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This is possibly a dumb question, but anyway...

This is possibly a dumb question, but anyway... If I trade shares for a living, is that an immoral job, given that the activity is essentially gambling, and doesn't create anything or achieve anything useful?

I think your question is not only not dumb, it raises issues that would take a genius (someone far, almost infinitely more intelligent than myself!) to adequately address in terms of an overall account (and evaluation) of market economies, their values and the different roles they sustain and require. Moreover your question may require some account of what is involved (in the relevant sense) in creation, achievement, investments, and risk-taking (or what you refer to as gambling). Given the complexity of such background concerns, it seems virtually impossible to avoid replying to your question with something like: 'Maybe. Maybe not. It all depends....' I will attempt something that is a tiny bit more informative but without getting into the essential background concerns that really are essential for thinking more deeply on your excellent concern. Let me try, then, two responses, the first being quite general, the second more personal.

THE GENERAL RESPONSE: Assuming we are in the context of a free market economy and the trading is both practiced legally (no deception, double-dealing, duplicity) and the trade is in goods that not unjust (the trading does not involve arms dealing with terrorists, drug, sex, and endangered animal trading, etc), the production, transporting, sail and purchase of such goods often requires some reliable financial investments from those who are not involved in the production, transporting, etc of goods. There is, then (and forgive me if I am the dumb one in terms of simplification) often an essential place for persons to manage investing (of their own monies of those of clients) in those who are (more directly) involved in the creation of such goods. So, assuming that such a market economy is just (or not unjust), there seems nothing immoral (and perhaps something admirable) in those who invest in this process.

A SECOND RESPONSE: The way you phrase your question leads me to think that your worry is that the kind of trading you have in mind is not principally a dignified practice in a market economy, but the equivalent of going to a casino or betting on horses, playing lotteries, and the like. Two thoughts: first, I suggest that buying and selling shares in, say, IBM is very different from casino gambling (the first does contribute to the production of goods), but, second, even if the trading is like casino gambling it may only be immoral insofar as this involves the "trader" neglecting other, stringent moral obligations (e.g. the trader is actually a highly trained medical doctor who is needed to heal others but he has decided to break his contract with a hospital in order to engage in gambling and heavy drinking!). A third option is worth considering: imagine the trader's work is akin (ethically) to casino gambling, but the person is extremely good and gives millions of dollars each year to support Habitat for Humanity and provide scholarships for young persons to study philosophy in universities and colleges throughout the world. If you are such a trader, I wish to encourage you in every respect.

I think your question is not only not dumb, it raises issues that would take a genius (someone far, almost infinitely more intelligent than myself!) to adequately address in terms of an overall account (and evaluation) of market economies, their values and the different roles they sustain and require. Moreover your question may require some account of what is involved (in the relevant sense) in creation, achievement, investments, and risk-taking (or what you refer to as gambling). Given the complexity of such background concerns, it seems virtually impossible to avoid replying to your question with something like: 'Maybe. Maybe not. It all depends....' I will attempt something that is a tiny bit more informative but without getting into the essential background concerns that really are essential for thinking more deeply on your excellent concern. Let me try, then, two responses, the first being quite general, the second more personal. THE GENERAL RESPONSE : Assuming we are in the context of a...

If philosophers were paid to answer questions on sites like this one, I think we

If philosophers were paid to answer questions on sites like this one, I think we'd agree that there would be more responses. But do you think the quality of responses would decrease? Is something that one is willing to do for free intrinsically more virtuous than if it is done with a promised reward?

Fascinating question! Perhaps you are right that if we were paid for our responses, there would probably be more responses, but this might not mean that the responses would be better in quality. I have not seen a response yet keeping in mind I have not read all the responses that seemed to me to be done in a cursory manner, or in a way that would be less in quality if the question - response format was conducted professionally. I suggest that there may be no greater value as a rule for the superiority of value when persons act voluntarily or for free or for a promised reward money. Someone might volunteer to help the poor and do so because they have inherited great wealth, whereas another person who does not have such wealth and wants to help the poor may need to be paid if she is going to afford to do the work. Both persons might be equally compassionate and courageous Still, there are cases when it seems that a voluntary act may have greater merit: if someone refuses to be nice unless they are paid, that would seem to pale against almost any voluntary nice / generous action. Also, on speculating about how philosophers might respond on this site if they were paid, a number of factors might come into play. Imagine that for every response that a philosopher makes, the payment would go directly to assist refugees in Africa. Of course, the amount might matter too. In the case of what would seem a trivial amount among reasonably well off persons say, middle class in USA or Europe being paid 25 cents USD might seem absurd, but then again it is sobering to realize that in some parts of the world that 25 cents would be both needed and put to good use.

If you are willing to pay me to write more in the way of donating the equivalent of $100 to Oxfam I doubt that it is in my power to respond with a better reply, but I would be willing to put two or three hours more in seeking out different aspects of your excellent question.

Fascinating question! Perhaps you are right that if we were paid for our responses, there would probably be more responses, but this might not mean that the responses would be better in quality. I have not seen a response yet keeping in mind I have not read all the responses that seemed to me to be done in a cursory manner, or in a way that would be less in quality if the question - response format was conducted professionally. I suggest that there may be no greater value as a rule for the superiority of value when persons act voluntarily or for free or for a promised reward money. Someone might volunteer to help the poor and do so because they have inherited great wealth, whereas another person who does not have such wealth and wants to help the poor may need to be paid if she is going to afford to do the work. Both persons might be equally compassionate and courageous Still, there are cases when it seems that a voluntary act may have greater merit: if someone refuses to be nice unless...

Is it ever immoral to develop or promote technology that causes people to lose

Is it ever immoral to develop or promote technology that causes people to lose jobs by making human workers obsolete?

This is a very tough question!

I think that it can be and you are raising a concern that is highly important today. In the USA technology (along with subsidies) has permitted farmers to produce far more goods and cheaper prices than some farmers in under developed nations. Persons in Africa are not able to produce as much corn or cotton as an American farmer and they therefore cannot compete as well in international markets. In some cases, the hardship that this causes African farmers can be quite severe. You asked about morality, not legality. It may (or may not) violate any international law for American farmers to out-compete African farmers, but cases are easily imagined in which American self-restraint or assistance in terms of exporting efficient technology to African farmers may be a more respectful course of action.

Historically, there are a significant number of cases within a society when new technology has made many workers redundant. Some advocates of a free market system conclude that this is the inevitable pain that occurs in the course of the evolution of an economy. But I suggest that the hardship caused in such a blow to the work force might be important to minimize in a just state: for example, a manufacturer who has deployed technology leading to the loss of, say, a thousand workers may have some duty to insure that the workers have access to training that would enable them to find other forms of work.

This is a very tough question! I think that it can be and you are raising a concern that is highly important today. In the USA technology (along with subsidies) has permitted farmers to produce far more goods and cheaper prices than some farmers in under developed nations. Persons in Africa are not able to produce as much corn or cotton as an American farmer and they therefore cannot compete as well in international markets. In some cases, the hardship that this causes African farmers can be quite severe. You asked about morality, not legality. It may (or may not) violate any international law for American farmers to out-compete African farmers, but cases are easily imagined in which American self-restraint or assistance in terms of exporting efficient technology to African farmers may be a more respectful course of action. Historically, there are a significant number of cases within a society when new technology has made many workers redundant. Some advocates of a free market system...

Many of those who favor online piracy (or who oppose restrictive laws meant to

Many of those who favor online piracy (or who oppose restrictive laws meant to combat piracy, at least), argue that piracy does not actually hurt movie and music producers. They claim that most pirates would be unlikely to buy the products in question even if they were unable to download them for free. In restricting piracy, we aren't actually restoring revenue to the producers or anything of the sort. Those producers would be just as successful or unsuccessful whether piracy were allowed or not. Is this sensible? Let's say that I download a movie. If it is really true that I would not buy the movie in any case, does that make downloading it okay?

Great issue. If you think about it on an individual level, of course "piracy" is wrong: you are stealing that work from its producer. (The word "piracy" pretty much reflects that!). And as long as there are specific copyright laws that forbid it, then doing so is obviously wrong (at least in the sense of violating the law), whether or not you would have purchased the work anyway. But maybe we should think of it on a collective level, and ask questions such as "Are the laws in question themselves good/just laws?" (which I take Allen to be raising) and "Would a better system overall allow free downloading?" (where "better" obviously has many facets, including ethical ones). To be sure, part of answering those questions involve empirical considerations: do "producers of work" collectively do better, make more money, etc., when one allows liberal copying of their work? Think Grateful Dead, just for one select example: the 'bootleg' industry they themselves supported seems to have worked out pretty well for them, although how well it would work for others remains to be seen. Did the introduction of cassettes ultimately harm the music business (I remember taping many dozens of albums back then), or the introduction of VCRs the movie business -- or did they ultimately help those businesses, by spreading free samples of their wares and ultimately leading more people to purchase what was available for purchase? These days similar issues are playing out in the e-book world -- and of course it's often seen as an excellent business idea to provide a certain amount for free (a free chapter, some free songs, etc.) in order to entice people to purchase. So -- empirically -- maybe a certain degree of 'free downloading' might actually be good for the business -- and indeed, as the questioner suggests, empirically it may be that some high percentage of people who "pirate" really wouldn't have purchased the work anyway, and so cannot be actually said to be harming the producers of the work -- and maybe even HELPING them, since when people like a song (movie, book) these days they tend to post on Facebook and Tweet it etc., thereby spreading its audience. And who knows -- as Allen hints -- maybe overall it WOULD be better if all these things were free -- maybe if free downloading were acceptable (and qua social practice, it's practically the norm anyway), then only those people who were fully committed to their art would pursue them, and the overall quality of artistic work would improve ... (On the other hand, then, only those people who could afford to work for free would be able to do so, which might introduce class elements into the equation ...) So, my point: when viewed from "the big picture," it's not at all obvious to me that (a certain, perhaps high degree of) free downloading might actually be a good thing -- but also that answering this question will involve a good amount of empirical research as well ....

We would add just a tad to the earlier respondent: Downloading without consent or payment would still involve disrespect of the filmmaker, artist, and so on. Also, the question itself suggests you really do want the object you have downloaded --otherwise downloading wouldn't come up as a question. You also say would "not buy the movie in any case," but if there was no other way of viewing the movie, would you still come to the same conclusion that you have. CT and his friend and consultant TJ Hagen

Some businesses use incentive schemes to draw in customers; I want to know about

Some businesses use incentive schemes to draw in customers; I want to know about whether or not such schemes abuse human psychology or are otherwise immoral. Let me give an example. Imagine a sandwich shop that sells sandwiches for 2$ each; they decide to change the scheme, so that now, every time one buys four sandwiches, the fifth sandwich comes free of charge. To compensate, they raise the price of the sandwiches to 2,50$, meaning that either way, the customers end up paying 10$ for every five sandwiches. Yet people, especially newcomers to the shop unfamiliar with the old prices, buy more sandwiches than before because, hey, there's a free sandwich in there! The shop begins to earn more than its competitors, and garners more long-term customers who pay more of their money for the sandwiches, by exploiting a loophole in human psychology. The sandwiches are in all relevant respects identical, yet people are paying more because of a freebie scheme. Is this an ethically legitimate practice? Or...

Great case! It is difficult to say (or say clearly) that the practice is unethical for, after all, the competition could offer a similar scheme. Any number of practices seem ethically permissible that would give the shop an edge, e.g. the opportunistic shop owner might offer customers who buy four sandwiches a flower or give $2.50 to charity, and so on. But there is some kind of exploitation insofar as the shop is taking advantage of costumers not knowing the past practice (and so not realizing that they are not getting an advantage over other competitors), plus the shop might have to spend more money to expand the size of the shop insofar as their customers start getting larger and larger from eating all those bloody sandwiches! Apart from perhaps placing customers at some health risk from consuming massive numbers of sandwiches, it does not appear (to me) to involve immoral or unethical action.

Great case! It is difficult to say (or say clearly) that the practice is unethical for, after all, the competition could offer a similar scheme. Any number of practices seem ethically permissible that would give the shop an edge, e.g. the opportunistic shop owner might offer customers who buy four sandwiches a flower or give $2.50 to charity, and so on. But there is some kind of exploitation insofar as the shop is taking advantage of costumers not knowing the past practice (and so not realizing that they are not getting an advantage over other competitors), plus the shop might have to spend more money to expand the size of the shop insofar as their customers start getting larger and larger from eating all those bloody sandwiches! Apart from perhaps placing customers at some health risk from consuming massive numbers of sandwiches, it does not appear (to me) to involve immoral or unethical action.