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I'm a lawyer. One of my previous clients asked me for specific legal advice that

I'm a lawyer. One of my previous clients asked me for specific legal advice that he later used to commit financial fraud. I strongly suspected at the time that he was going to use my advice for that very purpose but I told him anyway because I like him as a person and I also disagree with the law that prohibits the particular type of fraud that he committed. Have I acted immorally according to virtue ethics?

First, a thought about the question: you ask whether you've "acted immorally according to virtue ethics." You might be trying to understand what light virtue ethics in particular casts on a case like this, or you might be interested in whether what you did was wrong, period. In either case, I don't think we have enough information to say. But let's take the cases in turn.

Some views provide what's supposed to be a criterion that we might be able to use rather like an algorithm to figure out what's right or wrong. Utilitarianism would tell us to do a sort of cost/benefit analysis, toting up the goods and the harms and deciding whether one action is better than another by seeing how the arithmetic works out. Kantianism would direct us to apply the Categorical Imperative in one or another of its forms. (For example: we might ask whether what we're considering would call for treating someone merely as a means to an end.) Virtue ethics doesn't work that way. It's often understood as telling us to do what a virtuous person, aware of the situation and properly informed, would do. We can get a grip on that by asking what virtues are relevant—honesty, for instance, or fairness or courage or kindness. But the list of virtues is open-ended, and even once we've identified some relevant ones, there's no recipe for saying how they apply in a particular case. For example: a person with the virtue of honesty isn't necessarily someone who unfailingly tells the truth. Rather, a person with this virtue knows when truth-telling is the right thing, and acts accordingly. My own view is that it's a virtue of virtue-ethics that it has this open-ended character, but not everyone feels that way. In any case, it's hard to say with so little information just how the virtuous person might act in your situation without knowing what's at stake and what the law actually is forbidding.

The fact that you ask your question in the first place suggests that, virtue ethics aside, you may not be sure you did the right thing. If you told your former client what the law actually calls for and he chose to break the law anyway, then it's not likely that you breached any duties of professional ethics. However, that doesn't necessarily answer the larger question; things can be in accord with professional codes of ethics and still be wrong. If you were implicitly encouraging him to commit some sort of fraud, that would be at least somewhat worrisome even if this particular sort of "fraud" is something most people wouldn't see as wrong. The worry is that we have at least some duty to obey the law even when the law is less than ideal. One reason: picking and choosing among laws might weaken your own overall respect for the law, and might likewise make other people respect the law less. Again, this isn't conclusive and a lot would depend on the details. But as a lawyer, you arguably are held to a higher standard than most people when it comes to matters of the law. It doesn't sound like you literally broke your professional oath, but we can still ask whether you behaved as we would ideally like lawyers to behave. Did you caution your former client? Did the way you answered his question suggest that you take the general maxim that we should respect the law seriously? Or was there a wink and a nod? How good are your reasons for thinking this kind of "fraud" isn't really wrong?

I don't know the answers to any of those questions. But if you're trying to decide whether you acted wrongly, they're the sorts of questions I'd say you should ask.

Justice Scalia famously stated that crosses on graves have, well, crossed-over

Justice Scalia famously stated that crosses on graves have, well, crossed-over from an overtly religious symbol to one that may represent any dead soldier. How do philosophers treat such claims? How do we establish when religious practices, symbols, rituals, etc. have entered the secular public domain to the extent that the law can recognize them as such?

I'll have to admit that I think Justice Scalia is full of prunes on this one, as my grandmother would have said. And I think the case was decided wrongly by the Supreme Court. (Here's an account of the decision that's not just neutral, but still... )

As for your question, it has an empirical component and a conceptual one. The conceptual part calls for deciding what it would mean for a symbol not to have a religious meaning, and the empirical part would be finding out if crosses on graves now have a secular meaning.

The answer to the conceptual question might call for some bells and filigrees, but the basic idea is pretty clear: do most people, including in this case most non-Christian people, agree that a particular symbol (in this case, a cross on a grave) has no religious meaning? If the answer is yes, then Justice Scalia is right. If the answer is no, then he's wrong.

As for how we'd sort out the empirical facts in this case, that would best be left to people who not only understand the issue, but also know how to design good tools (surveys, etc.) for probing such matters. I'm not one of those. However, I'd think some things are clear. We'd want to know, for example, whether most Jews, for example, would be comfortable with the idea of a family member (or themselves!) being buried in a grave marked by a cross. And if the answer is "no" (that would be my guess), then we'd want to know what reasons would typically given. I'd bet a large chunk of my 403B that the answer would be "because it's a Christian symbol and my loved-one isn't Christian."

Since I'm a philosopher, my union card calls for adding caveats. Of course it's not true that each and every use of a cross on a grave is intended to have a religious meaning. We can imagine someone in exigent circumstances marking a grave with a cross just because that makes it likely that people who encounter it will recognize it as a grave. But that doesn't show that crosses have become secular symbols for purposes of the law, and it's an insult to both Christians and non-Christians to pretend otherwise.

If we have no free will, then is the entire legal system redundant since no one

If we have no free will, then is the entire legal system redundant since no one can be held accountable for anything since no one has control over their own actions?

Consider two otherwise identical worlds, in one of which determinism is true, and in the other of which it is not. In the second world there is freedom of the will. What difference does this make to the legal system and the moral system? Ex hypothesi, none. When I wrote that if hard determinism is true, moral systems cannot be corrupt, I was describing Stephen's view, not my own! Hence I think the apparent contradiction that he detects. Here's another way of putting the point I wanted to make. We can imagine a deterministic world in which people are thinking good thoughts and doing good things, and making good laws. The world of law and morality seems to have survived the loss of freedom! In this world, some philosophers believe in determinism, and some in freewill. But of course the having of those beliefs is part of a deterministically produced system. There could be incidentally be a deterministic world that is morally and legally better than a world with freewill. Consider the worst world imaginable, but having freewill, and the best world imaginable, but lacking freewill. You might prefer to live in the unpleasant world, but that doesn't mean it's better. In it the innocent are tortured, unfairness abounds, and so on.

Is is true that justice is an essential element of law such that without it, law

Is is true that justice is an essential element of law such that without it, law cannot be law?

The big issue behind your question is the relationship between law and morality. That's a very big question, though on at lest one important view of what laws are (legal positivism) the answer to your question is no. On the positivist view, laws are, roughly, what lawmaking entities (legislatures, monarchs...) say they are. Whether a law is is another question, as is the question of whether you should obey some particular law.

Whether you think this is right at the end of the day, it fits the common sense thought that there can be bad laws that are still laws. For example: I'd say that at least some aspects of US civil forfeiture laws are actually unjust. They allow the government to seize your property in ways that, these days, many liberals and conservatives agree are unjust. But critics of those laws don't claim that they aren't actually laws; they argue that the laws should be changed.

In any case, there are laws that don't raise questions of justice. In the USA, the law says you drive on the right side of the road; in South Africa, it's the left. Laws like this aren't unjust, but there isn't really an issue of justice here. Justice isn't the only thing the law concerns itself with.

Are libel laws immoral? Libel is so not easy to define yet depending on how it

Are libel laws immoral? Libel is so not easy to define yet depending on how it may be interpreted, all satire and caricature can be considered libel. Isn't the mark of a free society being able to say whatever one wants, even if it amounts to character assassination? Character assassinations can always be defended in the court of public opinion without resorting to courts of law.

Your suggestion that all libel laws are immoral seems to be based on the premise implicit in this rhetorical question: "Isn't the mark of a free society being able to say whatever one wants, even if it amounts to character assassination?" But why think that? As near as I can tell, more or less all of the societies that we usually think of as by and large free have libel and/or defamation laws, and so if the freedom to say anything you like about anyone, in any venue, without legal consequences, were the mark of a free society, it would follow that there are no free societies. But that conclusion would rely on using the phrase "free society" in a way that very few people would find plausible.

Turning to the substance, it's not easy to com up with good reasons why a society should do without libel laws. Your suggestion is that the "court of public opinion" is the alternative. But what if someone libels you and it costs your your job? What if it not only costs you the job you had, but marks you as a scoundrel and keeps you from getting another job? How, exactly, are you going to appeal to the "court of public opinion" to restore your good name or provide compensation for the harm that was done to you by the libel? For my own part, if I were in that position and I couldn't turn to the courts, I would have more or less no idea how to work the levers of public opinion to recover from the damage.

People can deliberately harm you in many ways. Many of those ways aren't tolerated by the law. If you steal my wallet, you can end up in jail. But if you deliberately rob me of my good name, you may do me far more harm. Shakespeare's Iago may have been a villain, but he was right about that.

Libel laws can be too strict, of course, but that's not the question. Bad libel laws might indeed have the result that satire and caricature would count as libel. But at least in the United States (and in many other countries) libel laws don't work that way. If the question is whether libel laws are immoral by nature, then I think we'd need better reasons before we said yes.

Is murder illegal because its wrong?Or is murder wrong because its illegal?

Is murder illegal because its wrong? Or is murder wrong because its illegal?

a great question -- a deep one, and an old one -- basically grounded in the classic theistic question addressed by Plato (in Euthyphro) and many others since -- does God command us not to do things (such as murder) because they're wrong, or are they wrong (simply) because God commands us not to do them ... Stephen's response is excellent, but I'll offer another angle. Re the first half -- is murder illegal b/c it's wrong -- no doubt those legislators who have illegalized murder are at least partly (maybe primarily/exclusively) motivated by its wrongness (that's the sociological/empirical question) -- but presumably your question is meant to be more general, i.e. not merely restricted to murder, whose 'wrongness' most everyone can agree to (though not everyone). If you were to ask 'of all those things that are illegal, are they illegal b/c they are wrong?' surely for many/most of them the answer would be 'no.' It's illegal to go through a red light, not b/c going thru red lights is morally wrong but b/c the powers that be, in their wisdom, have established various conventions for the smooth/safe running of society, so they've set up traffic laws to that end -- just which legislation is motivated by morality and which by (say) the need for societal conventions is an empirical question -- but no doubt both factors play at least some role in much legislation ... (and other factors as well) ... re the sec on half -- 'is murder wrong b/c it's illegal' -- Stephen is right to stress the fundamental distinction between law and morality, but I'll just add one point -- the case might be made that, in general, it's morally wrong to break the laws of your society (all else being equal) -- so at least PART of the wrongness of murder (perhaps a very small part) would consist in the fact that committing it is to break the laws ... (again, generalizing the topic: running a red light IS probably wrong precisely because it's illegal ...) Now of course there are some important complicated cases -- for example, civil disobedience -- in some cases you might argue it's 'right' to break the law -- if you think the law itself is morally wrong -- but that's handled by the 'all else being equal' clause I mentioned ....

hope that's useful!


How would a legal philosopher deal with the trolley problem compared to a moral

How would a legal philosopher deal with the trolley problem compared to a moral philosopher? Would he come to a conclusion that is neither switch nor not switch? That is, either choice is equally legal?

You seem to be asking about the legality of switching or declining to switch, in which case your question is best answered by a lawyer rather than a philosopher of law. I'm not sure, but the answer may depend on the jurisdiction. It may also matter whether the person in a position to switch the trolley is legally authorized to be in that position or is, instead, a trespasser or intruder. I'm not suggesting that the answer provided by the law is totally irrelevant to the morally right answer. The law on this issue, if there is any, may reveal the moral attitude that we currently take toward it, which is relevant to some extent.

Just what is the difference between a lawyer and a legal philosopher? Does the

Just what is the difference between a lawyer and a legal philosopher? Does the legal philosopher care more for metaethics and less for social norms?

A lawyer is someone who practises law, or perhaps studies it, an attorney (in the US) or a barrister or solicitor (in the UK), someone who might have little or no interest in the philosophy of law, or in the the concept of law in the abstract. A legal philosopher, on the other hand, is a philosopher, often or typically today an academic person, one who studies and perhaps contributes to the philosophy of law. The philosophy of law is one of the subject areas within philosophy (such as the philosophy of science, the philosophy of religion, ethics, the theory of knowledge, metaphysics, and so on) in which one studies the question 'What is law?' - to be distinguished of course from the question 'What is the law?' - which is not a philosophical question at all. Or a philosopher of the law might be interested in the question what it is that makes law "valid". There is little doubt what the laws were in say 1935 Germany, e.g. the Nuremberg laws prohibiting the marriage of citizens ("Staatsangehoerigen") and those of Jewish descent, and declaring even such marriages conducted outside Germany invalid within Germany, or the law authorizing among others the sterilization of those with bipolar disease; but were the laws themselves valid, resting as they did on an "Enabling Act", passed by the German Parliament, that abolished the Parliament and gave to Adolf Hitler absolute power? If this act was not valid, why not? Are there limits, perhaps based on "natural rights", as to which laws can be validly enacted? A very important and sane book written by someone who was a distinguished philosopher of law and had also been a practising lawyer is H.L.A. Hart's The Concept of Law, (Oxford: OUP, 1961). Jurisprudence is a wider field than the philosophy of law, though it includes the philosophy of law, containing in addition more narrowly social and political aspects of the law. None of this really has to do with the distinction between metaethics and normative ethics. The legal philosopher might be profoundly interested in normative ethics, as for example H.L.A. Hart was. His influential contribution to the discussion leading up to the decriminalization of homosexual acts in the UK in 1967 was a sophisticated version of the position that the only moral limit of the criminal law is harm.

If a man woke up next to a woman and could not remember having sexual

If a man woke up next to a woman and could not remember having sexual intercourse with her we might surmise that he was so so drunk that he was not in a frame of mind to consent to sexual activity. Indeed, in a recent court ruling from a case I was researching, a judge determined that from the mere fact that the particular woman in the case did not remember having sex established a prima facie case that she was not conscious. While I think that court rulings such as that illustrate pervasive problematic beliefs that prevent men from getting fair treatment during rape trials I think that another question which ultimately ideologically underpins his disparate treatment in the hands of the legal system is simply not being asked. It's highly doubtful that the man in the situation I described could ever make a successful case that he was raped even in the rarest of circumstances or even if there was case to be made that she had a "guilty consciousness" because she lied to the police about whether or not she...

It seems to me that you are running together two very different claims about the effects of alcohol on persons' abilities to make decisions: (1) that alcohol can lead you to make choices that you would not have otherwise made (and so to consent to things you otherwise wouldn't have consented to); and (2) that alcohol can impair your ability to make genuine choices altogether (and so can make it that you are incapable of consent). The question of rape concerns whether or not the other person has consented to sex, not whether or not the other person will regret later consenting to sex. And so, a man is not "responsible for knowing when his sexual actions will lead to a regretful state of mind in a woman." He, like everyone else, is responsible for knowing that the recipient of his sexual advances has consented to them.

I'm not sure that the "dangerously entrenched orthodoxy" you mention is actually as entrenched as you think. The view implicit here seems to me to be just as popular in our culture and so seems just as good a candidate for an orthodox position, and one that strikes me as dangerous. For the view seems to be one that adopts a stance of skepticism about any accusation of rape against a man, one that thinks it likely that the woman did consent and is only now claiming it was rape because she now regrets consenting to sex. I see no reason for thinking that the real problem is not that many women, at some point in their lives, will be victims of sexual assault and rape but rather that many men, at some point in their lives, will be falsely accused of rape by women who regret having consensual sex with them.

Also, it doesn't seem to me that men, in particular, are "taught that they are in control of their impulses." Rather, much of the culture seems to think that men are not quite in control of their sexual impulses, that men can be provoked into raping by the way a woman is dressed, etc. (since what else could it mean to point out, about a rape victim, that she was "dressed provocatively"). Indeed, the observation that "boys will be boys", when used to excuse sexual harassment, sexual assault and even rape, seems quite clearly to claim that men are not entirely in control of their sexual impulses and so we ought not hold them to a consent requirement that assumes such control.

Is there a philosophical point of view to the use of of marijuana? How would a

Is there a philosophical point of view to the use of of marijuana? How would a philosopher think about smoking marijuana?

interesting question -- but why would a philosopher think any differently on this subject than anyone else? are you asking whether pot smoking should be legal? then it's a public health issue, a privacy issue, etc., and then lots of experts can weigh in from all sorts of perspectives (with partly philosophical positions, but not necessarily 'professional philosophers'' philosophical positions ...) are you asking whether it's good to smoke pot? does a good life include it? then we do get to standard philosophical questions, but then there wouldn't be "a" philosopher's way of thinking about it, there would be the usual debates about different conceptions of ethics. of course, no doubt, some people become philosophers partly as a result of their pot-smoking experiences, which no doubt would subsequently inform their philosophial opinions -- about many things, including about pot smoking.

anyway, this may not have been particularly useful, but perhaps it's a start! ...