Advanced Search

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 have an ethical question about buying milk at the supermarket. Supermarkets

I have an ethical question about buying milk at the supermarket. Supermarkets will usually have many rows of bottles of milk on their shelves – with milk that has the soonest use-by date at the front of the shelf, and milk that has more distant use-by dates nearer the back. Clearly the supermarket would like people to take milk from the front, so that the bottles which will go bad sooner are bought before those which will stay good for longer, so that they are not left with unsaleable bad milk. However, as the shopper, I also have an interest in the milk that I buy staying good for as long as possible after I buy it. My question, therefore, is: is there anything unethical about my reaching to the back row for the milk that I will buy? On the one hand, it is out and easy to access (I'm not breaking in to the store room), but on the other hand, they clearly intend the rows to be deplenished from the front. – Many thanks for your answers!

I've often thought about just this issue, even as I (without fail) always pick out the milk from the back row! But I cannot see what could be wrong with doing this -- unless the store sets out a customer policy forbidding it, the store has allowed it (even if it would prefer we take the milk in front) -- so we're not wronging the store in any way, which, in effect, has to accept the possibility of spoiled milk as one of the costs of doing business -- which it then, no doubt, passes on to the customer .... The deeper question here would be a kind of prisoner dilemma: if every customer agreed to take the milk from the front, thus reducing spoilage, the overall cost of milk might well go down, which would be good for everyone -- but if only *I* take it from the front then I increase my personal risk of spoilage without getting any benefit .... :-)

best, ap

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 have a meta-dispute with my nephew about whether a dispute over a loan is a

I have a meta-dispute with my nephew about whether a dispute over a loan is a financial issue or a moral one. I would like to hear from a professional philosopher whether or not I am correct in framing that meta-dispute as a moral issue. The fundamental dispute is this: my nephew has had to file for personal bankruptcy twice, and in 2009 had got himself into deep debt again. No institution was willing to loan him money. He now needed $10,000 to avoid bankruptcy. He approached his mother and me, asking to borrow that amount from my mothers (his grandmother's) savings. My mother approved lending the money provided he agreed to pay it back in a regular manner. I was given the task of deciding what was a regular manner. He agreed to the deal that I would write checks to his creditors provided he signed a promise to begin paying the money back at an agreed-upon rate in January 2010. The checks were written, the promise written out and signed. It was not notarized. He never paid anything on the loan. He...

This is a dicey question, especially in light of the fraught family situation. All would be clearer if the original schedule to pay had been notarized and had, therefore been effectively made into a contract, in which case this would be a relatively straightforward case of contract law--but such is not the case.

In light of the fact that the agreement to repay the money was a promise to repay--a promise which was broken--in failing to repay the money, your son did do something to undermine his relation to you. I can, therefore, understand the considerable symbolic significance of your request that your son sign a new commitment to repay the money that you loaned him, for in so doing, you seem to think--and I am inclined to agree--that your son will thereby signal his renewed commitment to repay the money to you, thereby at least implicitly recognizing that he had reneged on his initial commitment and harmed your relationship, which can be as it were set to rights and somewhat restored by his expressly recommitting himself to fulfilling his obligation.

While I certainly think that if your son wanted to restore his relationship to you, he should do as you ask, I don't, however, think that he has an obligation to do so: his promise obligated him to repay the loaned money to you, and, provided that he now does so, he will have fulfilled his promise. While your son's unwillingness to do anything more may--quite understandably--render your continuing relationship with your son quite difficult and complicated indeed, and may well indeed threaten the stability of that relationship, but I don't see that he has any obligation whatsoever to make such a promise.

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.

Can someone explain how making someone an offer can be exploitation? I realize

Can someone explain how making someone an offer can be exploitation? I realize it's not exactly charitable to offer an impoverished Indian a $3/hr job in a sweatshop, but how can this be any worse than not offering the job? If the Indian is capable of deciding which option she prefers, why force her to not take the job?

I'm going to stick with the first bit: how could making an offer be exploitation?

Suppose I seek out someone in desperate circumstances and make them an offer that I know they can't afford to refuse but that I also know isn't fair and that they would never take if they weren't so desperate. I am taking deliberately taking advantage of their dire circumstances. That's exploitation. There's room to argue about cases, but the general idea seems clear enough.

Pages