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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 10 Jan 2011 02:58 
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mcfate wrote:
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?



IMHO it is not only ethical, but always highly laudatory to try to relieve suffering with one's own time and money, or by trying to collect voluntary donations for that purpose.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 10 Jan 2011 05:08 
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Tom Palven: "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?"

I think that would be a wonderful thread if you want to start one. Hijacking a thread is, in my humble opinion, inappropriate. The underlying question isn't how you spend your money but how you prioritize spending money. Is spending money on a dog, which you might consider a waste, worthwhile when there are people, such as yourself, who need the money? I love dogs but when a woman here asked me to donate money for her hobby of caring from street dogs my response is that I would do that as soon as I'd fed all the kids in the street. On the other hand, I did buy a computer and get an internet connection even though kids in the street were still hungry. Or, for that matter I still have my rented apartment to live in. I haven't moved to the sidewalk to help feed the kids. I have considered being a liberal so I could simply take money from others to feed the kids and keep all my personal perks.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 10 Jan 2011 10:01 
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Tom Palven wrote:
IMHO it is not only ethical, but always highly laudatory to try to relieve suffering with one's own time and money, or by trying to collect voluntary donations for that purpose.


I think it is curious that people think something is good or ethical, which is a proposition that they think this is a best or at least preferable thing to do, and yet hesitate to call it an ethical obligation. To me, saying "I wish everyone would donate to charity, and I think this would be a good and ethical thing, but I would not wish a system which makes this mandatory" is a bit contradictory. I think people stop from doing this because they think "What right do I have to mandate the actions of others?", but the thing is that if you believe this is best, then you imagine the best thing is that everyone do it, and thus you believe it to be an ethical obligation.

patrickt wrote:
I think that would be a wonderful thread if you want to start one. Hijacking a thread is, in my humble opinion, inappropriate.


I think this could easily go in a separate thread, but I do think that it also genuinely addresses the topic of this thread. Getting and spending money is the relevant domain of this question.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 10 Jan 2011 12:16 
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Tom Palven wrote:
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 think you risk falling into the error of accepting the “minimalist” golden rule that I mentioned earlier, Tom. I don’t think ethical enquiry ceases once I establish that my actions are not directly and actively harming someone else.

Elsewhere in this thread you say that it would be ethical for me to try to relieve suffering with my own time and money. I agree. But why is that ethical, if I did not cause the suffering in the first place, and if the golden rule merely requires that I do not cause suffering or other injury?

If it is ethical to try and relieve the suffering of others by spending one’s own money, then the question obviously arises as to whether it may be less-than-ethical to ignore their suffering, and spend one’s money on self-gratification instead.

Tom Palven wrote:
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?

It’s clear, Tom, that you have a particular interest in ethical questions concerning the actions of the state, of which this is certainly one. This is a legitimate question, and it’s absolutely ripe for discussion. Why not start a thread on it?

But it’s not the question raised by this thread. It’s one thing to believe that ethical questions involving the state are worth discussing; it’s quite another to believe that they are the only questions worth discussing, and that threads which address other areas must somehow be dragged into discussion of state action.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 10 Jan 2011 18:51 
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patrickt wrote:
Tom Palven: "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?"

I think that would be a wonderful thread if you want to start one. Hijacking a thread is, in my humble opinion, inappropriate. The underlying question isn't how you spend your money but how you prioritize spending money. Is spending money on a dog, which you might consider a waste, worthwhile when there are people, such as yourself, who need the money? I love dogs but when a woman here asked me to donate money for her hobby of caring from street dogs my response is that I would do that as soon as I'd fed all the kids in the street. On the other hand, I did buy a computer and get an internet connection even though kids in the street were still hungry. Or, for that matter I still have my rented apartment to live in. I haven't moved to the sidewalk to help feed the kids. I have considered being a liberal so I could simply take money from others to feed the kids and keep all my personal perks.


I don't believe that I'm hijacking this thread, patrickt. You state:
"The underlying question isn't how you spend your money but how you prioritize spending money."

I'm simply arguing that you are wrong, that the underlying question of this thread is how the philosopher kings here want to pritoritize someone else's spending.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 10 Jan 2011 19:44 
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There’s a huge difference, Tom, between A saying that B’s action is immoral, and A saying B ought not to be allowed to do his immoral action, or that the state should prevent B from doing his immoral action.

After all, what is the difference any participant in the thread saying that this couple ought not to have spent $20,000 on canine oncology, and you saying that they ought not to express that opinion? How come they are not allowed to say what other people ought to do, yet you apparently are?


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 10 Jan 2011 20:01 
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Peregrinus wrote:
There’s a huge difference, Tom, between A saying that B’s action is immoral, and A saying B ought not to be allowed to do his immoral action, or that the state should prevent B from doing his immoral action.

After all, what is the difference any participant in the thread saying that this couple ought not to have spent $20,000 on canine oncology, and you saying that they ought not to express that opinion? How come they are not allowed to say what other people ought to do, yet you apparently are?


By what utilitarian/authoritarian standard do you judge a person's spending $20,000 for dog oncology to be unethical? Should "society" set a limit of, say, $300? Or should it be $429.99 if the dog is less than 4 years of age? Utilitarianism is not only logically illegitimate, it is a can of worms.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 10 Jan 2011 20:20 
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Peregrinus wrote:
There’s a huge difference, Tom, between A saying that B’s action is immoral, and A saying B ought not to be allowed to do his immoral action, or that the state should prevent B from doing his immoral action.


Is it the difference between watching someone commit an act you consider to be immoral and intervening to that they cannot complete that act (or so that the act has no effect)?

If you think someone ought not to do something, i.e. you think that situation A ought not turn into situation B, which would happen by their volition, ought you not prevent it (i.e. stop situation A turning into situation B)? Is this dramatically different where situation A would turn into situation B by some impersonal cause, such as the wind?


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 11 Jan 2011 00:28 
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The thread has changed from how people choose to spend their money to how the collective stops people from deciding how to spend their money.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 11 Jan 2011 01:36 
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patrickt wrote:
The thread has changed from how people choose to spend their money to how the collective stops people from deciding how to spend their money.


But, how people choose to spend money (or their time) is not a question of ethics is it? It may be a question of religious morality if one was spending money to engage a prostitute and thus violating God's prohibitions, but generally how one spends one's money would not be a question of ethics unless, perhaps, one was spending his money to kill or disenfranchise other people, would it?- which is why I brought up US taxpayers.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 11 Jan 2011 03:11 
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Tom Palven wrote:
But, how people choose to spend money (or their time) is not a question of ethics is it?

Of course it is. How is it not? The fundamental ethical question is always "how should I behave [in a given set of circumstances, or faced with a given choice]. Making expenditure decisions is certainly making decisions about how to behave, and these are ethical decisions. And the same goes for how you spend your time. You said yourself that spending your money to relieve the distress of others was ethically admirable; it follows that the decision as to whether to spend your money in that way, or in another way, or not at all, is an ethical decision.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 11 Jan 2011 05:35 
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Peregrinus wrote:
Tom Palven wrote:
But, how people choose to spend money (or their time) is not a question of ethics is it?

Of course it is. How is it not? The fundamental ethical question is always "how should I behave [in a given set of circumstances, or faced with a given choice]. Making expenditure decisions is certainly making decisions about how to behave, and these are ethical decisions. And the same goes for how you spend your time. You said yourself that spending your money to relieve the distress of others was ethically admirable; it follows that the decision as to whether to spend your money in that way, or in another way, or not at all, is an ethical decision.


mcfate asked:
"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?"

Tom Palven replied:
"IMHO it is not only ethical, but always highly laudatory to try to relieve suffering with one's own time and money, or by trying to collect voluntary donations for that purpose."

Peregrinus,
If mcfate had instead said "Another ethical question is, is it ethical for someone to spend their money on a prostitute rather than send it to Citizens for a Moral Majority? I would have answered almost the same- IMHO it is perfectly ethical as it in no way violates the Golden Rule. Would it violate your ethical standards, which you have yet to describe?

As mcfate asked Hunter in another thread "If it's about 'utility' then I assume you are against other human behaviours that do not have great utility, like art." How do you characterize your ethics? Utilitarian? Quasi-utilitarian? Eclectic? Christian? Hunteresque? Talmudical? Situational? Seat-of-the-Pants? Give us a hint. If we make each other think, it's, as Martha Stewart and The Old Greeks would say, "a good thing."


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 11 Jan 2011 12:33 
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Hi Tom

Tom Palven wrote:
Peregrinus,
If mcfate had instead said "Another ethical question is, is it ethical for someone to spend their money on a prostitute rather than send it to Citizens for a Moral Majority? I would have answered almost the same- IMHO it is perfectly ethical as it in no way violates the Golden Rule. Would it violate your ethical standards, which you have yet to describe?

For you to be able to say that a particular expenditure is perfectly ethical necessarily means that expenditure decisions are indeed ethical decisions, does it not? If they were not, your statement would be meaningless.

After all, you could (grammatically) say that for a flower to bloom is perfectly ethical, since it does not violate the golden rule. But saying that a particular expenditure is ethical on the same grounds is a different statement; when we make the latter statement we recognise that particular expenditures (a) are the intentional acts of rational conscious beings, and (b) can violate the golden rule, and consequently that there is ethical accountability for expenditure decisions in the way that there is not for a flower blooming.

And this doesn’t depend on the adoption of the golden rule as an ethical standard. The argument would still hold good even if some quite different principle of ethics were invoked.

So, yes, expenditure decisions are ethical decisions.

As to whether spending money on a prostitute rather than sending it to the Moral Majority would violate my ethical standards, well, I think either of these expenditures would violate my ethical standards. But the fact that you can ask the question and expect a meaningful answer shows again that, despite what you say above, you do accept that expenditure decisions are moral decisions.

Tom Palven wrote:
As mcfate asked Hunter in another thread "If it's about 'utility' then I assume you are against other human behaviours that do not have great utility, like art." How do you characterize your ethics? Utilitarian? Quasi-utilitarian? Eclectic? Christian? Hunteresque? Talmudical? Situational? Seat-of-the-Pants? Give us a hint. If we make each other think, it's, as Martha Stewart and The Old Greeks would say, "a good thing."

I tend not to “characterise” my ethics with simple labels. But if I had to, I’d suggest that the labels “Christian” and “humanist” are probably going to be more useful than others.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 11 Jan 2011 12:34 
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patrickt wrote:
The thread has changed from how people choose to spend their money to how the collective stops people from deciding how to spend their money.

Only in Tom's mind.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 11 Jan 2011 12:51 
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Peregrinus wrote:
patrickt wrote:
The thread has changed from how people choose to spend their money to how the collective stops people from deciding how to spend their money.

Only in Tom's mind.


Aren't these related enough to talk about both? There are things which it is illegal to use your money for (say, buying illegal items), which shows that, through the medium of government, people do decide for other people what acceptable use of money is. As always, we can use this forum to discuss and review the law from an ethical perspective.

All we have basically done here is asked an ethical question and then thrown in the use of money. We could just as easily ask the same ethical question but substitute 'money earnt' (or stolen or whatever) with 'energy gained from eating', and we would have the same question. Whether it relates to money or not, we are asking, is x ethical for person A to do? And if x is unethical, should we prevent it? I think it is incorrect to think that the situation is any different in this case because the act requires money. In terms of prevention, I come back to the question I raised earlier:

mcfate wrote:
If you think someone ought not to do something, i.e. you think that situation A ought not turn into situation B, which would happen by their volition, ought you not prevent it (i.e. stop situation A turning into situation B)? Is this dramatically different where situation A would turn into situation B by some impersonal cause, such as the wind?


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 11 Jan 2011 13:17 
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mcfate wrote:
Peregrinus wrote:
patrickt wrote:
The thread has changed from how people choose to spend their money to how the collective stops people from deciding how to spend their money.

Only in Tom's mind.


Aren't these related enough to talk about both? . . . Whether it relates to money or not, we are asking, is x ethical for person A to do? And if x is unethical, should we prevent it?

They are related enough to talk about both, but that doesn’t mean that we have to talk about both and, in fact, we’ve all been talking only about the first question, except for Tom who wants to talk only about the second. It was Tom who introduced it (“. . . 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”), writing in tones which suggested that he was bravely defending the liberty of the individual against fascistic “philosopher kings”. But despite all Tom’s coat-trailing, nobody in this thread has at any point expressed the view that this couple ought to have been prevented from spending their money as they did.

It is perfectly possible, logically consistent and extremely common for an individual or a society to take the view that action X may be or definitely is unethical, but that the individual, or society, has no right forcibly to prevent it. The implication that any comment on the morality of another’s actions is an effective implicit threat to interfere in that other’s freedom of action is unwarranted.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 11 Jan 2011 13:56 
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Peregrinus wrote:
They are related enough to talk about both, but that doesn’t mean that we have to talk about both and, in fact, we’ve all been talking only about the first question, except for Tom who wants to talk only about the second. It was Tom who introduced it (“. . . 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”), writing in tones which suggested that he was bravely defending the liberty of the individual against fascistic “philosopher kings”. But despite all Tom’s coat-trailing, nobody in this thread has at any point expressed the view that this couple ought to have been prevented from spending their money as they did.


Actually, I did. I said:

mcfate wrote:
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.


as well as

mcfate wrote:
Is it the difference between watching someone commit an act you consider to be immoral and intervening to that they cannot complete that act (or so that the act has no effect)?

If you think someone ought not to do something, i.e. you think that situation A ought not turn into situation B, which would happen by their volition, ought you not prevent it (i.e. stop situation A turning into situation B)? Is this dramatically different where situation A would turn into situation B by some impersonal cause, such as the wind?


For example, if someone deliberately and evilly pushes a pram in front of a train, and I believe this to be immoral, then I should prevent this from occurring, if I can. This is the same, to me, as preventing the pram from accidentally being blown in front of the train by the wind. I believe it is only reasonable to prevent the pram from going in front of the train by accident if I would also prevent the pram going in front of the train by design.

I do not see it as logical to believe that situation X is immoral and morally not try and prevent situation X from happening, if I am able. This is the equivalent of saying it is moral for situation X to happen, because I willingly and morally allow situation X to happen when I can prevent it. I cannot have both the belief that situation X is both moral and immoral without being irrational.

Peregrinus wrote:
It is perfectly possible, logically consistent and extremely common for an individual or a society to take the view that action X may be or definitely is unethical, but that the individual, or society, has no right forcibly to prevent it. The implication that any comment on the morality of another’s actions is an effective implicit threat to interfere in that other’s freedom of action is unwarranted.


I must admit that I have not seen the 'logically consistent' part of this. Do you have an example to illustrate?


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 11 Jan 2011 14:14 
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Well, lying is widely regarded as unethical in most circumstances, but is criminalised only in very limited circumstances. Adultery is widely regarded as unethical in many, most, or all circumstances, but is not criminalised in any circumstances. Many people regard prostitution as immoral but in fact it's not a crime where I live, or in many countries (though of course it is in some). And these examples could be multiplied almost indefinitely.

The acts which we seek to forcibly prevent are in fact only a small subset of the acts that we consider unethical. Even if we conclude that a particular act is unethical, the question of whether it should be forcibly prevented raised a whole host of new ethical questions regarding the use of force, the limits of personal freedom, the role and power of the state, etc, etc.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 11 Jan 2011 14:46 
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Peregrinus wrote:
Well, lying is widely regarded as unethical in most circumstances, but is criminalised only in very limited circumstances. Adultery is widely regarded as unethical in many, most, or all circumstances, but is not criminalised in any circumstances. Many people regard prostitution as immoral but in fact it's not a crime where I live, or in many countries (though of course it is in some). And these examples could be multiplied almost indefinitely.


These are not examples of logical consistency, but simply an observation of human behaviour and the current legal system. People can be, and often are, illogical.

Peregrinus wrote:
The acts which we seek to forcibly prevent are in fact only a small subset of the acts that we consider unethical. Even if we conclude that a particular act is unethical, the question of whether it should be forcibly prevented raised a whole host of new ethical questions regarding the use of force, the limits of personal freedom, the role and power of the state, etc, etc.


There are two points here, I think. Firstly, I did state above that if one thought situation X was morally wrong, they should prevent it if able. The act of policing everyone is perhaps something that we are not able to do, but should we come across an immoral act that we are capable of preventing, we should, as I understand the definition of ethics, try to prevent it or correct it.

Secondly, if one is not convinced of a moral position, as many people are about many positions, then they cannot say that this is what they should do. So if someone knows they should prevent something, but are not sure how they should prevent something, they also may be unable to proceed.

If something shouldn't be done (i.e. you understand this to be immoral), you have at your disposal everything but those things which shouldn't be done to prevent it, and should act one of those out, if it gives you the possibility of preventing it. This may, or may not, according to morals, include the use of force. But it is distinct, as I understand it, from letting something immoral occur because someone else is doing it.

In the case of spending money, the use of force is not as applicable. There is a legal system which already defines what we may legally and illegally spend our money on, and it is probably through this that changes would be best effected.

Peregrinus wrote:
It is perfectly possible, logically consistent and extremely common for an individual or a society to take the view that action X may be or definitely is unethical, but that the individual, or society, has no right forcibly to prevent it.


If ethics is about should or ought, then this implies a right to carry out the should. It is illogical to say, "I should do this [save the pram from the train] but I have no right." The should is a right.

If there is something that you believe you have no right to do (i.e. stop someone from committing suicide, say) then you have no moral stance on that situation.


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 Post subject: Re: Dog
PostPosted: 11 Jan 2011 15:19 
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There nothing illogical here. “I should not do X” does not logically require “you should prevent me from doing X”. If you assert that it does, please lay out your reasoning.

Nor does a reluctance to enforce an ethical opinion by the use force imply any uncertainty about the opinion. It could, in fact, reflect a very certain ethical conviction that the use of force is not ethically justifiable for the purpose.

Bear in mind the original question here was whether it was ethical for this couple to spend $20,000 on doggy oncology. I assert that this is an ethical question. (“Is it ethical?” is fairly obviously an ethical question, so I don’t expect much argument on the point.)

But who is faced with this ethical question? Well, first and foremost, the couple themselves. They have to answer it, one way or another; they have to decide either to spend the money or not to spend it.

It’s an ethical question that you or I or anyone else might have an opinion about. On the other hand, we might not have an opinion about it. Perhaps we never hear of the story. Perhaps we hear, but aren’t interested. We don’t have to make the decision, so we don’t need to address the ethical question.

But even if nobody else ever hears about it, or ever cares about it, it’s still an ethical question facing the couple, which they must address and answer. And in that circumstance, by definition, nobody is constraining or seeking to constrain them in any way. But they are still facing an ethical question.

It seems to me that, if by chance we do hear about it, and do have and express an ethical opinion about it, there is nothing at all which compels us also to believe that our opinion ought to be enforced against the couple concerned. Our opinion is an ethical opinion because it is an opinion about an ethical question. Nothing more is required to make it an ethical opinion. In particular, it is not required that we should hold our opinion as one which should be forcibly implemented against those to whom it relates.

Ethics, fundamentally, is about how people should behave, not about how they should be compelled to behave.

Of course, sometimes we do compel people to behave in a particular way – to drive on the left, to pay taxes, to refrain from murdering their neighbours, to obtain a visa to enter a particular country. And compelling somebody to behave in a particular way is itself an action which can be ethically evaluated. Thus, “should I (or we) compel this couple not to spend $20,000 on doggy oncology?” is also an ethical question.

But it’s a different ethical question, not only because it relates to a completely different action (forcibly confiscating their money, say, rather than buying the services of of an oncologist) but also because it relates to the behaviour of a completely different actor (me or the state, rather than the couple). And it raises a whole host of issues which the first question does not raise about freedom, power, the state, the use of force, etc.

Questions of the form “should we compel people to do/not to do X?” are certainly ethical questions. But they are only a small subset of the universe of meaningful and relevant ethical questions. And the action to which they relate is not whatever act is denoted by X, but the act of compulsion. And they are not even necessarily related to any unethicality in the underlying action of X. After all, there is nothing inherently unethical about driving on the right, yet we still compel people to drive on the left. And that still raises the ethical issue of compulsion, even though there is no ethical issue involved the choice of right or left.


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