I think that most people look at money in a work/reward way because that is how most people obtain it - even inheritance was, in theory, earnt by someone . . .
Maybe so, but that is a self-serving perspective designed to enable people to avoid questioning the justice of the situation whereby A has money while B does not. A may have earned his money in the sense that it was the wage for a job he did, or the profit for an enterprise he undertook, but if we stop at that point we do not ask why A got the job, or was in a position to get the job, or had the capital for his enterprise, or why A’s job paid the amount it did rather than a much lower (or much higher) amount, or a host of other questions we could ask about how A comes to have money, few of which actually relate to A’s personal efforts or merits.
. . . But the more important point is this:
Given that they had it (and assuming that they didn’t, e.g., rob a bank, or welch on their debts, to get it) then I don’t think it matters whether they got it by honest toil, by taking a ridiculously overpaid job as a trader in financial instruments, or by good fortune in a lottery. It was their money to spend.
If there is a true ethical obligation to do something particular with the money, then it isn't truly their money to spend.
No, no, no – other way around. It is only because it is their money, in the sense that they can choose how to spend it, that they can have any ethical obligations regarding how they spend it. I, after all, can hardly have ethical obligations in regard to the spending of your
money, can I?
You are equating ownership with the absence of any ethical constraint. You suggest that. unless I can exercise rights of ownership free of any kind of ethical constraint, I don’t truly own property at all. The alarming corollary is that, if I do own something, I am by definitnion ethically unconstrained in how I use or employ it. This strikes me as a dangerously regressive perspective.
The majority view in most societies, I think, has been that ownership does carry moral obligations, and the more you own the greater the related obligations are. Hence it was wealthy landowners, in the past, who endowed churches and schools, subsidised the construction of road and railway lines, and generally accepted a responsibility to invest in the communities in which they lived, and from whom they derived their wealth (mostly in the form of rent payments and the sale of farm produce). They were free, of course, to do none of these things, but in doing so they exposed themselves to the moral censure of the community.
With the industrial revolution the perspective changed in detail, but remained the same in principle; wealthy industrialists founded and endowed universities, housing charities for the urban poor, model villages for workers, etc. Once of the justifications for their having and controlling such large wealth, in fact, in their own minds was the fact that they recognised and observed these obligations. (“It is the duty of the wealthy man/to give employment to the artisan”)
Wealthy people who rejected these obligations were condemned by their peers as immoral (and as providing encouragement and justification for anarchists and revolutionaries, whose condemnation of the capitalist system was validated if capitalists rejected the moral obligations that came with material success).
Since buying even cosmetic surgery for dogs is not illegal, nobody had the right to tell them that they might not spend in on doggy surgery.
I disagree. For a start, this is how laws are made and changed - people having and voicing an opinion. Secondly, this seems to indicate that ethics has a lesser place than the law, whereas I would hope the law aspires to be ethical. Thirdly, it is legal to tell someone your opinion, so if you have a logical argument, there is nothing wrong with presenting this. Lastly, this is exactly what the law is - someone's ethical stance which has the right to tell you what to do and what not to do. I don't think an appeal to the law is a valid way to argue ethics, though appealing to why specific laws were made is very illuminating.
There’s an important difference between me telling you that you should
not cheat on your girlfriend, and me telling you that you may
not cheat on your girlfriend. The latter implies me exercising a degree of constraint and control over you which I cannot justify (even if you are
a cheating bastard). The former is merely me laying moral considerations before you for your consideration.
I can tell this couple that they should not spend $20,000 on the doggy oncologist. But I can’t tell them that they may not, since it is (so far) perfectly legal, and I lack the power or the right to make it illegal. Of course, hypothetically, it could be made illegal, but that hasn’t happened yet. Thus they are still free to spend as much as they wish on doggy oncologists, even if I consider that it would be unethical, and even if I am right.