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 Post subject: Dog
PostPosted: 07 Jan 2011 09:48 
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I have just been reading in the paper about a couple who spent $20,000 for medical treatment on their pet dog who had developed a brain tumour. Treatment has included radiotherapy. I gather there was some surgery involved. The dog has lost most of its vision. She may not survive. From the look of the picture, the dog was elderly.

I guess they really love their dog.

How do you see the ethics of this situation?


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 07 Jan 2011 13:56 
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Dogs are definitely worthy of expensive treatment as long as they're not depriving a human being of care. There is no more loyal and steadfast friend than a dog; they also add to the well being of the old and sick, so they're a good investment.
Money can be spent on far more wasteful persuits, I'm sure I don't need to list them for you, but the casino comes to mind.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 07 Jan 2011 14:39 
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Christine O wrote:
Dogs are definitely worthy of expensive treatment as long as they're not depriving a human being of care.


I know Peter Singer has been brought up in another recent thread, but he would accuse you of being 'species-ist'. The question he poses is, by what criterion is a human more worthy of care?


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 07 Jan 2011 14:57 
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Singer, I think, would say that, if the treatment of the dog was justified, it was justified by the fact that it relieved the dog’s suffering.

(We might question, though, whether it did in fact relieve the dog’s suffering. Surgery is traumatic; recuperation is stressful and painful; radiotherapy can be extremely debilitating. The treatment may have extended the dog’s life, but that is not the same thing as relieving its suffering. In a human, the treatment might also relieve the very considerable existential fear/pain of awareness of impending deterioration/death/extinction, but we have no reason to suppose that dogs would feel that pain to the same extent, or at all.)

Christine, by contrast, justifies the treatment on the utilitarian and consequentialist grounds that it benefitted the human owners, who deferred – at least for a time – the pain of losing their valued pet and companion. In other words she values the dog not for itself, but for the utility that it confers upon its owners. If the dog was nobody’s pet – if its owners, for example, had recently died, and there was nobody who particularly wanted him – then Christine’s arguments would not support the treatment of the dog. (Whereas I suspect Singer would say that, if the treatment was justified by relieving the dog’s suffering, then it was justified regardless of who, if anybody, owned or cared about the dog.)

However the owners were not dead, so the treatment of the dog did have the benefits that Christine points to. It’s fair to ask, though, whether it was not selfish of the owners to spend $20,000 for – essentially – their own gratification, when there are people in the world who cannot secure this treatment for their children. Is my ethical obligation to my sick labrador greater than my ethical obligation to a stranger’s sick child?


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 07 Jan 2011 16:55 
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Well, I think Peter Singer might cry "species-ist" if you advocate different treatment for different species, whether it is ethical or not. But I suspect you are right and he would base his ethical claims on suffering.

I like your points, Peregrinus, about the quality of life with and without treatment. I believe there are some humans in this position as well (whose existential worries are exacerbated by treatment that lowers quality of life - "What's the point if this is all there is to life?").

Peregrinus wrote:
It’s fair to ask, though, whether it was not selfish of the owners to spend $20,000 for – essentially – their own gratification, when there are people in the world who cannot secure this treatment for their children.


Yeah, this is a much bigger question about work and reward. If you do work, are you entitled to reward if there are sick children in other countries who find it more difficult to survive? If you get reward but are obligated to direct this to others in need, then your reward is confusing way to direct support to others. If you are obligated to direct a part of this to others, how do we define how much? Does the amount spent on the dog breach that amount? If you are not obligated, should you be taxed? And so on.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 07 Jan 2011 17:12 
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I don’t know whether it has all that much to do with “work and reward”. Obviously, the dilemma wouldn’t arise here unless the dog’s owners had the $20,000 needed for the dog’s treatment. 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. 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.

But the fact that they were entitled to spend their money in this way doesn’t mean that it was ethically right to do so. And, if they did earn the money as a fair reward for honest work, I don’t think that would give them a free pass for spending it in a way that we might think unethical if the money had come from inheritance, or lottery winnings, or whatever.

In short, earning your money doesn’t make the ethical issues raised by how you spend it go away. On the contrary, it gives you more such issues, since you now have more money to spend.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 07 Jan 2011 17:27 
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mcfate wrote:
Yeah, this is a much bigger question about work and reward. If you do work, are you entitled to reward if there are sick children in other countries who find it more difficult to survive? If you get reward but are obligated to direct this to others in need, then your reward is confusing way to direct support to others. If you are obligated to direct a part of this to others, how do we define how much? Does the amount spent on the dog breach that amount? If you are not obligated, should you be taxed? And so on.


Why is money spent treating a loved pet any more wasteful than money spent on a holiday, gambling or plastic surgery? Sometimes your heart has to over rule your head. I ask myself this. "Who's lives would I save if I was forced to make a choice between a whole town full of strangers or my two sons?" The answer is I would probably save my children. What would you guys really do?


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 07 Jan 2011 18:48 
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It’s not clear that spending the money on the dog is unethical, Christine. All I’m saying is that the question is not an easy one to answer.

Above I posed the question whether it is selfish to spend $20,000 on cancer treatment for my pet dog when there are people in the world who cannot afford cancer treatment for their children. But I could just as easily ask whether it is selfish to spend $5 on food for my pet dog when there are people in the world who cannot afford food for their children. The moral issues seem to me to be exactly the same. The only difference is that spending $20,000 on treating canine cancer is very rare, while buying petfood is commonplace. And do I really want to say that the millions and millions of people who feed their pets are all behaving unethically?

Like you, I would save my child before a townful of strangers. But, of course, the fact that I would do it doesn’t mean that it is the more ethical thing to do. Perish the thought, but I could behave unethically. So could you.

It’s worth analysing, though, why we would saver our own child ahead of a bunch of strangers – or, for that matter, our own pet. In one sense it is selfish – or, at least self-centred. My child’s/pet’s existence affects me much more than the strangers’, so in preferring to save the life of my child or pet I am acting for my own benefit. As I’ve already pointed out, the reasons you offered earlier why it was ethical for the dog’s owners to spend $20,000 on it all had to do with benefits and advantages to the dog’s owners themselves.

But it’s worth asking whether I have an ethical obligation to my child or pet which is greater than my obligation to the strangers. Children and pets are by nature dependent, and these particular children and pets are dependent on me. By becoming a parent or a pet owner I have accepted a particular obligation to protect and care for them – a much greater obligation than I owe to the world at large. In discharge of that obligation, I may feed my pet even though your child goes hungry.

Here we come across an interesting question; is it possible to owe an obligation to a dog? Singer would undoubtedly say yes; others, I think, might disagree.

But it’s certainly possible to owe a moral obligation to a child, and I think we would all feel that parents do owe particular moral obligations to their own children – evidenced, if by nothing else, then by the revulsion we all feel when parents are convicted of injuring or killing their own children.

But the moral obligation is not unlimited. In this particular case, I think there are serious questions over whether (assuming the owners do owe a moral obligation to the dog) the obligation extends to requiring them to spend $20,000 subjecting the dog to a long period of pain, misery and distress for what seems to be a rather dubious prospect of long-term medical advantage. I think I’m ethically obliged to feed my pet, but I struggle to defend this expenditure as ethical.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 07 Jan 2011 19:44 
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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. But the more important point is this:

Peregrinus wrote:
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.
(Bold mine)

If there is a true ethical obligation to do something particular with the money, then it isn't truly their money to spend. People think that the position of it being "their money" is most defensible when they have earnt it through hard work, but if it is a moral obligation to give it to starving children, then it is not their money, it is the starving children's money. If the starving children were a moral imperative, this would trump "ownership" of the money. I think the problem of what distribution of happiness or suffering is most ethical is where utilitarianism faces the most difficulties. It is better that complex creative art doesn't exist if everyone has a basic standard of living, or is better that there are wonderful peaks to the human experience, even if it means that some people will not get the basics? This applies, as Christine points out, to holidays and other things.

Peregrinus wrote:
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.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 07 Jan 2011 20:32 
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mcfate wrote:
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.

mcfate wrote:
. . . But the more important point is this:

Peregrinus wrote:
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.
(Bold mine)

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).

mcfate wrote:
Peregrinus wrote:
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.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 07 Jan 2011 21:11 
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Peregrinus wrote:
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.


I suppose it depends on how much of an obligation it is. For example, if person A earns money, but is taxed a percentage which is then given to welfare, then although it is in some sense person A's money, it is really money for welfare, and person A was a conduit. If a moral obligation to give to charity carried the same weight as a legal obligation, then this would be true of money that person A donated - they would be the conduit. In this sense, moral constraints take away the freedom that a moral vacuum would provide.

Yes, this is true of other people's possessions. If distributing goods to the needy was a moral obligation and someone was hoarding, that does not relieve other people of the job of distributing those goods. This wouldn't be stealing, this would be correcting an immoral act. (Note that I am not saying this is how the world should work, but that this is what results if moral obligations exist).

Peregrinus wrote:
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.


I know. But I think it is the dominant one.

Peregrinus wrote:
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.


If the line between should and may is only defined by what is currently legal then this is a highly imaginative line. I thought the point of discussing ethics was to define where this line should be, not agree that it has been placed somewhere already and not review it. In fact, sometimes the law (and therefore the line) is changed by people justifying themselves in such a way in court - not waiting for it to change by itself. (I'm not thinking of vigilantes here, but cases which have formed binding precedents.)

Or, looked at differently, if may not can only be upheld by force, then you might well have the power, or conversely, it may turn out that the authorities cannot prevent something which they wish to prevent (which they have decided belongs in may not, but is, in their failure to prevent it, simply a should not).

Ethics is about should, or ought. You certainly have the ability to say "You may not do that." Whether you have the power is a different issue. Should you have the right? That's the ethical question.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 07 Jan 2011 22:29 
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Its their money why shouldn't they be allowe3d to spend it on their dog?

Personally, I wouldn't do it and I think they are a bit soft in the head for doing so, but why should I care?


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 07 Jan 2011 23:44 
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In the U.S. some pets have health insurance. My dear friend who died a few years ago had all of her pets covered by a comprehensive health insurance policy. Now, some pets, gasp, are uninsured. How long are we going to allow this unjust situation to continue?

Do you know the difference between having a dog and a spouse. The dog might poop on the floor but he never ever poops on you.

I don't have a dog now because of my living arrangements but I postponed by move to Mexico as I waited for my dog to die. Chan was a wonderful companion for 16 years. He never gave me any serious problems and was a much better conversationalist than most people I've known.

The question asked earlier of how can we justify expensive vacations when people are going hungry is silly. For Americans, their vacation certainly is more important than someone else's hunger. Get real. To make it more relevant, though, how can someone buy dope when someone else is hungry, dude?


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 08 Jan 2011 23:02 
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I know that utilitarians and situationists think otherwise, but to me the bottom line ethical question here is not about dogs, but whether or not it is logically ethical for a person or group of people to coercively control how another person spends his or her money. I may think it's silly to spend money on a big diamond ring, or a Rolex watch which doesn't keep any better time than a ten-dollar watch that won't get one mugged, but I don't see how it's any of my business how others want to spend their money.

If people want to to comment on others who spend their money on cigarettes, Rolex watches, prostitutes, beer, or anything else, and try to persuade them of a particular viewpoint, that's fine, even if they say "There oughtta be a law to enforce my way of thinking", but is it logically ethical to actually pass laws to force one person's preferences on another person?


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 08 Jan 2011 23:19 
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Tom Palven wrote:
but I don't see how it's any of my business how others want to spend their money.


But you might if you were a starving homeless person.

Tom Palven wrote:
but is it logically ethical to actually pass laws to force one person's preferences on another person?


Well, there's tax. And in Australia there are bans on smoking in particular places.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 09 Jan 2011 05:05 
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mcfate wrote:
Tom Palven wrote:
but I don't see how it's any of my business how others want to spend their money.


But you might if you were a starving homeless person.

Tom Palven wrote:
but is it logically ethical to actually pass laws to force one person's preferences on another person?


Well, there's tax. And in Australia there are bans on smoking in particular places.


There are always those who care deeply how you spend your money because they consider it rightfully their money. All they need is someone with a gun to take it from you and give it to them. And, whether they use the money to buy liquor, drugs, or to gamble is irrelevant. Once it's been taken from you and given to them the money that wasn't yours is theirs.

Let's hear it for the politics of envy. Envy by those who don't wish to do things things you need to do to not be homeless. I suppose there are anorexics starving the in the U.S. Other than those, talk of starving is hyperbole.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 09 Jan 2011 12:08 
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patrickt wrote:
Let's hear it for the politics of envy. Envy by those who don't wish to do things things you need to do to not be homeless.


Such as not having a mental disorder, terrible education or having their home lost in Pakistani floods? Perhaps they lost their home when they fled persecution. Perhaps they began living on the street because of abusive parents. You might want to illuminate what those things are that 'you need to do to not be homeless' are, because not everyone is in the same boat with the same opportunities. (I'm going to assume that you don't give to charity at this point, but you can correct me if required.)

Another ethical question is, if someone is in a bad position due to their own deliberate actions, is it ethical to assist them in leaving a position of suffering?


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 09 Jan 2011 13:07 
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patrickt wrote:
. . . I suppose there are anorexics starving the in the U.S. Other than those, talk of starving is hyperbole.

Because of course, all talk of people outside the U.S. is by definition hyperbole?


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 09 Jan 2011 13:13 
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Tom Palven wrote:
I know that utilitarians and situationists think otherwise, but to me the bottom line ethical question here is not about dogs, but whether or not it is logically ethical for a person or group of people to coercively control how another person spends his or her money.

How is that the “bottom line ethical question”? Reread the OP; there is no suggestion anywhere in it that any person or group of people “sought to coercively control” how these people spent their money. They wanted to spend it on the doggy oncologist, they did spend it on the doggy oncologist, and there is no reason to think that any barriers were put in the way of their doing so.

The “bottom line ethical question” here is whether it was ethical for them to spend their money in that way. That, after all, was the question they had to face in deciding to make this expenditure. The question of whether anyone else should intervene to prevent them from spending their money is very much a secondary question. To a large extent, it doesn’t even arise unless we have formed a particular view on the primary question; is this expenditure ethical?


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 10 Jan 2011 02:24 
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Peregrinus wrote:
Tom Palven wrote:
I know that utilitarians and situationists think otherwise, but to me the bottom line ethical question here is not about dogs, but whether or not it is logically ethical for a person or group of people to coercively control how another person spends his or her money.

How is that the “bottom line ethical question”? Reread the OP; there is no suggestion anywhere in it that any person or group of people “sought to coercively control” how these people spent their money. They wanted to spend it on the doggy oncologist, they did spend it on the doggy oncologist, and there is no reason to think that any barriers were put in the way of their doing so.

The “bottom line ethical question” here is whether it was ethical for them to spend their money in that way
. That, after all, was the question they had to face in deciding to make this expenditure. The question of whether anyone else should intervene to prevent them from spending their money is very much a secondary question. To a large extent, it doesn’t even arise unless we have formed a particular view on the primary question; is this expenditure ethical?


Peregrinus, you said
The “bottom line ethical question” here is whether it was ethical for them to spend their money in that way

I don't know what ethical standard you are using, (and I'd like to know), but according to my adopted standard of the Golden Rule, it is not unethical to spend one's time or money doing anything one wants to do, unless one is doing something to harm others. I'm positive that there are plenty of highly acclaimed philosophers today who would argue that your eating a big breakfast is unethical (Particularly if it contained bacon, sausage, or other meat which is less efficent to produce than oatmeal.) because it deprives someone who has no breakfast at all. Do you agree with them, or does this question require endless examination?

If in fact the “bottom line ethical question” here is whether it was ethical for them to spend their money in (a particular) way, should we not examine whether it is unethical to pay taxes to the US government which uses killer drones controlled from the Death Pentagon to murder innocent men women, and children in Pakistan almost every day? Isn't this an easier eithcal question to answer than what and how much you should have for breakfast? Would it have been unethical for some Germans to try to withhold tax money for the Third Reich since only a portion of that money was being used to murder people? One person who would certainly have found that to be unethical behavior is statist Jean Bethke Elstain, the highly regarded Professor of Social and Politcal ethics at the very prestigious University of Chicago, who has argued that both the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions constitute "Just War".


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