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Is there any problem, moral or otherwise, in mixing money and enlightenment? For instance, asking people to pay spiritual guidance. Should philosophers receive a salary?

Even spiritual teachers have to eat. One might be suspicious of someone who withheld "enlightenment" unless the seeker paid, though in many traditions, support for spiritual guidance comes from voluntary donations. Whatever one thinks about people who explicitly claim to be providing spiritual help, counselors and psychotherapists offer something that's at least in a ballpark not too many miles away. For instance: there are interesting similarities between what one might learn from Buddhist practice and from cognitive behavioral therapy. I, for one, would be puzzled if someone thought a therapist shouldn't charge for her services. Exactly how the lines get drawn here and what, if anything, underlies the difference is an interesting question. If gurus shouldn't be paid, should doctors? How about artists? After all, insofar as I count any of my own experiences as spiritual, some of the more profound ones came from paintings, works of literature, pieces of music. In any case, I'd suggest caution about...

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...

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...

Many of those who favor online piracy (or who oppose restrictive laws meant to combat piracy, at least), argue that piracy does not actually hurt movie and music producers. They claim that most pirates would be unlikely to buy the products in question even if they were unable to download them for free. In restricting piracy, we aren't actually restoring revenue to the producers or anything of the sort. Those producers would be just as successful or unsuccessful whether piracy were allowed or not. Is this sensible? Let's say that I download a movie. If it is really true that I would not buy the movie in any case, does that make downloading it okay?

One thing is clear: if everyone downloaded for free, content producers wouldnt be able to profit from their labor. One reason why I don't downloaded pirated music, movies, etc. is that I think filmakers, musicians, etc. should be able to make money by doing what they do, and I can't see what's so special about me that I should be entitled to benefit for free from what they do. That's a long-winded way of saying I think it would be wrong for me to download pirated copies. Even though the filmaker would never get Freddy Freeloader's money, if. All did as Freddy does, the filmaker would suffer and in the long run, so would we all. Having said this, I think there's an awful lot wrong with contemporary copyright and intellectual property law. It could even be (though I'm not in a position to say so) that copyright law as it stands does as much harm as good. It could even be (though I doubt it) that we'd be better off if there were no intellectual property laws and we just depended on people's sense...

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.

Is it immoral for a health insurance company to refuse to cover a person with a pre-existing condition?

Timely! I'm inclined to tinker a bit with the question. First, I think it's a scandal that in the USA, people with pre-existing conditions often can't get health insurance. Other developed countries have figured this out; it's about time the US caught up. However, given the way the system works at present, we might get a fix on your issue by asking this. Suppose I'm in a position to set up a not-so-large company that provides health insurance, but I'm not willing to take on the risk of insuring people with certain pre-existing conditions; I'm worried that if I do, the company will be bankrupted and then won't be able to insure anyone. (I'm not saying this is actually the case for most big health insurance companies, but bear with me.) So long as I'm upfront and honest about what I'm offering, it's not clear that I do wrong by offering my more limited product. It's in the nature of private insurance schemes that the companies are in the business of risk management. Companies that don't make...

Here's my challenge for those who think we have the right to sell our bodies (i.e. prostitution): Suppose Travis, a hardworking businessman who is too busy to have a romantic relationship, calls Elise, a prostitute he finds on Craigslist. Elise tells him that she would love to service him, but he'll have to wire the money in advance (she's been taken advantage of too many times). Travis complies, and the two agree to meet next Thursday night. That night Elise thinks about her career and has a change of heart. When Thursday rolls around, she comes to Travis's house and explains that she cannot go through with the act. She offers to refund the money, but Travis refuses. Travis, you see, has already invested more than the money. For one, he set aside a night for Elise that will be wasted if she leaves. And he's already accepted some risk to his reputation by contacting Elise. More importantly, Elise agreed to a contract, and contracts are not reversible on the whims of a single party. If Elise had sold...

I'm having a bit of trouble finding the argument here. Let's take a "transaction" that most of us think is just fine: accepting a proposal of marriage. If Pat agrees to marry Robin and then gets cold feet, Robin can't force the issue. But what of it? Or take another example: I agree to buy your house. I sign the contract. And then I back out. In most jurisdictions, far as I know, you can't sue me for specific performance; you can't force me to buy the house, though there are various damages that you would be entitled to recover from me. As things stand in most places, a contract for an act of prostitution isn't enforceable, and so Travis has no legal claim against Elise -- particularly if she gives back the money. But suppose that these sorts contracts were legal, since your issue is presumably with people who think they should be. In that case, there's still no reason to think that Travis has some sort of right to rape Elise, though depending on the legal regime, he might have a civil...

We can think of a monetary system without banknotes or coins, where people would only have their money in banks, using it with credit cards and the like. Of course, there would be nothing in banks except for information on the amount of money each person would have. Now, I think that in this system there would exist nothing of which we could say "That is one euro" or "one dollar" (or whatever). But still it would be true that some people would have, say, one million dollars. My question is: if there is nothing which is one dollar, how can somebody have one dollar or a million dollars?

If having a dollar means having some thing or other, then no one could have a dollar if there weren't any. But bits of language of the sort "have a ___" often don't call for filling the blank with the name of a thing. If someone has a cold, or an idea or a worry or a lot of work to do, there isn't some thing they're carrying around in their nose or their head or have stored in their office. Unlike colds and good times, dollars once were bits of stuff and mostly still are -- at least in one sense. But having a dollar has never been simply a matter of having a bit of paper. What makes the piece of paper a dollar is that the person who has it has a certain amount of economic power, so to speak (which, by the way is another example of "having" something that's not a thing.) Money is already a lot more abstract than the creased bits of cash in your wallet let on. And so in the cashless economy you're imagining, that's what having a dollar or a euro or a million such would amount to: having what we're...

One of my favorite rap artists used to be a drug dealer and a pimp. He is not apologetic, but regularly brags about it. If I buy his albums, am I supporting drugs and pimping?

Perhaps, as you'd expect, it depends on what we mean. One scenario: the artist used the profits from his musical career to underwrite drug dealing and prostitution. In that case, you're supporting drugs and pimping at least in the sense that you're helping to provide the cash that keeps it running. Another scenario: the artist isn't dealing drugs and pimping, but his fame and the reach of his CD sales helps him encourage others to do what he used to do. In that case, your money is still supporting criminal activities, though quite a bit less directly. I'm guessing the most likely scenario is this: far as you know, he isn't still carrying on any criminal enterprises. Far as you, he probably does mean to glorify those things, and far as you know, he probably does have at least some marginal success in encouraging others to do the things he used to do. In other words, even if he's no longer an active criminal, there's something unsavory here, and the more successful he is financially, the...