It is not unusual for there to be conflicts in life, and for us to have obligations to different people which cannot be reconciled. In that sort of situation you should expect whatever decision you take is going to leave you with regrets and doubts about whether you have done the right thing. I understand how guilt can arise here, and how inevitable such feelings are, but what is left out of your account is what would make you happy. You do have a duty to listen to the concerns of other people but many philosophers would say that you also have a duty to yourself to be happy. You might want to think seriously how in this situation your happiness is going to find a place, since it seems to me that the desire to be a martyr is likely to satisfy no-one in the long run.
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.
You seem to be arguing for this claim: Atheism implies that everything is morally permissible.
In the view of many philosophers, myself included, that claim is false. These philosophers argue that objective truths about moral right and wrong not only needn't be God-made (or man-made) but couldn't be God-made (or man-made). I recommend reading Wes Morriston, "God and the Ontological Foundation of Morality," and Erik J. Wielenberg, "In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism".
On the issue of whether all laws require a lawgiver, please see my response to Question 5619.
This is a great question, and it's one I think that parents -- and philosophers -- should think more about. I personally have grappled with it many times as a parent. It hit home for me when I was trying to figure out how to deal with my son's nightmares. The standard advice that turned up on web searches was to buy some kind of air freshening spray and tell your child that it was 'Bad Dream Spray' -- that we could spray it each night before bed and it would keep the nightmares away. In other words, the standard advice involved outright lying to kids. And this bugged me. And then I started thinking about all the other ways that we standardly lie to kids -- some of which you detail in your question. In general we think that lying is wrong. So why do we treat lying to kids differently, especially as we're simultaneously trying to teach them the value of honesty?
One account for why we might think it's OK to lie to children comes from philosopher Sissela Bok, who notes that the special needs of children help explain why we think differently about lying to them in comparison with others: "They, more than all others, need care, support, protection. To shield them, not only from brutal speech and frightening news, but from apprehension and pain -- to soften and embellish and disguise -- is as natural as to shelter them from harsh weather. Because they are more vulnerable and more impressionable than adults, they cannot always cope with what they hear. Their efforts, however rudimentary, need encouragement and concern, rather than 'objective' evaluation. Unvarnished facts, thoughtlessly or maliciously conveyed, can hurt them, even warp them, render them callous in self-defense."
But while I think there is some plausibility in this line of argument, much of parental lying would not fall under this category. Many parental lies are merely whimsical or expedient -- they don't seem to be designed to help or encourage children in any meaningful way.
Hugo Grotius, a 17th century Dutch jurist, offered a different explanation for we're perfectly justified in lying to children; in his view, "it is permissible to say what is false before infants and insane persons." When we lie to competent adults, we infringe on what Grotius calls their "liberty of judgment," but since young children lack this liberty, we do nothing wrong if we lie to them. To generalize this point, one might think that lying to children can be justified because we think they have no right to the truth.
Personally I feel squeamish when I encounter this line of reasoning. But there might be an argument in the vicinity that can help us make sense of this issue. Contemporary philosopher David Simpson argues that lying is immoral because "it draws on and abuses the core of interaction and community" -- "When I lie to you I do not just treat you as an object to be deceived, regarding you as an obstacle or a means to an end. When I lie to you I engage, at the core of the lie, the mutuality of our personhood. I do not just dismiss you as a person; I appeal to you as a person, and then use that against you." It might be plausible to think that children, especially very young children, are not yet fully persons in some sense; they have not yet exercised the full potential of their rationality. Even when we're being entirely honest with them, parental conversations with children can never be the mutual engagements of personhood that take place in conversations between adults. Thus, we can't violate this mutuality by lying to them. Without going so far as Grotius -- without saying that children have no right to the truth -- it seems plausible to think that the fact that children have not yet fully developed their rational natures means that we have different obligations of truthfulness towards them.
This doesn't mean that parental lying should be dismissed as non-problematic. As philosopher Jeffrey Blustein has argued, our most important duty as parents is to provide children "with the kind of affectionate, appreciative, and supportive upbringing that gives them a sense of their own value and a confidence in their ability to fulfill their intentions." In certain circumstances, it might be that we can best fulfill this duty by lying -- and the fact that our children have not yet fully grown into themselves as persons might excuse us when we do so. But once we stop to think about it, it's easy to see that those circumstances are far, far fewer than we'd like to admit.
(By the way, pardon the plug, but if you're interested in reading more on this, I've developed these points in more detail in "Creative Mothering: Lies and the Lying Mothers Who Tell Them," in Motherhood: The Birth of Wisdom, edited by Sheila Lintott.)
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.
Some people think empathy is overrated, including psychologist Paul Bloom, who offers a nice summary of his views here: http://bostonreview.net/forum/paul-bloom-against-empathy
There are some responses to him as well, including one by philosopher Jesse Prinz, who has also argued that empathy is overrated: http://cultureofempathy.com/references/Experts/Jesse-Prinz.htm
Personally, I think much depends on what we mean by empathy and in what ways one thinks it can guide moral thinking and behavior. I think Hume and Smith were right that certain emotions (or sentiments) are essential to making moral judgments and motivating moral actions, but it's not clear whether they are focusing on empathy as we typically understand it today.
I suspect that most slaveholders and racists that supported that horrific system (as well as those who perpetrated the Holocaust and other genocides) did not have much empathy for their victims, because they lived in and/or helped to create a culture in which their victims were not seem as human beings who are apt targets of empathy or 'fellow feeling'. Dehumanization is an initial step in most moral disasters.
Great questions. Many philosophers recognize that we have multiple duties which sometimes conflict. And they also recognize different degrees of complexity that come with duties. So, in a parent-daughter relationship, it is widely acknowledged that a parent does have a duty to take care of her and thus, it is recognized that, other things being equal, it is better to care for her than not but some of the following circumstances can come into play: imagine that there are great social and political forces that would make it fatal if the parent comes forward to acknowledge that he or she is the parent. Or imagine that the parent was abusive and for example a daughter is utterly estranged from a father she never wishes to see again. And sometimes duties such as those you mention can present us with cases when one duty might be served by following another duty. So, your duty to care for your daughter might be satisfied by your joining an army: imagine that your city is under aggressive military attack and the best way to take care of your daughter or the best way you can contribute to her survival and safety is to join in the military defense of your city.
I hope you will not think this reply is too frustrating but, in many cases of assessing duties philosophers add an "all things considered" condition. So, you are right in thinking that if we have a duty to keep promises, then keeping them is better than not keeping them. This would be true or it is true in most, ordinary conditions. But that is not what most philosophers think when it comes to promises that are made to carry out unjust acts. `Making vows or oaths or promises can be binding, but when these are undertaken to carry out wicked acts, most philosophers have held they are not binding. In fact, making a vow or oath or promise to do something unjust may well make the action even worse. I suggest that if you wrong me by stealing my money, your act is wrong, but it would be less of a grave wrong if the act was thoughtless and impulsive, versus the same amount of money was taken but you did so to fulfill a vow or oath or a promise you made, let us imagine, to members of your gang that you would commit the robbery. I believe the latter would be more of a grave wrong as it would stem from a considered, deliberate, intentional act whereas the thoughtless wrong might indicate weakness of will but not reflect a deep matter of character and commitment. The inability of our duty to keep promises to trump our ordinary duties comes out in considering the first case you mention in your question. Imagine a parent in a state of emotional confusion and despair promises not to take care of her child. When the parent recovers her sane state of mind, imagine she reasons: I now see that I do have a duty to care for my child, but because I promised not to, I have a duty to ignore my duties as a parent.
One of the great philosophers who sought to rank our duties in the 20th century was W.D. Ross. You can track some of his work through the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Someone might say that punishment should fit the crime and therefore that raping rapists is a just punishment. Someone might also say that torturing torturers is a just punishment. My reaction is that examples like this show the unacceptability of a strict "eye for an eye" notion of justice. Torturing someone as a form of punishment strikes me as depraved; so does raping a rapist. Torture and rape are crimes that show an utter and complete lack of respect for the victim's humanity. That's something that an acceptable judicial system should avoid, in my opinion.
As for your hypothetical about rape in the case of near-extinction, I don't feel the force. Why is the continued existence of humanity so important that it would justify raping an unwilling woman and forcing her to carry a baby? Is the sort of "civilization" that would stoop to such things work preserving? What's so hot about humanity from the point of view of the cosmos?
Are there any circumstances that would justify a different conclusion? Perhaps there are hypotheticals so horrifying that the answer is yes. But that's the point: those hypotheticals would indeed be utterly horrifying. They're unlikely (one hopes!) to give us any guidance in the kinds of situations we're likely to face.
If your acquaintance argues that mandatory vaccination is immoral because it exposes people, against their will, to the risk of injury or death, you might ask her if she thinks a mandatory seat belt law is also immoral, because on rare occasions seat belts cause injury or even death.
Surely it matters how likely it is that people will be harmed by obeying the vaccination law or the seat belt law, compared to the likelihood that they'll be harmed by not getting vaccinated or not wearing a seat belt. In the case of seat belts, I take it that the latter risk is much higher. I presume the same holds for vaccination.
There's another factor to consider: mandatory vaccination isn't just paternalistic intervention for the sake of those getting vaccinated. It also protects others from infection, including others who can't take the vaccine because they are (known to be) allergic to one of its ingredients. So even someone opposed in principle to paternalistic laws needs another argument against mandatory vaccination.
Great set of questions! You put your question in terms of morality rather than legality, but it might be worth first noting the legal angle. Basically, the law would attach responsibility and the consequences of the act based on what reasonable people would do and how they would interpret the act involved. So, imagine that the toy gun is obviously a toy (it is made of vegetables and has the word "toy" spelled on it out of carrots) and that the customer had a long history (known to the owner) of pranks. Under those circumstances, we might well conclude that the owner's belief that the gun and customer were real dangers was irrational. If the customer knew that the owner was subject to irrational judgments and that he/she had a weak heart condition, we might rightly find him morally blameworthy --the death would be a murder. But if the customer did NOT know of the irrational tendencies of the owner and did not know of the heart condition, I think we would be right in thinking this was a case of when what was intended to be an innocent prank went tragically wrong, but it would not be murder. Putting aside the bizarre. obviously fake (to reasonable people) toys, matters get more serious and clear. If the owner reasonably thought that he was facing a lethal threat and died of a heart attack in such fear, and the customer was intent on using this threat as part of a theft (or maybe as a way to instill fear out of revenge for being fired by the owner in the past), then (morally and legally) I think we have a case of at least second degree homicide. If the customer / assailant tried to administer CPR after the heart attack, I think that would support second degree rather than first degree homicide (murder). We get closer to murder, however, if the customer knew the owner was 80 years old and had a weak heart and (rather than administer CPR) the assailant shouted out to the owner as he struggled to breath "Today I am paying you back for all your miserable treatment of me, and I did it with a mere toy!" That would seal (in my view) a case of murder from a moral and legal point of view.
In the last case, I think the punishment should be the same as if an assailant had used a real gun and real bullets, don't you? A philosopher who did excellent work on responsibility for harm is the late Joel Feinberg (sadly, he died a few years ago). He has a four volume work with Oxford University Press that is (in my view) unsurpassed when it comes to the nature and scope of responsibility ethically and from the standpoint of the law.