Question: Are the promises of marriage binding when a spouse becomes self-destructive? When couples marry, they often promise to stay together "for better or for worse" and "in sickness and in health." But imagine that a wife chooses a self-destructive course of action – say, abusing drugs, profligate spending, or gambling. She refuses to listen to reason or change her behavior. Does the husband have an obligation to stay in the marriage or support her financially due to his past promise? Basically, what do the promises of marriage oblige a person to do?
Question: What is "open Objectivism"? Recently, I checked out the website of "The Atlas Society," the organization run by David Kelley. It advocates for "open Objectivism," which I assume means that each person defines what Objectivism is. Am I interpreting that correctly? What's wrong with that approach? Does regarding Objectivism as "closed" lead to intolerance, insularity, and schisms?
Question: Is it wrong to buy goods with the intent to return them? A friend of mine will often buy jewelry from large department stores for events, knowing that she'll likely return the items. (Sometimes, however, she'll keep an item even when she thought she'd return it.) She returns the goods undamaged and soon after buying. She asked me what I thought of the morality of her actions. In my opinion, she's acting morally because she's not committing fraud. The stores in question have liberal return policies ("if you are unhappy for whatever reason..."). They must know that some of their customers might do what she's doing and think that allowing it is good for business. Is that right?
Question: Does ethical egoism promote narcissism and insensitivity to others? People often suggest that ethical egoism – such as the Objectivist ethics advocated by Ayn Rand – promotes unfriendly if not hostile behavior toward other people. Ultimately, the egoist cares for himself above everything else, perhaps to the point that the thoughts and feelings of others aren't even noticed or of concern. The problem seems to be exacerbated by a commitment to moral absolutes and moral judgment. So do these ethical principles incline a person to be self-absorbed, insensitive, hostile, unkind, or otherwise unpleasant to others? How can egoists take care not to fall into these traps?
Question: Is it wrong to invent stories about yourself to tell to strangers? In the past, I've made up stories about myself (basically assuming a character) and told them to strangers on the bus or in an airport. When I mentioned this to my spouse, I hadn't really thought of this as lying until I saw his horrified reaction. Do you think this is wrong? If so, why? Would it be acceptable in some contexts, such as for an acting class?
Question: Are "gay pride" parades good? Sexuality is not chosen, so being gay is not something that a person could be proud of. However, these parades seem like harmless fun, and they might even help alleviate homophobia. (They might perpetuate stereotypes too, however.) So are they, on balance, of benefit? Also, what should be made of the fact that a "straight pride" parade would be seen as homophobic? Isn't the goal here equality? Does that show that gay pride parades are elevating a minority into something special and unequal?
Question: Should I leave my inmate boyfriend? I am in a dilemma. My current boyfriend is in prison serving a six year sentence. He has been away for a year and a half. It took over two years for the legal matters to be settled and for him to finally get a sentence. This is also my first ever boyfriend and I am already 26. Is it wrong for me to want to move on with my life? After he gets out (if no appeal is granted) he will be forced into a very limited lifestyle being on a sex offender list. I keep thinking about trying to make new friends and what I should and should not disclose to them. Right now, I live with his parents and work with his mother. I feel like I am cornered and am drowning in this huge mess. I want my own life, but with zero support and friends I am terrified of the risk. Do I stick it out? Or do I suck it up and leave him, my home, and my job?
Question: Is it wrong to write essays I don't believe to win contest money? I am a current university student with severe financial limitations. I've found that one of my best assets is my knack for writing a solid, persuasive essay. Recently, I've come across a trove of very generous scholarship essay contests. I feel confident that I could write a solid essay for most of them. The problem is that the majority are funded by organizations whose values I don't support. Specifically, I'd have to write essays in favor of social and political policies with which I disagree. Would it be moral for me to enter these writing competitions? If I did, would I just be demonstrating my writing ability - or misleading the sponsor into thinking that I agree with what I've written?
Question: Can life be morally black and white? People often say life is not "black and white," meaning that sometimes we must navigate morally gray zones, particularly when dealing with complex decisions involving other people. However, if we make decisions based on objective absolutes, doesn't that eliminate these so-called "morally gray zones"?
Question: How should I respond to panhandlers asking for money? I live and work in a downtown area, and I am often asked by strangers on the street for money. These requests vary in form from the brief but honest ("Spare some change?") to the manipulative and dishonest. My stock response is to say that I have no cash, which is almost always true, but somewhat dishonest in that my lack of cash is not my main reason for refusing to give. Explaining my real reasons – I don't know who this person is, I don't know how he will spend the money, and I don't think giving people money helps reduce their reliance on handouts in the future – seems overly harsh on someone who is obviously having a rough time of it already, and takes a long time to boot. I feel like I should acknowledge the request somehow, but I want to effectively disengage from the situation as quickly and safely as possible. Is my stock response inappropriate because it is dishonest? If I shouldn't be using my stock response, what can I say to quickly and safely disengage? Also, I get a lot of dubious stories about being stranded downtown without bus fare. I've often thought about carrying a few valid, single-use transit tickets with which to respond to such stories. It's something I can afford, and it would in theory limit how my charity gets used. Would this be a wise or safe course of action?
Question: How can I better identify dangerous or immoral people in my life? I don't like to be morally judgmental about personality and other optional differences. In fact, I like being friends with a variety of kinds of people: that expands my own horizon. Yet I've been prey to some really awful people in my life. Looking back, I'd have to say that I ignored some signs of trouble – dismissing them as mere optional matters, as opposed to moral failures. How can I better differentiate "interesting" and "quirky" from "crazy" and "dangerous" in people I know?
Question: Are there moral limits to romanticizing historical figures in art? For example, a writer might romanticize Robin Hood as the Ragnar Danneskjöld of the Middle Ages. If this is proper, is there an ethical limit as to what kinds of persons one may or may not romanticize, or as to how far one may stretch the historic truth? For example, does it matter if there are still contemporaries of that historic person alive who suffered unjustly because of him? Would it be wrong to ignore some unpleasant facts in order to present a fictionalized heroic character?
Question: Is it ever okay to tell a lie as part of a happy surprise for someone else? This question is from Ryan (age 11) and Morgan (age 8). We bought birthday presents for our brother Sean, and we had to sneak them into the house. We didn't want Sean to know what we were doing. At first, we thought we should make up a story about why we were going back and forth to the car. Morgan thought she should tell Sean she was going outside to swing. But then we talked about how that would be a lie and she decided to go out and actually swing before bringing her present inside, that way there was no lying involved. Should we have told the lie to Sean? Is it okay to tell a lie as part of doing something nice for someone?
Question: When is a relationship broken beyond repair? Relationships can be severely strained, fraught with anger and frustration, and perhaps put on ice for weeks or months or years. Yet in the end, the two people can often reconcile in some way, so that they can enjoy a genuine (even if not deep) relationship again. In some cases, however, that's not possible. Why not? In such cases, must the problem be that one person (or both people) continue to behave badly? Or might reconciliation be impossible between two good people? If so, why?
Question: Should I limit my time away from family in deference to their cultural expectations? My family comes from a conservative Turkish background. They see the amount of independence granted me as a 19-year-old as more than enough. I see it as unsatisfactory. In fact, they feel pushed to their limit by the amount of time I ask to spend away from family on a daily basis. They believe I should not ask for any more independence, as they are already trying their hardest to accept me having even a small amount. However, what I'm allowed is very little compared to most people my age. It affects what I can do or not with my life, not just in the short-term but in the long-term too. Should I respect my family's wishes on this point, given that they are already trying their hardest within the context of their own cultural values? Or should I ask for more independence, even if that violates their beliefs?
Question: Can open relationships be moral? Can it ever be moral to have sex with someone else while in a relationship, assuming that you're honest with everyone involved? If not, why not? If so, what might be some of the pitfalls to be aware of? For example, should the criteria for selecting sexual partners be stricter than if you were single? How should you navigate the tricky territory of opening a previously closed relationship?
Question: How should a person respond when pressured to reveal private information? Some people think themselves entitled to know about the private lives of their co-workers, acquaintances, family, or friends. They won't take a hint, and they might even demand the information in front of other people or in a public forum. How should a person who wishes to protect his privacy respond to such invasive inquiries? Is lying justifiable?
Question: Is it wrong to have a romantic relationship with a married person? In Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, Dagny Taggart had an affair with Hank Rearden, knowing that he was married. How should those actions be judged in real life? Clearly, Hank's cheating was dishonest and wrong. Was Dagny wrong to pursue the affair? What should she have done instead? Or, imagine that Dagny didn't know that Hank was married until after they'd slept together. What should she have done in that case upon finding out the truth? Should she stop the affair? Should she inform the wife about the cheating? Should she apologize to the wife? Also, if your answer is different than Dagny's, how do you reconcile that?
Question: How can I say no to a friend's request to become a business partner? Over the past several years, I developed a home craft business. Now that it is successful, one of my friends wants to be involved. She sends messages asking to get together to discuss ideas for new products and expanding the business. However, I am not interested in having a partner. How can I let her know that I don't want a partner – without coming across as mean or hurting her feelings? Also, since I want to support and encourage my friends' interests, I'm struggling with guilt for saying "no." How can I overcome that?
Question: Can a romance between an atheist and a religious believer work? What are the major obstacles? Should the atheist attend church or church socials with his spouse? Should they have a religious wedding ceremony? Should they send their children to religious schools? Do the particular beliefs – or strength of beliefs – of the religious person matter?
Question: Is it wrong to manipulate your finances to qualify for welfare? An acquaintance of mine – who is moderately wealthy – feels justified in manipulating her finances to get government aid whenever possible on the grounds that it is "getting back" some of what she has paid. For example, she had her elderly mother buy a new car for her own use, in order to have her mother deplete her savings faster and qualify for Medicaid. However, while she had paid much in tax, her mother collects more in social security every month than she ever paid in taxes. Is it rational to view this as "getting back" money that was taken inappropriately, or is it actually immoral and self-destructive?
Question: What is the purpose of exchanging gifts during the holidays? To me, gift exchanges seem meaningless: they're a waste of time and money. What am I missing?
Question: Is it moral to deceive to someone to help him through a crisis? Imagine that a man is about to break up with his girlfriend (or divorce his wife), but then he discovers that she has a serious disease or she suffers a serious accident. Is it moral for him to help her through the crisis under the false pretense of a stable, loving relationship? (What if that would take months of deception?) Or should the man be frank with the woman as soon as possible about parting ways, perhaps only offering help as a friend, if that? Would that be cruel?
Question: Should people be 'radically honest'? Psychotherapist Brad Blanton claims that people should be "radically honest" – meaning that they should say what they think all the time. Is that a life-serving policy – or simply an excuse for rudeness? For example, if my friend is telling me a story that I don't care to hear, should I tell her of my disinterest? Would that foster a more authentic and valuable relationship? Should I try to gently signal my disinterest? Or should I try to cultivate some interest in her story? In other words, is tact a value – or a destructive form of pretense?
Question: Is it wrong to refuse to share lecture notes with a lazy student? A classmate of mine is nice enough but a bit odd. She's always at least 30 minutes late for lecture, and she doesn't come to lab sometimes. In lecture, she does not take notes but instead usually draws the whole class period. Today, she asked to borrow some of my lecture notes. I told her that I noticed that she was always late and that she didn't take notes, and she denied that. Still, I told her that lending her my notes would be inconvenient, then I suggested that she ask someone else. Normally, I'd be happy to share my notes, but in this case, I didn't want to share the results of my efforts in attending this class on time, every day, and paying attention. Was that wrong?
Question: Should a person allow his ideology to set his default positions? When people adopt a religion, philosophy, or politics as their own, they often don't think through every issue - or they've not done so yet. Does accepting the various positions of that ideology as a kind of default amount to accepting them on faith? What should a person do when he hasn't thought through the issue for himself?
Question: Should I keep in contact with my morally questionable and mystical father? Recently, I initiated contact with my father. I've not seen or spoken to him for most of my life. He left behind a lot of damage, and I was very hurt by that. I made amends with him, thinking that he was in recovery. However, I recently discovered his eastern mystic philosophy. Also, although he is fully recovered, he still has moral problems. Now I'm second guessing my decision. Would it be immoral for me to break off the contact with him after I've made peace with him? Should I preserve the relationship to keep my character intact? Or should I cut ties with him, on the principle that I should only maintain relationships of value to me?
Question: Do I owe my boyfriend an explanation for my breaking up with him? I dated my recently-ex-boyfriend for a few months. Over the past few weeks, I realized that some personality and value differences preclude any long-term prospects. When I broke up with him, I didn't give him any reasons why, and that really upset him. Do I owe him an explanation? Would that help or hurt our chances of a cordial relationship in the future? If I should talk to him about my reasons, what should I say?
Question: Is is second-handed to work hard to clean and repair your house before company arrives? I'm constantly fighting a battle to get my house looking reasonable. Then, right before company arrives from out-of-town, I make an extra big push to get it as clean and tidy as possible. I'd like it to always be that way, but I'll work a lot harder when I know that someone else will be in the space. So is it second-handed to want to present a better home than I normally maintain? Or is putting in that effort that a matter of respecting and providing for people that I value?
Question: Should parents make empty threats to their children? At the grocery store last week, I heard a mother threaten to throw away her daughter's favorite toys unless the daughter behaved. That seems to be pretty common: parents make empty threats in an attempt to scare their kids into better behavior. They'll say that it works, and perhaps it does. But what are the consequences? Are such empty threats a valid parenting technique?
Question: Should an atheist refuse to have a religious wedding? I'm an atheist, but my fiancée is a not-terribly-devout Christian. My parents – and her parents too – are Christian. Everyone wants and expects us to have a religious wedding, but I don't want that. My future wife would be willing to have a secular wedding, but she prefers a religious one. Mostly, she doesn't want to argue with her parents over it. Should I insist on a secular wedding? Or should I just let this one go? What's the harm, either way?
Question: It is wrong to judge others when I'm still flawed? Given that I have various inconsistencies and unresolved contradictions, for me to morally judge others seems like self-righteousness. Does a person need to be morally good (or even perfect) to justly judge others?
Question: What should a student do when he thinks his professors are intellectually inferior? The idea is i'm aiming at is how to learn from a teacher whom shows no genuine interest in the fundamental aspects of knowledge in terms of it's fundamentals. For instance, I had a teacher whom never asked us to question the merit of given theories to mass media ethics, the ideas were presented as ready-made packaged deals of how censorship was ideal in the communication model presented to us via textbook. Considering also when asked the verity of such concepts, the teacher will hide by claiming since the textbook says so, it is truth, and if that is not satisfactory then look it up online. [Note from DH: I did not edit this question.]
Question: Is it wrong to manipulate a dishonest business into honoring its promises? A friend of mine bought tires from ACME Tire Company (that's not their real name) and purchased the additional road hazard coverage. Road hazard coverage says that Acme will repair the tire if it loses pressure due to driving over some hazard. If the tire is too damaged to repair, they will sell you a pro-rated replacement tire. My friend's tire started losing air and he took it to Acme, but they couldn't find anything wrong, so they put more air in it and let him go. Three weeks later, it lost air again and he went back. He did this five times. One time they told him they found a bit of metal in his tire, but when he asked to see it they said they already threw it away. Another time they said the tire didn't have a good seal, so they re-sealed it. Another time they said they found a little hole and that they fixed it. Each time, he explains his history each time and says he wants to purchase a pro-rated tire according to the terms of the agreement. But they won't do that because each time they claim to have found and fixed the problem. But after five times, he simply does not believe them. If the tire were actually fixed, he wouldn't mind. But since it's never fixed he's thinking that the only solution is to get a new tire. He's contemplating doing something to damage the tire to a point where they can't repair it. Would this be an ethical thing to do? Why or why not? What other options would you suggest?
Question: How should I respond to an unwanted gift given to me by my in-laws? My in-laws often give me presents that I don't much like – like frumpy boring sweaters and books I'll never read. I thank them kindly for the present, but I'm not effusive in my praise. Recently, they gave me something really pretty inappropriate for me – on par with giving a bacon cookbook to a vegetarian. I wasn't sure whether it was just clueless or hostile. How should I respond?
Question: What should you do when your allies are exposed as hypocrites? Just because a person advocates good ideas doesn't mean that he practices them. For example, a defender of free markets might use zoning laws to prevent the construction of a new building on land adjacent to his home to preserve his view. Or an advocate of justice and independence as virtues might condemn and ostracize people who disagree with him on trivial matters. Or an advocate of productive work might sponge off friends and relatives. When you discover such behavior in your allies, what should you do? Should you attempt to defend them? Should you try to keep the hypocrisy quiet? Should you condemn them? Should you say that "nobody's perfect"? What's fair – and what's best for your cause?
Question: Is it true that, "if you cheat on your wife, you'll cheat on your business partner"? A few months ago, a Republican presidential candidate said of Newt Gingrich, "if you cheat on your wife, you'll cheat on your business partner." Leaving aside the specifics of any particular politician's personal life, is the broader principle accurate? If you knew that someone cheated on his wife, does that mean he should be regarded as an untrustworthy for a business partnership? Or as morally unfit to be your doctor? Or as unfit to be an elected official?
Question: Is corporal punishment of children ever proper? The 2011 video of Judge William Adams beating his daughter raises the question of whether it's ever necessary or proper to physically discipline children. Does the age of the child matter, particularly given that you can't reason with younger children? Does the amount of force used matter? When does physical punishment violate the child's rights?
Question: How should a person respond to another's irrational discussion tactics? What should one do when engaged in an intellectual conversation with someone where you're trying to advance your ideas, but the other person has irrational, or even outright dishonest conversation techniques? Such techniques include frequent interruption, talking over you, giving arbitrary time limits for answers before arbitrarily ending the conversation or moving on, and so forth. All of these tactics make it difficult to fully explicate your position or even get full sentences out. In a one-on-one, unobserved conversation, I know it's obvious that one should simply not deal with this person, for they're obviously not listening if they utilize these habits so regularly and frequently. So my main concern is in those cases when you happen to be talking to an irrational conversationalist where other people are observing, such as in a classroom or meeting where you might want to continue the conversation in hopes of reaching the audience instead. In such cases, what should one do?
Question: Am I obliged to disclose that I am gay if I know that the person then wouldn't wish to do business with me? Let's say that I have a job that I enjoy, but I find out that my boss does not like gay people and would refuse to hire or would fire anyone that she knew was gay. Somehow, she doesn't know that I am, in fact, gay. Should I tell her knowing that she would want to fire me – a decision that I think is wrong, but nonetheless something she should be free to do? Assume that in every other regard I enjoy my work and job, and sharing her discriminatory view is by no means a requirement for my work.
Question: Should I mention we are atheists when interviewing babysitters? I am looking for a babysitter. The question is: How do I handle the fact that many of the candidates will be very very strong Christians? Should I bring up the fact we are atheists right away or would that be creating an issue when there could be none? I definitely have to set some boundaries like "No praying with my children," but what is the appropriate way to handle it?
Question: Is it wrong to browse in a local store but then buy online? Suppose that you shop for an item in a brick-and-mortar store, taking advantage of the opportunity to browse and get recommendations from staff, but then make your purchases at a discounted online retailer – for example, browsing through a local bookstore but then buying from Amazon at a lower price. Is that wrong or unfair?
Summary: Do you wonder what people are entitled to know about you? Do you want to maintain your privacy without resorting to dishonesty?
Question: Is doing activities just to pad you application or resumé dishonest? Some people work on mastering playing the violin, competing in tennis tournaments, learning calculus, and other activities – not because they have any interest in them or because they think they might develop an interest once tried, but rather because they think these activities will look good on an application or resumé. Is that dishonest? Is it unwise?
Question: Is it wrong to stockpile medication now in the event of an economic crash in the future? We are concerned that increasing economic troubles will raise the prices of some prescription and over-the-counter medications, and make them hard to find in the future. Is it okay to start a stockpile of some medications (most of which have a long shelf-life)? In the case of prescription medications, is it okay to exaggerate to our doctors or play "musical pharmacies" in order to obtain more medication?
Question: How can I manage my projects better? Too often, I'm overwhelmed by the sheer volume of projects on my agenda. Because I'm overcommitted, I'll miss important deadlines or allow some projects to be delayed into oblivion. Other times, my work is rushed and sloppy. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed that I become paralyzed, and then I don't get any work done. What can I do to manage my various work and home projects better, so that I keep making progress on what really matters to me?
Question: What should I do when other people offer to pray for me? Sometimes my friends and family members offer to pray for me – whether because I've got some problem in my life or because they know that I'm an atheist. How should I respond?
Question: What is the proper response of an atheist to requests for prayers? A relative of mine recently had surgery to have his appendix removed. I was asked by another relative to pray for the first relative, even though everyone in my family knows that I don't believe in God or the power of prayer. I tried to let it slide during the conversation, but she was insistent. How should I respond to such requests for prayers, particularly when I don't want to offend anyone or seem unconcerned?
Question: Am I obliged to tell a friend that I've developed romantic feelings towards her? Recently, I've developed romantic feelings for a platonic friend. Is it dishonest to withhold this information from her and just continue our friendship? What should I do if she asks me a direct question about my feelings? When would it be wrong to withhold this information from her, if ever?
Question: Should I act uninterested in a man to attract him? One common theme in romance advice is that a woman should act aloof and unattainable in order to attract a man or to get him to commit to a relationship. Is that dishonest? Is it counterproductive?
Question: Is it moral to help inept co-workers? On my team at work, we have only a very few people who use their time productively. We all get paid for 8 hours of "work", every day, but most of my team would rather talk on their phone, hide from management, and underperform at their job. We also belong to a union, which makes it harder for management to fire the ones who don't work despite being informed about the situation. I often find myself in the position of helping these people, or going in behind them and fixing their work. I am beginning to feel taken advantage of, and am getting fed up with most of my co-workers. Is it moral to continue helping people who do not take their own work seriously?
Question: Should I reveal my atheism to strangers when asked? I work at a hospital. One night a patient asked me if I'm religious. I answered yes. He then asked me if I believed that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins. I answered yes. Then he took my hand and prayed for me. Immediately, I felt guilty, because I lied in answering these questions. In fact, I'm an atheist. The next day, I told the patient the truth, and he thanked me for my honesty. What should I have done in answering his original questions?
Question: Should parents convince their kids that fictional creatures, such as Ewoks, are real for the sake of fun? As recounted in Wired, a father told his kids that Ewoks from Star Wars lived in the Sequoia National Forest. On their recent family vacation, they made a game of looking for these imaginary Ewoks. Afterwards, the father photoshopped a few Ewoks into the family vacation pictures. Are these kinds of deceptions harmless or are they bad parenting? The father said: "Maybe I'm a little wrong for lying to her and falsifying the pictures, but I don't care. She'll never forget the time she spent in the big woods with Ewoks."
Question: Is it wrong to lie to a person on their deathbed? Is lying in such cases justified so that the dying person can "go in peace"? For instance, a man might tell his fellow soldier dying on the battlefield that his heroism helped win a critical victory, even if it actually made no difference. Or a nurse might tell a dying mother desperate to make peace with her long-estranged daughter that the daughter called to tell her she loves her, even if that didn't happen. Is that wrong? If so, what's the harm?
Question: Are "friends with benefits" relationships a mistake? It is moral and/or wise to pursue sexual relationships with friends, even though you're not in a romantic relationship? What are some of the benefits and/or pitfalls? If it's a mistake, what should a person do to avoid such entanglements?
Question: How can I politely decline outings with friends that I cannot afford? Recently, a friend proposed an outing that was far too costly for my limited budget. In such cases, how do you recommend telling the person that it's too pricey? If the person then offers to pay my way, is it wrong to accept that? I don't want to be an object of charity, nor pressure my friends into paying for me in any way.
Question: Should you always own up to your mistakes? Recently, I made a huge mistake at work, accidentally discarding some very important files. When inquiry was made, I denied knowing anything about it. Should I have fessed up?
Question: How much should I tell my parents about my beliefs, given that I'm still financially dependent on them? I'm in college, and if I told my parents that I'm an atheist, they'd probably stop paying my tuition. Should I tell them now, or wait until I'm done with college?
Question: What is the proper purpose of bankruptcy laws? When should a person renegotiate his debt with lenders, if ever? Should a person be able to wipe his debt clean by going into bankruptcy? In your 10 July 2011 webcast discussion of strategic default on mortgages, you suggested that a person shouldn't be able to do that, but shouldn't lenders be responsible for who they lend money to?
Question: Is sexting a form of cheating? If you are married or in a committed relationship and you send sexually explicit texts or emails to another person, is that cheating?
Question: Is it moral to "defraud" a public library? There is an out-of-print book that I can't get for less than $100, a price I am not willing to pay. My library has a copy but they won't offer it for sale. Is it wrong to tell the library it is "lost" and just pay the fees, assuming they are reasonable? Does it matter that the library is an illegitimate government program that I'm taxed to support?
Question: If you find money in a house that you've purchased should you return it? A man recently found about $45,000 hidden in the house that he'd recently bought. (See this article.) It was saved up by the prior owner, now dead. He returned it to the man's children. Should the buyer of the house have returned the money? Was he morally or legally obligated to do so? If not, was doing so foolish or altruistic?
Question: Should the police lie to suspects in the course of an investigation? Police routinely do this, usually in order to trick people into admitting something or revealing information they would normally not reveal. Note that the people they lie to may not have been convicted of any crime, and are merely "persons of interest" or suspects. Is this routine constant lying moral? What do you think it does to the policeman's character after many years?
Question: How should I respond to the urban legends forwarded by a family member? I've repeatedly pointed this family member to Snopes.com, in response to his forwarding of yet another urban legend. I keep hoping that he'll get the hint – and check for himself before hitting the "forward" button. Yet he never does so, and he's sending false, defamatory, and/or possibly dangerous information to everyone in his address book. This person is pretty smart – and he's kind and friendly. I'd hate to do anything that would mar our relationship. What should I do?
Question: Is it proper (and sensible) for parents to "spy" on their children? Amid the recent controversy over the iPhone's location tracking database, I realized that some enterprising parents might use it to surreptitiously track their teenager's whereabouts. In most cases, I'd assume the parents have good intentions in doing so. Is this responsible parenting – or an invasion of the child's privacy?
Question: Is it moral to strategically default on your mortgage? Suppose that you could continue to pay your mortgage, but you're underwater: you owe more than the house is worth. You realize that you'd save tens of thousands of dollars by defaulting. Would it be morally wrong to default, assuming that you don't engage in any fraud or other dishonesty in doing so? Would it make a difference if you do that in today's highly regulated market versus in a fully free market?
Question: Is it dishonest to use tact when talking to someone? When I have something important to tell someone and I am concerned that the other person might be put on the defensive or have hurt feelings, I try to say what I need to say with tact. That is, I change what I say from brutal honesty to something easier for a person to hear and accept. However, I worry that I'm being dishonest in doing so. When does using tact cross the line into dishonesty?
Question: Is it moral to take advantage of another person's ignorance? Suppose that I drop by a yard sale to see whatever is up for grabs. While rummaging through the junk for which the owners no longer see a reason to keep, I catch sight of an item which I know to be extremely rare and valuable. Would it be moral for me to pay the low asking price, then resell the item at auction for a much higher price, knowing that the owners are clueless about its value?
Question: Is it moral to exploit a design flaw in a government or private lottery? An article in Wired describes how a statistician noticed a design flaw in the Ontario government lottery "scratchers" game which would allow people to consistently win money. He was described as being "ethical" because he alerted the authorities rather than taking advantage of it for personal gain, and they fixed the problem. Would it be moral to exploit a mathematical flaw in a government lottery without alerting anyone? Would it make a difference if the game was the work of a private casino rather than the government (e.g., exploiting a bias in a casino's roulette wheel)?
Question: Is it moral to accept discounts for products and services when the person giving you the discount isn't a manager or owner of the business? Is it moral for a person to accept "nice face" discounts? I've had people (mostly women) tell me that they've received discounts or better service for being nice, dressing in low-cut shirts or short skirts, being cheerful or otherwise friendly to store clerks or employees (usually of the opposite sex). Is it moral to offer or accept such discounts?
Question: What advice do you have about dating coworkers? A romantic interest, who is a sort of coworker of mine, is concerned about the effect on her reputation (she's new), as well as conflicts of interest, should we decide to date. If this is the reason she gave for declining a date, does it make sense to ask again after a period of friendship and to suggest we keep our relationship secret? On the other hand, it might be hard to maintain such a secret.
Question: Is it rationally selfish to be brutally honest in some contexts? Often, you need to tell a person some hard truth, and you can do so either tactfully or brutally. In many instances, you might want to be brutally honest because you fear that the person will not understand what you say if you're tactful. So which approach is better?
Question: Is it immoral to browse a store with no intention of buying there? Is it immoral to take advantage of the freedom to look through books in a bookstore, or to try out a laptop in a shop, with no intention to actually buying it in that shop? For instance, you check out a book in the shop to decide whether you want to buy it, knowing that if you buy it, you'll do so from Amazon instead. Is that wrong?
Question: Is it morally wrong to be a free rider? Some people say that it's wrong to be a free rider – for example, by sneaking into a movie without paying for it, using a gas station bathroom without buying anything, accepting a ride to the airport but refusing to return the favor, hiking on trails in your community without helping to maintain them, or enjoying the Christmas lights of your neighbors without putting up your own. In such cases, you seem to be enjoying a benefit from someone else that you've not paid for or earned. Isn't that unjust, and hence, morally wrong?
Question: Should you tell someone else's secret to a spouse? I know a lot of times when I share personal information with my best friend, I assume that she will (and am okay with) her sharing some or all of that information with her significant other. I think she makes the same assumption, that I will share some of what she tells me with my husband. If (hypothetically) there was something I didn't want her significant other to know about, would I be right in asking that she keep a secret from him? On one hand, the information I'm sharing is personal and I might like to keep it between us. On the other, is it right to ask her to keep something from him?
Question: Why bother being honest, when surrounded by dishonest people? Why not lie, just a little bit to "get ahead". If the guy next to you "games the system" aren't you leaving yourself at a disadvantage? Isn't honesty and integrity, when dealing with people only important if everyone respects those virtues? Why play a game when the rules keep changing?
Question: Is it immoral to cheat on your taxes? It's essentially a lie to protect the products of your labor. So is it wrong just because it's illegal?
Question: Is it wrong to cheat on a work-style questionnaire on a job application? I've been denied certain jobs because I've answered too selfishly on job questionnaires that gauge a person's work style. The questions often ask what you would do in certain situations, if you prefer working alone or with others, etc. Is it wrong to answer falsely on those tests for a job you want and know you can do well?
Question: Is it wrong to cheat a partly government funded institution? There are a couple of classes I would enjoy sitting in on at my university. They are large, and I would not be noticed. Would it be wrong to go without paying for them? I wouldn't do this with a private college, nor would I have qualms about a completely government funded school. But colleges are partly privately paid for. Would it be immoral for me to get some of that value without paying?
Question: If a woman, for example, has cheated on her husband, should she always tell him afterward? So if a woman cheats on her husband, then regrets doing so, and decides to re-commit herself to the marriage. Should she tell her husband about that infidelity? What if the cheating was a short fling rather than a serious affair? What if the revelation would seriously damage or even destroy the marriage?
Question: Is lying to protect one's own privacy moral or not? Many people regard lies to protect their own privacy as justifiable, even necessary. For example, a woman might tell her co-workers that she's not seeing anyone, even though she's dating the boss. She might tell those co-workers that she didn't get a hefty end-of-year bonus, even though she did. She might tell a nosy acquaintance that she didn't want children, rather than reveal her struggles with infertility. Is that wrong – or unwise? How could the woman protect her privacy in those circumstances without lying?
Question: If a husband cheated on his wife, and she never knew about it, he never got anyone pregnant, and he never got any STDs, would she be harmed? If so, how?
Question: Is it moral to introduce the idea of Santa Claus to children – and why or why not? Some Objectivists say that introducing Santa or staying silent on the issue to let the child figure it out for himself constitutes deception and lying. Others say it's a playful and fun game with Santa as a hero standing for justice in a way kiddies can understand.
Question: Would it be ethical for a public relations practitioner to work for a client whose activities, while legal, potentially damage others--e.g., defend cigarette/alcohol companies, or fast food producers, or asbestos manufacturers?
Question: A friend (we were once close, but have grown apart in recent years) confides that she is cheating on her husband and has no plans to tell him. I have no idea what to do – I neither wanted this secret nor want to help keep it from the husband. I'm angry.