Advanced Search

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

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

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

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

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

If a store provides a customer with poor service, is it moral for that customer

If a store provides a customer with poor service, is it moral for that customer to steal something and leave? Businesses cannot exist with customers, not the other way around, so if most customers are not satisfied, then the business has no right to exist.

How is this supposed to work? Suppose I go to my local grocery store and I get bad service. Would it be okay to slap the cashier? How about breaking his jaw? Or if we stick with stealing, how much? A bag of chips? A wedge of Stilton? (Could easily be $10.) A bag of chanterelle mushrooms? ($40 a pound would be a very good deal.) What's the rule that decides? Who's the authority if there's a question about what the retribution should be?

There's a reason why we don't let people do what you suggest. There's a reason why it would be perfectly fine for the store to have you arrested if you tried it. Letting people take the law into their own hands makes for chaos. Letting people do things that are against the law for "offenses" that aren't even illegal would be even worse.

You second sentence seems to be meant as an argument for your suggestion. It's true: businesses without customers won't last long. But that means businesses who give bad service are punishing themselves. You also say that if the customers aren't satisfied, the business has no right to exist. What sort of right do you have in mind? Bad service doesn't make a business illegal. And the idea is that somehow the business has no moral right to exist, neither follows form what you say nor justifies what you propose. The business may not deserve customers, but that's not the same thing as saying it's morally wrong for it to keep running and it certainly isn't the same thing as saying it's okay to steal from it.

Recently, the NFL has become embroiled in high profile cases of domestic

Recently, the NFL has become embroiled in high profile cases of domestic violence by its players (most notably, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson). Many critics demand that the league suspend or otherwise discipline the guilty parties. But why, in general, should an employer be expected to address bad actions by its employees when those actions fall outside the scope of work-related duties? What business is it of my employer's whether I commit crimes when I leave work?

I suppose the argument is that anyone who might serve as a role model for young people has to abide by a higher moral standard than everyone else. If he or she misbehaves and is tolerated by their employer, that might suggest to those who admire them that such behavior is acceptable. That might encourage others to indulge in it. Provided these rules are made clear to all sides I cannot see that any great injustice results.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a very tough question!

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

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

I was engaged in a tense relationship with my supervisor for more than a year.

I was engaged in a tense relationship with my supervisor for more than a year. The tension escalated in the last few months and culminated in him framing me for things I did not do. I was not given the opportunity to clarify (the allegations were not made known to me overtly). I have since left the organization but am now having thoughts about clarification now. I was fearful about clarification then as I thought it could implicate many people (including my supervisor), expend resources and worsen my lot without positive outcomes. These concerns remain. Even if I was to mediate (i.e. a conflict resolution approach), I could see no way in being honest and stand for myself while defusing the conflict and mustering a good ending for everyone. What is the right thing to do? Thanks.

It does not sound like there is a good outcome for everyone, as is often alas the case. Unless you are disadvantaged by doing nothing more, and you say you have left the organization, I would just leave it. It is annoying to leave people who have behaved disgracefully in a position where they can just repeat their egregious actions, but there is probably nothing that you can do in any case.

If my summary is correct then the right thing to do is probably nothing.Try to put it behind you.

Ethically speaking, should private businesses be allowed to refuse service to

Ethically speaking, should private businesses be allowed to refuse service to individuals on account of any characteristic that is related to their behavioral choices? For example, in the US, restaurants are allowed to refuse service to patrons who spit on the floor or don't wear shoes but are not allowed to refuse service to a black man (since he did not "choose" to be black). In that case, supposing a restaurant owner does not like obese people, why should he be forced to serve obese patrons (some of whom might be black) since many of them chose to eat their way to obesity?

While I think you are right to observe that business owners are generally not allowed to discriminate against persons on the basis of their unchosen characteristics, it does not follow that they are allowed to discriminate on the basis of chosen characteristics. Religion, sexual orientation and political commitments are paradigm examples: they are chosen at least in their outward manifestations, but as a society we have decided not to rank people on the basis of such choices and to impose this non-discrimination upon businesses. This makes sense insofar as such choices are ones that the person is deeply identified with. They are part of a person's identity and, by refusing to serve a person on the basis of such a choice, or by requiring a person not to express such a choice as a condition of admittance, one is rejecting and disrespecting the whole person -- just as one is rejecting and disrespecting the whole person when one refuses to serve her on the basis of her gender or skin color.

The same does not typically hold when a business excludes those who wear no shoes, i.e. requires shoes as a condition of admittance. The choice to walk barefoot is a superficial choice, not part of a person's identity, and so the requirement to wear shoes is not demeaning or disrespectful (though it could be in special cases such as that of Mahatma Gandhi). Still, even with regard to such superficial choices, the business owner must still have a plausible reason for imposing the requirement. Business owners have a legitimate reason to preserve a certain ambiance in their establishment, and this may justify the exclusion of barefoot patrons and certainly the exclusion of those who spit on the floor. But this would not typically justify the exclusion of those who wear a belt or brown socks.

Obesity is an interesting case in that is has some features of unchosen characteristics: the obese person cannot suppress the outward manifestation of her obesity in the way people could remove any outward manifestations of their religion, sexual orientation or political commitments. Moreover, obesity is typically part of a person's identity, albeit sometimes an unwanted part; and so refusing admittance to a person on the basis of his obesity constitutes a rejection of, and disrespect for, the whole person.

The further up the corporate ladder one climbs the more Machiavellian ones

The further up the corporate ladder one climbs the more Machiavellian ones colleagues appear to be. Apportioning blame, taking undue credit and generally deceiving others can all be hugely advantageous when promotions come around. Should we accept that certain careers are merely games and if we want to play we must be prepared to do things that would not be considered outside the workplace?

If I say no will this be taken as my trying to impress readers with my strong commitment to ethics? If I say yes then perhaps I am only trying to persuade you of my firm realism.

On the other hand, we do need to accept that political life does involve making the right sort of impression on others, and this is just as true within the organization as in party politics. But there is a difference between putting the brightest feasible perspective on one's own achievements and running down others, especially if this involves deceit. One may try to excuse the latter by saying that it is better for a good person to succeed through dubious methods than for a dubious person to employ such methods, or worse, and succeed. It probably is, but once one has stirred the pot of intrigue it is very difficult for one's character to survive unblemished. It becomes ever easier the next time to seek to deceive, and we may not notice that our aims then are less worthy than they were initially. Once attention moves from the results of such behavior to its likely damage to the characters of the participants, it seems that far more than just cynicism is implicated here.

Suppose that Google censored radical ideas without anyone knowing it because

Suppose that Google censored radical ideas without anyone knowing it because they believed that part of their role as a member of the corporate establishment was to protect capitalism. Would that be ethical of them? Is it their right?

First, a bookkeeping detail. Some people may not like to talk about corporations as having rights, duties or whatnot because they want to keep a clean distinction between corporations and persons. For anyone who thinks that way, substitute talk of management, boards of directors, owners or whatnot for "corporations" in what follows.

With that out of the way, I'm going to offer a parable and change the question. Suppose someone has read my postings on this site, followed things I've said on social media, and has decided that people with my views shouldn't be teaching in public universities. He decides to befriend me; he earns my trust and becomes a close confidant, all in the hope of finding out things he can use to embarrass me or get in the way of my career.

Does this person have a right to act this way? In various senses of "have a right," the answer is yes. Is it right? I'd guess most of us think the answer is no. What we're considering is deception and betrayal of trust. Sometimes this sort of thing might be acceptable; for example, we think that undercover police operations are often justified. But even in those cases, I think it's a mistake to see the role of the informant as entirely free of moral costs.

The first point, then, is that asking whether some person or some corporation has a right to act in a certain way isn't the only relevant moral question. And asking whether the behavior is ethical runs the risk of mixing up questions about explicit codes of conduct (say, standards of professional ethics) with more general but less systematic issues of right and wrong. It wouldn't be right for my false "friend" to do what we've imagined, whether or not he has a right to, and whether or not there's some explicit ethical code that it would violate. Absent very good reasons, people shouldn't abuse one another's trust.

In your hypothetical case, the first thing that comes to mind is that Google has earned public trust by representing itself as a neutral source of information, and it's done a good enough job of earning this trust that we've come to rely on it for honest searches. If it came to light that Google was secretly censoring searches, most of us would think that our trust had been abused. Most of us would say that it wasn't right, whether or not the corporation had the right to do it. Compare: a search engine company may have the right to order search results in a way that suits the company's financial interests rather than the user's likely needs, but when it comes to light that a company has done this, people don't react favorably. Telling them that the company has the right to do this doesn't get at their complaint. Most people, I'd guess, would feel that they had been deceived and that they shouldn't be taken advantage of in this way.

So to sum up: a company might well have a right to do what you've described, but that's less morally interesting that it seems to be. We often do better in thinking about such things to concentrate less on high-flown notions like "rights" or what's "ethical." More familiar and less theoretical idea like honesty, deceit, trust, and the like often do a better job of getting at what worries us. Using that approach, there's no obvious reason to doubt our sense that what you've imagined would be wrong.

I was recently at a job interview where I was informed that, if hired, I would

I was recently at a job interview where I was informed that, if hired, I would have to sign a non-compete clause stating effectively that, if I were ever to leave my position at the company, I would be barred from taking up employment in that profession again for two years. To me, this seems extremely perverse. I invested a great deal of time and money and effort into educating myself in building a career in this particular domain, and I do not have the skills to support my family to a similar extent in any other career (the NCC is rather broad, if unambiguous, about which fields I may not enter). Is it ethical for a company to offer to end my unemployment while at the same time effectively threatening me with two years of un- or underemployment should I ever quit or be fired? This seems like an abuse of my vulnerability as a job seeker, at the very least.

I share your view that such a clause is at best very shoddy. Not being a lawyer, I wonder if the clause is even enforceable; you might ask someone who'd know. It might be unconscionable (a term I wish lawyers applied to more things than they do!) and hence unenforceable, or it might be unenforceable because too difficult in practice for a court to enforce (say, by issuing an injunction forbidding you from accepting a new job!).

This may be advice of little value to a desperate job-seeker, but I'd steer clear of firms whose offers come burdened by such clauses.