Advanced Search

Does a book reviewer (whose review will be published) have an ethical responsibility to give a fair and just book review? Does that responsibility just extend to the author, or to readers of the review as well?

Yes, a reviewer has an ethical responsibility to authors to give a fair and just review, and a similar obligation to the readers as well. The author may have money, a job, happiness, and reputation at stake in the review, and so an unfair and inaccurate review can wrongly harm the author. Readers, however, have an interest in allocating the finite time and other resources of their lives well, and there are opportunity costs to reading one book when others would serve their interests better. So, an unfair and inaccurate review can harm readers, too.

Is it ethical to have biological children when there are children who could benefit from fostering or adoption? Isn't creating further needs wrong, when existing needs could be fulfilled? I'm unsure about the moral status of having children reproductively when fostering is possible. There are some reasons for this concern, which are as follows: In the developed world, each person tends to cause globally disproportionate amounts of pollution and environmental harm. The world bank's statistics on per-capita GHG output by country support this. Creating a new person means that there is a new set of needs which must be fulfilled, often at the expense of the globally worst-off, who will be hurt by the effects of procuring the necessary resources to meet those needs. Secondly, it seems as if we have moral reason to meet existing needs before it is permissible to create more needs through reproduction. There are plenty of children without homes, and adopting or fostering them both reduces environmental...

I think you're onto a profoundly important question, and I share your concern that the issue is not commonly one encounters in public discourses. I think the issue of having children is, as you say, bound up with concerns about prioritizing existing needs and also about the environmental consequences of additional pollution, consumption, habitat loss, etc. I think the issue, however, concerns both the more developed and the less developed world. The impacts from reproduction in each are different, but those impacts in both are substantial. Currently the levels of consumption in the less developed world are low, but we can't demand that populations remain impoverished. Moreover, populations in the less developed world are despite low individual levels of consumption nevertheless collectively exerting enormous pressures on non-human populations through their effects on water, habitat, and pollution. It is clearly, then, not morally unproblematic to reproduce under current circumstances for any of us. There,...

The website "Wikileaks" has been getting a lot of media attention recently after it's leaking of thousands of secret and classified US diplomatic cables. It was also in the headlines in April after it's release of classified footage showing US forces killing Iraqi civilians and journalists. Some governments have been critical of Wikileaks, Hilary Clinton referring to the recent leaks as an "attack on the international community and Sarah Palin describing head-man Julian Assange as having "blood on his hands", and calling for the US government to hunt him down with the same urgency as that with which they hunt down suspected terrorists. Is any of this backlash justified? I have a feeling that such harsh criticism is typical of a person who has been caught in the act of wrong-doing and points the finger at the person who reveals their crimes, in an attempt to draw attention away from their own misdeeds. Is Wikileaks responsible for the death of US soldiers in Iraq? Is there a point at which freedom of...

I'm inclined to think your psychological account of the response is correct, though perhaps incomplete. I also think the intensity of the fury against the leaks indicates the extent to which the government and many citizens have internalized institutional authority as normal and overriding, that both the government and many citizens have lost touch with other, competing, and sometimes more important sources of authority and obligation. The authorities have reacted hysterically because they find intolerable the idea that people might act upon other grounds and find themselves compelled by duties that the authorities don't define. They are not only upset with these leaks, but they fear that these leaks may inspire others. The policies of the state, however, are not always congruent (and are often not congruent) with the interests of the nation, or with what is morally right. So far, Wikileaks has no demonstrable blood on its hands. If it had, the specifics would be broadcast on FOX 24/7. Defense...

Is a moral ought an unconditional ought? In a book on nursing ethics I came across the idea that a moral ought was unconditional. Contained no ifs or buts. Nurses ought to help their patients. Not ifs about it. It was stated as being unconditional. First page, first paragraph They said unlike moral oughts, other oughts are conditional... if you want to be well rested you ought to go to bed early, that sort of thing. But it is not true that nursing oughts are also conditional? Nurses ought to help their patients if they want to keep their jobs/follow nursing guidelines...etc. How can there truly be an unconditional ought?

For myself, I doubt there are unconditional oughts. Your book seems to have been informed by a specific kind of ethics associated with the work of Immanuel Kant, among others. For Kant there are two kinds of imperatives. One kind, called "hypothetical" imperatives are the sort where what one ought to do depends on a condition being met. They usually take the form of "If you want X, then do Y." Or "If you don't want X, then don't do Y," and so on. For Kant, these are really moral "oughts" since they depend out our desires. In cases like this one acts in order to satisfy one's self, to answer one's desires, not because the action is the moral thing to do. In such cases we are slaves to our desires and acting more or less selfishly. Often, in fact, what's the morally proper thing to do, according to this line of thinking, is to oppose our desires or even do what we don't desire. If I find money, I might desire to keep it, but the morally right thing is to return the cash. So, what your book is saying is...

Given that that most people would agree with 1 and 2 that: 1. Causing great suffering is wickedness if done in the absence of qualifying conditions. For example bombing a city is generally wrong since it causes suffering but if bombing that city ends a war then that is a qualifying condition which may absolve the wrongness of that act. and 2. Eating animals causes great suffering. How can meat eaters see themselves as anything other than wicked people? Certainly eating meat causes great suffering so the only thing that would keep it from being wicked would be the presence of a qualifying condition. What is the qualifying condition in the case of meat eating? That is tastes SO YUMMY?

I agree that all other things being equal, carnivorous diets are morally inferior to vegetarian diets. Those who defend carnivorous diets, however, would cite qualifying conditions of the sort you're asking about such as the following: (a) the limited cognitive capacities of those eaten and/or their limited capacities to engage in the sort of "projects" that indicate moral standing; (b) the absence of suitable alternatives to meat; © conditions that render your second premise (that eating animals causes great suffering) false or at least weak. To elaborate: while animals like cattle and birds may have highly developed capacities to experience pain, the case is less clear with, say, oysters and squid, perhaps other fish; even plants exhibit "distress" when harvested. In short, the line is difficult to draw with regard to the experience of pain, let alone pain itself. Here empirical science is likely to improve our understanding of pain and the experience of pain. Nevertheless, the ability to suffer is...

Are there any moral arguments against non-coercive incest between adults?

There is, of course, the genetic issue. So, sexual relations between close relatives that lead to procreation are unwise. Incestuous relations with one's underaged children are, of course, by definition non-consensual. One also finds the same argument that is deployed against homosexual marriage used to justify incest prohibitions, namely that incest would undermine the institution of marriage, and that the institutions of heterosexual, non-incestuous family and marriage possess value that trumps the value of legitimating incestuous as well as homosexual unions. Many have come to think that it is false that homosexual marriages would undermine the institutions of marriage and family. That's an empirical question rather than a philosophical question, and I tend to think the reformers are correct an that family and marriage will in fact flourish when homosexuals are included. Some think undermining the institution of marriage may be a good thing. For myself, I think marriage has value, but I also think...

My question relates to Plato’s dialogue of Euthyphro; specifically, I am interested in the two alternatives Socrates presents in what is deemed as “good” or virtuous. Socrates points out that if what is good is good because god decrees it, then god’s choice is arbitrary: there is perhaps no distinction between good and evil for god; god simply wills what he does. On the other hand, if god wills what is good because it is good, then morality is in some sense independent of or separate from god; we humans need only find out what is good, which we can do without god or religion. If, however, considering the first of these two options, god were to decree something good (like not committing murder), is this not sufficient to objectify goodness for us? If god decreeing that murder is “bad” is indeed an arbitrary choice for god, does it follow that it is arbitrary for humans?

I think I see what you mean. But if I do, then the phrase "arbitrary for humans" is not exactly the way to pose your question. Humans aren't really making the choice in your scenario. So, the choice is neither arbitrary nor non-arbitrary for them. I think you might rather mean something like: Would God's arbitrarily commanding any conduct provide sufficient grounds for humans to regard that conduct as good? My sense is that the qualities of a lot of religious faith lead people to answer in the affirmative. In particular, for the faithful it's likely to be almost inconceivable to defy God's command on grounds that what's commanded seems immoral from a merely human point of view. The story of Abraham and Isaac exemplifies just this sort tendency in faith. The problem is that it seems to many at least as intolerable to accept that stealing, rape, mass murder, etc. could ever be acceptable. For example, many will find it intolerable to honor a command to torture, molest, mutilate, and kill innocent children-...

Do you think every person has a moral obligation to work at the best paying job they can attain, live off as little as they can manage, and donate the rest to the most efficient charity they can find?

Given the way many in the wealthy parts of the world live, this is a compelling question. I think, however, that as posed the answer must be "no." For one thing, the best paying jobs may sometimes contribute more bads than goods to the world. For example, in some circumstances criminal activity or highly polluting industry may offer the best paying job. Also, it is not morally obligatory to live off as little as one can manage, giving away the rest to charity. People have obligations to themselves as well as to others, and one must balance what one owes to others against what one owes oneself. Finally, it's important to understand that some acts are morally admirable without being morally obligatory; and from where I sit extraordinary self-sacrifice for the sake of charity to others counts as just such an act. Having said that, it remains true, I think, as a matter of judgment, that many people in wealthier parts of the world live in ways that have tipped the balance excessively in the direction of...

Is it wrong to lie when we're questioned on matters of our intimacy? I mean cases where the other reasonable option would be to refuse to answer but for some reason we prefer not to. More specifically, I mean cases where it was wrong to ask in the first place.

While in general truth-telling is morally preferable to lying, I suppose it might depend upon what precise reason one has for preferring not to answer or precisely how wrong or in what way wrong the question was. But as a general matter, no, I don't think it reasonable to hold that it would always be wrong to lie in circumstances of the sort you describe.

Was I right or wrong in marrying out of a sense of duty as opposed to marrying for love? Some years ago I fell in love with an unavailable woman. We did not have a relationship but while still in love with her I met, had a long term relationship with and married a woman I was fond of and needed. My wife believes that I love her and she loves me. I am aware that if I had not had a long relationship with my wife she might have met and married someone who truly loved her. However, I stayed with her in the hope that she would help me get over the unavailable woman and that I would eventually grow to love her. This did not happen. Had I told her after being with her for a few years that I did not love her and that I wanted to end our relationship it may have then been too late (we are both in our late thirties) for her to meet another man and have children with him. Also deep down I must have felt that I had used her and did not want to admit this to myself. I felt I was obligated to marry her. Was...

The texts of intimate relationships are generally too complicated to make judgments about using simple moral principles. But as a weakly stated general rule, I'd say that it's not wrong to marry or simply remain in a marriage out of a sense of duty. In fact, I would say that a sense of duty is a desirable element of a good foundation for marriage. It is, however, wrong to marry or remain married for the sake of duty but do so deceptively--that is, it is wrong to marry or stay married only or principally for sake of duty when your partner in marriage believes otherwise.

Pages