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Should a parent report their own children to the police if they are aware that

Should a parent report their own children to the police if they are aware that the child has commited a criminal offence. Does the age of the child or the seriousness of the crime matter. Example should you report your child if you suspect they have commited shoplifting or should you only report them for serious crimes like armed ronbbery. What about other family relations such as your brother or cousin commiting criminal acts. Do you owe any loyalty to your family or is it more important to obey the law. Michael.

I don't think there is a hard-and-fast rule to give here. Do you call the cops when you see your kid litter? Of course not! Just make them pick it up and give them a good lecture about why that is unacceptable behavior. But if you see them commit murder? Well, yes, then it seems appropriate. If I caught one of my children shoplifting, I would try to come up with a way to make them repay the store--but I don't think I would be supportive if people at the store gave me an indication that they aggressively prosecute every case of shoplifting.

I think our responsibilities change in different relationships. I would also try to "correct" minor misdemeanors (like littering) when done by friends or more distant family members. The worse the crime, the more it seems to me to call for a legal report. But I think we are, in a way, much more responsible for the behavior of our minor children than we are after they have reached the age of majority, and we are much less responsible for distant relatives, acquaintances, and the like. So my own culpability in failing to report some law-breaking is relative to the degree of my responsibility for the behavior of that other person.

Do I call in every case I see of someone speeding past me on the freeway? No. That's not my responsibility. But if I see evidence that they are seriously impaired in some way (weaving dangerously, etc.), well, yes, I would call that in.

I think the only good advice I have to give here, beyond such rules of thumb, is that you exercise the best judgment of your own level of responsibility (to the criminal, to his or her victims, and to your fellow citizens) and of what you can do that is most likely to provide the best available resolution to the situation.

The law currently defines sexual harassment as "unwanted sexual attention. There

The law currently defines sexual harassment as "unwanted sexual attention. There is more to the definition but in my own workplace the policy specifically defines sexual harassment as "any unwanted sexual attention". However I recently went out on a date with a girl that I wasn't interested in having "casual sex" with. She however proposed that we do just that. I therefor received "unwanted" sexual attention from her. However, I don't believe that I was harassed one bit. I have seen numerous website that declare dogmatically that women have a "right" to not experience "unwanted" sexual attention. I can't help but to think to myself that that is sheer lunacy. In my mind nobody has a right to not experience "unwanted" sexual attention and that "unwanted" sexual attention is not even a big deal. The term "unwanted" is a fairly neutral term and many things which are neither unpleasant nor pleasant can fit into that category. So how can such a obviously poorly defined definition of sexual harassment continue...

As I understand it, the issue at stake here is that people (and not just women) want to be able to regard their workplace as just that--a workplace. The minute someone in that place begins to give sexual attention to someone else in that workplace, the environment is changed--and changed in a way that makes the workplace no longer an entirely comfortable place to work.

There are obviously degrees of sexual harassment, and I frankly don't think that giving unwanted sexual attention (that is in no way coersive) on a date could count--either ethically or legally--as harassment. But it is different in a workplace. If you find someone's sexual interest or expressions thereof unwanted on a date, you can always refuse to go out on another date with that person. But if you have to deal with this at a workplace, your only option is to try to find another job--which these days can be a major problem, and which a good worked should not have to feel that he or she has to do, to avoid someone acting in a way that is inappropriate for a workplace. So this is not simply a "freedom of speech" issue. It has to do with making the environment of a workplace no longer comfortable for some other worker working in that place. Please respect this!

When someone is indicted for a crime, it's standard for newspaper reports to

When someone is indicted for a crime, it's standard for newspaper reports to state that he only "allegedly" did whatever he is accused of doing. But suppose that the guilt of the defendant is extremely well confirmed (a thousand witnesses saw him, and we have an HD-quality recording of the incident). If the trial has yet to arrive at a verdict, should reporters still insist upon use of the "alleged" qualification? In other words, should standards of assertion in journalism be tied to standards of assertion in judicial proceedings?

It is often not precisely what someone did that is significant in the case of the law, but how it is classified. However many people saw him do it, the issue is often what it is that they saw

Right now I am banging away at the keys of my computer, but I could be blackmailing someone, sending a love letter, slandering a politician, or responding to a question for askphilosophers. A thousand people may be watching, and not just my cat, but in criminal law what the court will want to know is what precisely happened, not just the actions of the individuals concerned. So we should hang on to the "allegedly" term at least if the plea is a not guilty one.

Sometimes, we force people to conform to the law, regardless of what they might

Sometimes, we force people to conform to the law, regardless of what they might want. Other times, we reform the law in order to more properly reflect what our citizens want as a society, how they live their lives and how. How do we decide when people should conform to the law, and when the law should conform to society?

Philosophers sometimes use the terms "perfect duty" to refer to duties that persons have which they can be compelled to obey, as distinct from imperfect duties which cannot compel obedience (these duties might range from a duty to be nice / not rude to acts of amazing courage which we regard as 'above and beyond the call of duty). Some duties seem obviously perfect duties like the duty not to commit homicide or rape or steal and so on, otherwise one would not have a society. Other duties seem to be imperfect, though highly important for democracy such as the duty to vote. I believe that citizens in a democracy who can vote (they are of age and of sound mind) should vote, but evidently this is not something that the USA and other democracies believe they can force citizens to do. You might check out Joel Feinberg's excellent book Rights, Justice, and the Bounds of Liberty.

On March 19 2011, Thomas Pogge responded to a question posed on March 17

On March 19 2011, Thomas Pogge responded to a question posed on March 17 concerning (inter alia) the morality of an attorney's decision to represent a person accused of a serious crime in circumstances in which the attorney has "very strong reason to believe" that the client is guilty. The response suggests that "in view of the enormous damage done by repeat offenders who have been wrongly acquitted earlier ...... such a defense attorney should decline the case or resign from it". With all due respect to the learned philosopher, this suggestion overlooks a fundamental precept of procedural justice in all criminal trials - "an accused person is presumed innocent until proven beyond any reasonable doubt to be guilty". Only a serious misunderstanding of the role of a defense attorney can give rise to a suggestion that my attorney should resign from my case simply on the basis of her own (subjective?) belief that my acquittal in a previous trial was "wrong" and that she believes that the prosecutor's...

I am in full agreement with the precept that an accused person is to be presumed innocent until proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be guilty. But this precept is not violated when your defense attorney declines your case or resigns from it. This is so because the presumption applies to the state and its agents and agencies. The precept does not forbid citizens to form the opinion that some accused person is guilty. Nor does it forbid citizens to act on such opinions. You are perfectly free, for example, to change your mind about buying Joe's used car or to warn your daughter against dating Joe, on the sole ground that you have just learned of a criminal case of fraud against Joe and of the evidence presented against him.

I agree that an accused person is entitled to be represented by a qualified attorney. But again, this right is not violated when one attorney declines or resigns. Compare: your right to get married is not violated when the person you have chosen as your spouse declines -- or even if many potential spouses turn you down. You'll have to keep trying until you find someone willing to get married to you. And, similarly, as a person accused you need to keep trying until you find a lawyer willing to take your case along with the plea you want her to enter on your behalf.

I also agree that jurors must examine the totality of the evidence placed before the Court and may bring a verdict of "guilty" only if they are fully satisfied of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Perhaps you can go from there to the proposition that a defense attorney should not be influenced in the way she conducts the defense by her own beliefs about her client's guilt or innocence. But even if this is right, it's irrelevant to my point which was not about how your defense attorney should conduct your defense once she has taken it on, but about whether she should be defending you at all. Do you wish to say that defense attorneys are morally free to turn down only those clients who have been shown beyond reasonable doubt to be guilty? This is surely false. A defense attorney may resign when she becomes convinced that you don't have the money to pay her. So why should it be impermissible for her to resign when she becomes convinced that your "not guilty" plea is false to the facts?

To put this in perspective, let's think about a concrete case with you in the role of top-of-the-line defense attorney. A potential client comes to you and offers you a large fee for defending him against a rape charge. Talking through the details of the case with him, you become convinced that he has committed the crime. He does not deny this, but he wants to plead "not guilty". He believes that, as a star attorney, you can surely create reasonable doubt in the mind of at least one juror. You agree that you can achieve his acquittal by creating some doubt about whether the victim had not signaled consent after all. You could do this by delving into the victim's previous sexual encounters and by getting her confused or angry in a way that undermines her credibility for at least one of the jurors. You conclude that, if you take the case, then he will be acquitted.

Most would say (though you seem to disagree) that you do nothing wrong when you turn down the case. In particular, you do nothing wrong by turning it down for the reason that you do not want to help someone you deem guilty of rape to escape punishment. It might be said against this that, if every attorney turned down this case, then the accused would have no attorney. In response, I don't think this hypothetical is relevant in a context where there are plenty of other attorneys willing to take the case. If the hypothetical were morally relevant, then analogues of it would lead to rather absurd conclusions. For example: is it morally permissible for you to turn down a case because you want to preserve enough leisure time? Presumably not, because if all attorneys were as busy and as protective of their leisure time as you are, then the defendant in question would find no defense attorney. This implication is absurd in a world where in fact plenty of defense attorneys are looking for clients. And just as you may turn down a case because you want to preserve your leisure time, you may also turn it down because you don't want to contribute to what you regard as a miscarriage of justice nor inflict emotional injury and humiliation upon a person you regard as a rape victim.

Once it is accepted that turning down the case is morally permissible, I don't see a good rationale for denying that this is what you ought to do. If you accept the case and mount a successful defense, you will contribute to what, according to your own best judgment, are substantial harms: you will contribute to a miscarriage of justice, you will contribute to enabling and encouraging your client to re-offend, you will contribute to reducing the deterrent effect of criminal statutes (esp. those against rape), and you will also inflict further injury and humiliation upon someone you regard as a rape victim. Turning down the case, on the other hand, comes without significant moral costs. The accused has to look for another attorney, that's all.

A final remark. While, for the reasons given, I don't think much of the line of argument you press, I recognize that it is prominent in legal circles. I would explain this mainly by one factor: money. Defense lawyers want to earn money by achieving acquittals for persons they strongly believe to be guilty and they don't want to be thought unethical for doing this. So they work up a special professional ethic that justifies their conduct and even celebrates it as their moral duty. The mere fact that the members of a profession deem some conduct they engage in to be ethical does not make it so.

Do attorneys who successfully enable guilty clients to evade conviction (or who

Do attorneys who successfully enable guilty clients to evade conviction (or who manage to convict innocent defendants) have any reason to feel that they are acting immorally? Or are they beyond reproach so long as they themselves do nothing illegal or procedurally inappropriate in the course of their work?

I read your queston as envisaging that the attorneys in question not merely contribute to a miscarriage of justice but do so knowingly -- or at least have strong reason to believe that the outcome they are achieving is the wrong outcome.

I also read you as stipulating that the cases you have in mind happen within a largely just legal system. Within a seriously unjust legal system, an attorney who gets a guilty client (who really did make a joke about the dictator) acquitted has done a morally good deed, and similarly the attorney who gets one of the regime's torturers convicted for a crime he didn't commit.

To be reasonably just, a criminal justice system must not merely punish the kinds of conduct that ought to be punished and permit the kinds of conduct that ought to be permitted. It must also have rules and procedures that are reasonably reliable in ensuring that guilty people get punished and especially that innocent people are acquitted. It is not consistent with such a system that prosecutors pursue and achieve convictions of people whom they know to be innocent. Such behavior either violates the rules of the system (which proscribes such prosecutorial misconduct) or else constitutes participation in an unjust legal system (which permits or encourages prosecutors to go after innocent people).

It could be argued that this sort of reasoning does not apply in the case of defense attorneys: that a criminal justice system can be just even while it encourages defense attorneys to try to get acquittals even for clients they know (or have very strong reason to believe) to be guilty. In view of the enormous damage done by repeat offenders who have been wrongly acquitted earlier, I find this blanket permission hard to accept in the case of serious crimes. Here, I think the analogous argument goes through: a defense attorney who achieves the acquittal of a defendant whom he knows to be guilty of a serious crime is either violating the rules of the system or else participating in a legal system that is unjust insofar as it permits or encourages such conduct. Such a defense attorney should decline the case or resign from it. If such a defense attorney is convinced that her client is a rapist and then continues to defend him vigorously and achieves his acquittal, then she bears some moral responsibility for crimes her client will commit in the future even if she has done nothing illegal or procedurally inappropriate.


Hello. My question is about law and morality. It is commonly assumed that intentionality/ purpose is an important factor in determining how morally 'good' an action is. For example if I give to charity because I honestly care about the cause and hope to improve society by supporting this cause, my action would be considered more morally good than someone who donates to improve their public reputation (why companies are often involved in charity work for example). So an act which is committed for altruistic reasons is often considered more moral than one primarily committed for selfish reasons/ reasons that will directly benefit the person. However, the introduction of laws, with associated punishments for transgressing these laws, can change the intentionality of people’s behaviour from altruistic to self-centred. For example if it wasn't illegal to steal from a shop, people’s reason/justification for not stealing would most probably be a moral one (i.e. stealing is wrong, stealing harms society etc)....

This is a wonderful and fascinating question, which goes to the heart of the relation between morality and legality.

It does seem that the moral status of an action might well be determined by the intention with which the action is performed (in part because depending on one's intention, one may well perform the same external act--say, give money to charity--but act very differently--one might give to charity in order to help others, or in order to get a tax write-off, or to impress one's friends--and so it seems to me that the nature of and the respect to which an act reflects morally on an agent can vary depending on her intention in performing the act. Of course, however, it might well be the case that no one but God can really know the intention with which someone acts--agents themselves may not know their own intentions very well, as Freud and empirical psychology have argued--and so intentions cannot be taken into account in determining whether some external act is in conformity with or against some law. (This is not to say that the law ignores intentions: attempted murder is punished, albeit not to the same degree, as a successful murder: but in both cases, the starting point is an external act.) Since law regards only external action, it can--fortunately for it--avoid consideration of the intention with which an agent performs an action: the agent who doesn't steal because stealing is morally wrong and the agent who doesn't steal because s/he fears going to jail have equal standing in the eyes of the law.

Now I myself am inclined sharply to separate questions of morality and legality: many other philosophers have distinguished them. Kant, for example, distinguishes in The Metaphysics of Morals between questions of virtue, which have to do with the intention with which an agent acts and are therefore moral, from what he calls questions of right, which have to do with the permissibility of actions and don't regard intentions at all, but only external acts. One virtue--to my mind--of the fact that the law only regards external actions is that it provides a very clear standard for distinguishing between (legally) permissible and (legally) impermissible actions; matters are not so clear with respect to morality, which is one of the reasons that it is so difficult to be moral. In light of this distinction between morality and legality, I don't believe that the point of laws is to "reduce the incidence of...immoral acts" at all, but rather to ensure that agents do not commit illegal acts. Consequently, one prong of your question can be avoided, because it seems to turn on the question of whether the domains of law and morality can and do overlap.

Now even if you might were to grant that morality and the law have different objects altogether, there remains another issue: can the mere fact of there being laws turn agents away from morality. I'm dubious that this is indeed the case. It's not at all clear to me that just because there are laws that agents' reasons for doing what they do will therefore be centered around conforming to the laws. Suppose that an agent who knows that it is against the law to steal doesn't steal because it is morally, not merely legally, wrong to do so: in such a case, the agent would still have acted morally. So I don't think that I would agree with the suggestion that laws "often reduce" the capacity of agents to act morally.

(If you haven't already read it, you might want to check out the first section of Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, which engages with certain of the issues that you broach in your question and of which I have been thinking in the course of my response.)

Is it unfair for a judge to give their verdict based on a technicality?

Is it unfair for a judge to give their verdict based on a technicality?

Suppose the "technicality" is something that the law pretty clearly entails, even though it's doubtful that legislators had the particular worrying circumstances in mind. In that case, the judge is doing something we normally think judges are supposed to do: deciding cases based on the law. It's open to the judge to point out that this is an unfortunate consequence of the law, and may be open to him/her to adjust penalties accordingly, but if the law actually has a certain consequence, then that's the law. If the "technicality" is an unfortunate one, legislators can fix it, or so the argument would go.

Compare: suppose that it's not a matter of a technicality at all, but a matter of a law that the judge thinks is bad. Then it's still the judge's sworn obligation to follow the law.

Is this fair? In various senses of the word, the answer may be no. Should the judge do otherwise? That doesn't follow. It's not clear that the cure for bad laws is to have judges substitute their judgment of what's fair for what's legal.

That said, two comments. First, could there be cases so egregious that it would be just plain wrong of the judge to enforce the law? Perhaps. But that's different from saying that judges should routinely substitute their own sense of fairness for what the law entails. Second, what's been said here doesn't mean that judgments of fairness and the like never have a place in the law. Laws themselves can leave room for that. In some parts of the legal system, especially in some countries, the notion of equity has an important role to play. And when it comes to constitutional matters, legal philosophers like Ronald Dworkin have argued that the Framers were aiming at general principles and didn't intend for courts to be bound by their own conception of what those principles call for in particular cases. Whether that's the best view at the end of the day, it's at least a worthy contender.

Is there a genuine case to be made for outlawing marijuana given the fact that

Is there a genuine case to be made for outlawing marijuana given the fact that alcohol and tobacco are legal? In other words, is there a way to make a distinction between marijuana on the one hand and alcohol/tobacco on the other hand such that it will appear legally justifiable to outlaw the one and not the other?

Sure, such a case can be made. Let's suppose we view all three substances as detrimental to society. We can still argue that practically speaking once a substance has the very long history of legalization and has become entrenched into society the way alcohol and tobacco are (and marijuana is not) it is very difficult to simply outlaw it. Yet, we might take steps to discourage their use... for example, the USA has been quite successful in reducing the smoking rate through education campaigns and by adding excessive taxes on tobacco. All of this is perfectly consistent with saying we should not legitimize a third addictive detrimental substance like marijuana into society by legalizing it.

I am interested in the philosophical implications of the two competing views of

I am interested in the philosophical implications of the two competing views of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. It is often contended that an "individualist" view of what equal protection requires can't explain why only classifications based on race or sex require "heightened scrutiny," instead of the ordinary rational basis test. In some sense, this objection seems dead on. If what equal protection prohibits is the use of morally invidious classifications by state actors then certainly race and sex can't be the only two that we ought to be concerned about. On the other hand, it seems like the "hierarchical" view is fraught with similarly serious problems. Who counts, nowadays, as a "discrete, insular minority" that equal protection ought to help? Does the fact that women are a majority mean that they should not benefit from heightened scrutiny, but men should? Or, if "discrete, insular minority" is just short-hand for politically handi-capped, how do we know how politically handi...

While it doesn't address the Equal Protection clause specifically, Tom Nagel's "A Defense of Affirmative Action" comes to mind here. It isn't so much the "minority" as the "insular" that calls for heightened scrutiny or preferential treatment. Nagel argues that a pervasive, deeply-rooted perception of the minority as an inferior social caste is the relevant factor. Thus when Nagel wrote in the 70s, African-Americans would be entitled to preference, but not women or, say, Asians. But in the 1930s, women would have been. Now, it might be Hispanics in the "lower caste" position. While a general perception of caste is about as vague as political handicap for use as a standard for interpreting a Constitutional clause, it seems to me that an important feature of both is the tendency to self-perpetuate in the absence of preference or at least heightened scrutiny.