether the purpose of the organization has independent importance. Suppose the organization is the Silly Hat Society. It's purpose is for members to come together for fun monthly meetings wearing silly hats. Over the years, the hat part recedes into the background, many show up with uncreative headgear and some even without anything -- but members still enjoy one another's company and are having a good time. In this case, it would be a little silly to place loyalty to the organization's purpose above loyalty to its members: silly to berate members to live up to the purpose of the organization and so on. Here it does not really matter...

Ethics and Roofing

Ethics and Roofing My spouse and I live in a house whose roof who has been in place for 15-20 years of a purported life expectancy of 25 years. Recently we had large hail stones and strong winds that accompanied a nearby tornado. We have homeowner’s insurance that covers storm damage—a particular type that provides “full replacement value” for legitimate claims (which we pay for by an increased cost). The insurance company told me that damage caused by a storm is a legitimate claim, and that I should get an estimate and call them back. A roofer who looked at the roof estimates that the entire roof would need to be replaced at a cost of $7,000-10,000 (minus the deductible) It turns out that my spouse and I have different views of this situation. My position is that insurance represents an investment you make to protect yourself against major setbacks. The fact that the storm happened towards the end of the roof’s life-cycle is irrelevant My spouse, however, considers it unethical and even ...

There is a difference here between what you are legally entitled to claim and the loss you have actually incurred. You believe that it is permissible to claim the former, larger amount. Your wife believes that you should claim no more than the latter, smaller amount.

Suppose the difference would only affect the other policy holders through an adjustment of their future premiums. Would you then have an obligation to ask for less as your wife suggests? I think this depends on the prevailing habits and practices among those who would benefit: how are they disposed to act in a case like yours? In the urban world of the East Coast I am familiar with, nearly all those buying insurance would claim no less than they are legally entitled to claim. If this is the prevailing attitude and disposition among the policy holders in your insurance as well, then it is factored into the prices of policies. So you have all along been paying premiums priced to cover people claiming what they are legally entitled to rather than merely their actual cost. And it would therefore not be unfair to the other policy holders if you, too, were to submit the larger claim. Suppose, conversely, that the customers of your insurance all think the way your wife is thinking: they find it sleazy to claim more than one's actual cost and then refrain from doing so. If the premiums you have paid over the years reflect this attitude and disposition on the part of other policy holders, then it would be unfair to them to claim more.

Your decision may not merely affect other policy holders, but also the insurance company or rather its owners/shareholders. Some of the money you might fail to claim would presumably end up as extra cash that this insurance company might reinvest or pay out as dividend to shareholders. In this relationship between you and the company the same question arises: would the company be "decent" or "sleazy" if your roles were reversed? Suppose you made some silly mistake on a claim form and suppose the insurance company is legally within its rights to deny your claim on this basis (you cannot re-file, perhaps, because the filing deadline has since passed). Would your company be generous and let you correct the mistake and then pay your claim? I don't know about your insurance company, but my sense is that most insurance companies would typically insist on their legal rights and deny your claim in such a case (perhaps pointing out that they have a priority obligation to the firm's owners, the shareholders). Assuing that this holds for your company as well, then again it would not be unfair for you, too, to insist on your legal rights with regard to your claims. The legal contract you have with this firm is then a kind of bet between competent adults. What matters here are the legal terms of the bet, and not the actual costs incurred. You can make a bet with a rich friend that you will pay her $100 and, if a tornado strikes your town, she will pay you $20,000. It would not be wrong to collect this amount even if the tornado that strikes your town causes zero damage to your own property. You can think of the insurance cover you bought along the same lines. The company understood that your roof might sustain damage near the end of its natural life and that, if it then paid you "full replacement value", you would benefit from the damage. The company -- certainly a competent party -- nonetheless wrote the policy in this way and charged you appropriate premiums to cover the anticipated extra expense. So why not let the company make good on the promise to which it chose to commit itself in writing?

The only good reason I can see for resolving the question in the way your wife advocates presupposes that your failure fully to claim what you are legally entitled to would benefit other policy holders who are disposed to act in the same manner. If (as seems highly likely to me) this is not your actual situation, it would seem morally permissible for you to claim the full amount.

There is a difference here between what you are legally entitled to claim and the loss you have actually incurred. You believe that it is permissible to claim the former, larger amount. Your wife believes that you should claim no more than the latter, smaller amount. Suppose the difference would only affect the other policy holders through an adjustment of their future premiums. Would you then have an obligation to ask for less as your wife suggests? I think this depends on the prevailing habits and practices among those who would benefit: how are they disposed to act in a case like yours? In the urban world of the East Coast I am familiar with, nearly all those buying insurance would claim no less than they are legally entitled to claim. If this is the prevailing attitude and disposition among the policy holders in your insurance as well, then it is factored into the prices of policies. So you have all along been paying premiums priced to cover people claiming what they are legally entitled to...

I own a for-profit that provides a service. Unfortunately, due to financial

I own a for-profit that provides a service. Unfortunately, due to financial constraints, I cannot provide this service charitably. Would it be unethical to create a 501c3 (non-profit foundation) arm to provide my service to underprivileged folks and hire my for-profit arm to conduct the event? Please note that, objectively, my for-profit arm is truly the most capable provider of this service in the area; also, the purpose of many foundations is precisely to hire vendors, not to direct events themselves. Thanks for your insights.

The answer depends, I would think, on how much money your for-profit company would charge for the service. I don't know the details of your operation, of course, but suppose you have a few employees performing the service and suppose you break even if you charge your customers $17 per hour of any of your employees' time. In fact, let's say, you charge more like $26 per hour, so your company makes $9 per hour, or whatever is left of that after taxes. As the owner of the company, you reinvest some of this money and draw out the rest for your consumption and personal savings.

Now in order to be quite sure that you are acting ethically, you could have your for-profit arm charge the non-profit arm a price that does not increase your company's net profit. By using the word "unfortunately", you suggest that you would very much want underprivileged folks to have access to your service but simply cannot provide it charitably. But you can certainly afford to provide it without a mark-up. The less you charge for your service, the more of it you can provide to the underprivileged with the funds you raise for your non-profit. So why not charge (in my example) $17 per hour, or even a bit less on the assumption that, with more business, your overhead per hour declines?

I think you could ethically make a small profit for your for-profit arm. But as you go substantially above $17 per hour, you are increasingly disregarding the interests of the underprivileged, increasingly prioritizing your own financial gain, and increasingly positioning yourself at odds with the donors to your non-profit (who are donating, presumably, because they care about the underprivileged and not because they want to increase your firm's earnings). I don't think there is a sharp line here (though I assume the law draws one somewhere as a constraint on 501c3 status). But it's very clear that you would not be acting ethically if you charged your non-profit a higher price for your service than you are charging more well-heeled customers.

Things become less neat when you provide the service yourself. In this case, there is no salient break-even point. In this case, you should charge your reservation price or a little less. The reservation price is the lowest amount you would accept for your time from an ordinary customer on the assumption that no one else would ever know of the transaction (so it wouldn't affect what others are willing to pay). If, under this condition, you would serve an ordinary customer for $20 an hour, then you should charge your non-profit arm about this much -- or perhaps a little less so that, alongside the donors to your non-profit, you also make a bit of a sacrifice for the underprivileged.

Just to be very clear, none of the above is meant to address the legal requirements applicable to 501c3 non-profit organizations.

The answer depends, I would think, on how much money your for-profit company would charge for the service. I don't know the details of your operation, of course, but suppose you have a few employees performing the service and suppose you break even if you charge your customers $17 per hour of any of your employees' time. In fact, let's say, you charge more like $26 per hour, so your company makes $9 per hour, or whatever is left of that after taxes. As the owner of the company, you reinvest some of this money and draw out the rest for your consumption and personal savings. Now in order to be quite sure that you are acting ethically, you could have your for-profit arm charge the non-profit arm a price that does not increase your company's net profit. By using the word "unfortunately", you suggest that you would very much want underprivileged folks to have access to your service but simply cannot provide it charitably. But you can certainly afford to provide it without a mark-up. The less you charge...

I have an ethical question. I own a business that provides services to

I have an ethical question. I own a business that provides services to corporations, both public and private. Today at lunch I was having a conversation with my business partner. He brought a proposal from a large public company's purchasing manager who had made it known to my business partner (since they were childhood friends) that he would give us this fairly substantial project if we offered him a kickback of 20% of the project cost, discreetly payable to him outside of the USA in cash. This purchasing manager would rubber-stamp approve our bid, even if it is high because we have to cover his kickback. I told my business partner that his friendly purchasing manager was not only doing something illegal, but also that he was unethical. I told him that we should not deal with such persons. My business partner posed this question to me - "How is this unethical? We routinely visit purchasing managers of other public companies and we take them and their key personnel out to lunch or to dinner to...

Lunch and dinner invitations are, in the United States, a normal part of doing business. By extending such an invitation, you are then not gaining an unfair advantage over your competitors who (insofar as they are interested in doing business with the same company) will -- or at least can -- also extend such invitations. Thus, your payment of the meal is neither unfair to your competitors nor defrauding the shareholders/owners of the purchasing company because it does not disturb the purchasing manager's incentive to make the deal that is best for his company. By contrast, your payment of a 20% kickback will displace this incentive by inducing the purchasing manager to make a deal that is much inferior for his company. The kickback and the purchasing manager's acceptance of it therefore are unfair to your law-abiding competitors and constitute a defrauding of the shareholders/owners of the company represented by the purchasing manager.

Lunch and dinner invitations are, in the United States, a normal part of doing business. By extending such an invitation, you are then not gaining an unfair advantage over your competitors who (insofar as they are interested in doing business with the same company) will -- or at least can -- also extend such invitations. Thus, your payment of the meal is neither unfair to your competitors nor defrauding the shareholders/owners of the purchasing company because it does not disturb the purchasing manager's incentive to make the deal that is best for his company. By contrast, your payment of a 20% kickback will displace this incentive by inducing the purchasing manager to make a deal that is much inferior for his company. The kickback and the purchasing manager's acceptance of it therefore are unfair to your law-abiding competitors and constitute a defrauding of the shareholders/owners of the company represented by the purchasing manager.

This is a question about philosophy of economic theory and the concept of

This is a question about philosophy of economic theory and the concept of property. Supposedly when I buy a stock what I am doing us buying a share of a corporation. In other words I supposedly "own" a part of the corporation. I have several objections to that claim. I did not buy the stock so that I could have voting rights in that corporation nor did I buy it for the trivial dividends the stock supplies. Those things have no value to me or most investors, and with few exceptions no one buys a stock because they have a desire to have voting rights in that company. Certainly if you are going to own a part of something what you own is going to be what makes that thing valuable and profit is what makes a company valuable and thus to own a company is to own a share in it's profit and stocks don't really give you that. Is there some deeper and non-arbitrary sense of the term "ownership" that sophisticated economic theory relies or is "ownership" a loose term?

I don't find your objections compelling. The fact that you don't value something doesn't count against your owning it. For better or worse, your purchase of the stock gives you a say in the company's affairs and, no matter how little you may care about this entitlement, you still have it.

Second, by virtue of the stock you own, you're also entitled to a share of what you do care about: the company's profit. Many companies pay out part of their profits as dividends, and your stock entitles you to receive you fair share of all such dividends. If you own one millionth of the company, you get one millionth of any dividend distribution.

Finally, your interest in profit gives you reason to care also about voting rights. Those who run a company will do a much better job if they are supervised by vigilant owners and know that they may well be voted out or reduced in salary if they do poorly. Not all owners need to pay attention, of course, but if none do, the executives are likely to run the company for their own benefit -- and then there won't be much profit to distribute to the owners.

I don't find your objections compelling. The fact that you don't value something doesn't count against your owning it. For better or worse, your purchase of the stock gives you a say in the company's affairs and, no matter how little you may care about this entitlement, you still have it. Second, by virtue of the stock you own, you're also entitled to a share of what you do care about: the company's profit. Many companies pay out part of their profits as dividends, and your stock entitles you to receive you fair share of all such dividends. If you own one millionth of the company, you get one millionth of any dividend distribution. Finally, your interest in profit gives you reason to care also about voting rights. Those who run a company will do a much better job if they are supervised by vigilant owners and know that they may well be voted out or reduced in salary if they do poorly. Not all owners need to pay attention, of course, but if none do, the executives are likely to run the company...

Hypothesis: Marketing works by making people dissatisfied with their life, then

Hypothesis: Marketing works by making people dissatisfied with their life, then offering them a product that will relieve their dissatisfaction (for a price). If this is true, then it would seem that marketing always reduces a consumer's quality of life, because it leaves them either dissatisfied or paying for a product they wouldn't have needed if it weren't for the marketing. Hence, marketing harms consumers. How then, can marketing ever be ethical?

There are surely cases like the one you describe. But far more frequently, I would think, marketing gets people to switch to a product that costs about the same and is about equally good. In those cases, marketing still imposes a net loss on consumers because its cost gets factored into the price: the consumers of washing powers, cereals, and cars pay for the ads. But the individual firm can often not avoid advertising because it'll then lose market share and will eventually go out of business. In such a context firms can probably not be expected to desist unilaterally, but they can be asked perhaps to reduce their advertising when their competitors are willing to do likewise (insofar as this is consistent with anti-trust/competition laws).

There are also clear counter-examples to your hypothesis: marketing for really new or much improved products. Here the consumer is already dissatisfied (for example, with his sexual functioning) and the consumption of the new product, though it sets him back financially, relieves this dissatisfaction. Or a consumer is not as satisfied as she might be and later is very grateful that she learned of the opportunity to pass the Christmas break in sunny Mexico, spending no more than she would have spent at her usual winter destination.

On the whole, I agree with you that marketing is not worth the large amounts we as a society spend on it. But one needs a little more than your simple argument to reach this conclusion, and the conclusion does not easily lead to the further judgment that those who pay for the marketing of their products or those who work in the advertising industry are always acting unethically.

There are surely cases like the one you describe. But far more frequently, I would think, marketing gets people to switch to a product that costs about the same and is about equally good. In those cases, marketing still imposes a net loss on consumers because its cost gets factored into the price: the consumers of washing powers, cereals, and cars pay for the ads. But the individual firm can often not avoid advertising because it'll then lose market share and will eventually go out of business. In such a context firms can probably not be expected to desist unilaterally, but they can be asked perhaps to reduce their advertising when their competitors are willing to do likewise (insofar as this is consistent with anti-trust/competition laws). There are also clear counter-examples to your hypothesis: marketing for really new or much improved products. Here the consumer is already dissatisfied (for example, with his sexual functioning) and the consumption of the new product, though it sets him back...

If a newspaper receives letters to the editor taking a position that has been

If a newspaper receives letters to the editor taking a position that has been proven factually inaccurate, is it nevertheless the editor's responsibility to print one or more of these letters? Is it more important to demonstrate that others hold a different point of view, however inaccurate, or to convey only accurate information? (Maybe this example is too political or specific, but this came up in regards to the subject of where President Obama was born.)

I believe editors have no such responsibility to print known falsehoods that some want to see in print. In fact, I believe editors have a responsibility not to print such letters. If editors practiced such misconceived "even-handedness," then this would provide a powerful incentive to determined groups to use such letters to create uncertainty in a public that often isn't very capable of discerning what's true and what is not. Reading many letters to the effect that Obama is foreign-born and hence ineligible for the Presidency may persuade a sizable minority of US citizens that their country has been hijacked by foreign agents. And groups could then abuse the letters-to-the-editors facility to inspire this persuasion, perhaps in preparation for terrorist activities such as the Oklahoma City bombing.

Companies could also abuse this sort of false even-handedness. Thus, imagine a company A that sells an expensive drug which reduces the symptoms of some dreadful disease. And imagine that a competing company B has developed a vaccine that can decimate this same disease (and therefore A's market for its product). If editors were committed to the kind of even-handedness you're contemplating, then the shareholders and employees of A would have a strong incentive to write many letters to editors all over the place stating (quite falsely and without evidence) that B's vaccine causes impotence, depression, or body odor.

The editors of media have a responsibility conscientiously to inform the public to the best of their ability. Where the evidence is uncertain, they should say so and give space to the best arguments against their own views. But where the evidence is overwhelming (as it has been for quite some time in the controversies over whether smoking is dangerous to health, over whether there is human-made global warming, over how people get infected with AIDS), editors have a responsibility to convey this to their audiences and to keep out the crackpots and those who would from ulterior motives manipulate the public.

Sure, this sort of editorial discretion can be and frequently is being abused. But this abuse is best kept in check through the multiplicity of media. If one paper denies that there is human-made climate change and keeps out any opposing voices on the ground that they are evidently ill-informed, then these voices can find or create other news media in which to state their case. The best evidence does not always prevail, to be sure, but (in a society with reasonably free media) it does generally do pretty well in reaching the public. And this advantage would grow, not shrink, I believe, if more editors saw their responsibility as I proposed.

I believe editors have no such responsibility to print known falsehoods that some want to see in print. In fact, I believe editors have a responsibility not to print such letters. If editors practiced such misconceived "even-handedness," then this would provide a powerful incentive to determined groups to use such letters to create uncertainty in a public that often isn't very capable of discerning what's true and what is not. Reading many letters to the effect that Obama is foreign-born and hence ineligible for the Presidency may persuade a sizable minority of US citizens that their country has been hijacked by foreign agents. And groups could then abuse the letters-to-the-editors facility to inspire this persuasion, perhaps in preparation for terrorist activities such as the Oklahoma City bombing. Companies could also abuse this sort of false even-handedness. Thus, imagine a company A that sells an expensive drug which reduces the symptoms of some dreadful disease. And imagine that a competing...

Is prostitution immoral? Can we not think of it as a kind of industry where

Is prostitution immoral? Can we not think of it as a kind of industry where service (i.e., sex) is given and received while both parties involved benefit?

Even if both parties benefit from the transaction (relative to the baseline where they do not interact), the transaction can still be immoral. An extreme example would be a mother in Cambodia who works as a prostitute to feed her children. She prefers serving the customer and receiving the money over not interacting with him. And he prefers the transaction over not interacting with her (it only costs him as much as he earns in 20 minutes back home). But it may still be immoral to take advantage of the woman's situation by paying her so little.

Let's leave this sort of case aside and consider prostitution involving two people who are both well off and roughly equally well off -- perhaps a business person buying sex from a college student from an affluent family who is saving up to buy a flashier car. In this case, I'd agree that the transaction is not immoral, assuming free and informed consent on both sides ("informed" meaning among other things that neither has failed to disclose any infectious disease to the other).

Still, this sort of relationship is generally not part of the best life that a human being is capable of. Either person might aspire to a more ambitious romantic relationship in which they would share not only sex but also conversation, literature, travel, sports, emotions, and daily joys, curiosities and sorrows. Where these other possibilities are available but passed up in favor of prostitution, people are falling short of their potential in much the same way as they do when they pass up good novels for trashy ones, news analysis for daytime TV, or evening discussions for excessive alcohol. That's not immoral, so long as no one else gets hurt, but it's still ethically questionable in a broad sense of ethics as one can find in the ancients and in Bernard Williams, for example.

Even if both parties benefit from the transaction (relative to the baseline where they do not interact), the transaction can still be immoral. An extreme example would be a mother in Cambodia who works as a prostitute to feed her children. She prefers serving the customer and receiving the money over not interacting with him. And he prefers the transaction over not interacting with her (it only costs him as much as he earns in 20 minutes back home). But it may still be immoral to take advantage of the woman's situation by paying her so little. Let's leave this sort of case aside and consider prostitution involving two people who are both well off and roughly equally well off -- perhaps a business person buying sex from a college student from an affluent family who is saving up to buy a flashier car. In this case, I'd agree that the transaction is not immoral, assuming free and informed consent on both sides ("informed" meaning among other things that neither has failed to disclose any infectious...

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