Questions on Ethics

 Posted by on 12 May 2010 at 7:00 am  Advice, Ethics, FormSpring
May 122010

Some FormSpring Questions and Answers on ethics:

Is it moral to copy music from a CD so you can listen to it on your MP3 player? Should this be made illegal?

(1) Yes. (2) No.

In my view, the owners of copyrighted products — meaning the people who buy books or CDs — are entitled to do what they please with those items, including copy them, provided that all those copies stay in their possession. In other words, copyright does not prevent them from copying per se but rather copying then distributing or selling those copies.

So a person can transfer a CD to his computer, even though that requires copying. That’s not a violation of the rights of the copyright holder, provided that he retains all copies, rather than, for example giving away or selling the original.

How morally culpable is a person if they were introduced to the works of Ayn Rand through illegally downloaded copies of her books but after having studied them they realized the error and purchased every single book they downloaded?

I’d say that such a person acted wrongly, but then they corrected that wrong, and that’s pretty much all that matters in this context.

More, that correction shows good character. It’s hugely important that a person be willing to correct his errors, rather than rationalize them to avoid guilt. That willingness to face the facts and act accordingly — even concerning one’s own moral failings — is the essence of good character. If a person can do that, then everything else is just a matter of time.

In Canada the gov’t has banned some satellite signals. If Canada was a free country people would be able to pay for these tv signals and watch them, but can’t because of the ban. From Objectivisms view, is it immoral to watch these channels in Canada?

I don’t think so, provided that (1) you don’t conceal what you’re doing and (2) you advocate for the lifting of the ban.

You are not morally responsible for the force wielded by others, nor obliged to penalize yourself for their sins — provided that you don’t sanction those sins. If you wanted to keep the ban in place so that you could continue to receive the signals for free, that would be immoral.

Ayn Rand’s essay on “A Question of Scholarships” in Voice of Reason is relevant to these questions. I recommend it!

Do you think that it is possible to enjoy rap music and not have a malevolent sense of life? I’m referring specifically to the type of rap in which the rapper boasts of committing immoral acts such as gunning down cops and slapping whores.

Yeesh! I don’t think that a person with a healthy sense of life could enjoy that kind of blatantly nihilistic rap.

I’m not condemning all rap. (I like a bit of it myself.) I’m not morally condemning the person who likes that kind of rap, as it’s not a matter of choice in the short term. However, it’s a good indication that a person needs to reshape his sense of life. If a person is unwilling to do that, then it becomes a moral issue.

As with all music, the question to ask is: Why are you attracted to it? What do you get out of it?

Have you ever donated to Wikipedia?

No. I’m routinely disgusted by their altruistic appeals for donations.

Plus, I’ve always thought that Wikipedia should support itself via nice little text ads relevant to the topic. As with people, no enterprise that can be self-supporting should make itself an object of charity.

[The posting of this answer to Facebook spawned some very interesting comments, including some from my old friend Jimmy Wales. My view is definitely somewhat more moderate now.]

If you need assistance from someone who doesn’t have any particular reason to offer it apart from good will, how would you go about asking them?

Very straightforwardly — and without any hint of expectations of or demands on the person.

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