Welcome

 

photoqatarHi.  I’m John Hooker, a professor of business ethics at Carnegie Mellon University.  I created this blog to provide a forum for analyzing ethical dilemmas in a rational way.

I analyze each dilemma, based on the principles described under How to analyze.  You may need to look at these to understand what I am talking about.  You can also contribute to the discussion.

  • Recently posted dilemmas appear below.  To view all the dilemmas by category, click the topics on the left.
  • To contribute your dilemma, write it as a comment on this post.  I will convert it to a separate post so it can be categorized.
  • To help with someone else’s dilemma, reply to it.
  • For anonymity, omit your email address and website, and use a screen name.  Your post will be accepted without identifying information.

How much sacrifice for a friend?

My cousin has been helping a friend with depression for 6 months. However, my cousin started school recently and has a very busy schedule of 6 courses and a job. She is reluctant to leave her friend alone with her suicidal thoughts, because she has no one else to turn to.  Yet she feels that she would be wronging herself to neglect her self-development. Should she sacrifice her time for her friend or focus on herself, given that she can’t do both?

Contributed by anonymous.

To comment on this dilemma, leave a response. For anonymity, omit your email address and website, and use a screen name.

Bribe for driver’s license

A few years ago, I registered for a driver’s license in my home country. I signed up for the compulsory classes and exams, which were expensive. After classes were completed, it was time for the driving test. Everything went smoothly, and I completed the test. When I went to retrieve my license, the official behind the counter told me that the results of the test would be released by the end of the day. However, if I wanted to pass, I had to give him a “tip” of a significant amount. He mentioned that everyone else gave him a “tip,” as anyone who did not would fail the driving test automatically. Should I pay the bribe?

Contributed by anonymous.

To comment on this dilemma, leave a response. For anonymity, omit your email address and website, and use a screen name.

Forgot to pay for food

My sister and her friends went to a private swimming pool at a fancy hotel. They had to pay an entrance fee but could stay as long as they wanted. The hotel serves food and drinks to pool guests, but they are not included in the entrance fee. My sister and her friends were in a hurry and left the hotel without paying for the food they ordered, which cost about $40. Later they remembered that they didn’t pay, but they let it go.

Contributed by anonymous.

To comment on this dilemma, leave a response. For anonymity, omit your email address and website, and use a screen name.

Standing up to hate

On 26 May 2017, three men tried to defend a pair of teenage girls, one wearing a head scarf, when a self-described white nationalist shouted anti-Muslim and racial slurs at them on a commuter train in Portland, Oregon.  The aggressor reacted by pulling out a knife and slashing all three men in the neck, killing two and seriously wounding the third.  Given the risk of standing up to hate, is there an ethical obligation to do so?

To comment on this dilemma, leave a response.  For anonymity, omit your email address and website, and use a screen name.

Self-serving financial advice

As a business students, it has been drilled into our minds that the primary purpose of  business is to create value for shareholders.  A recent incident made me question this. My grandmother inherited some money from her father, and a banker convinced her to deposit it all into one of the bank’s mutual funds. This helped him to meet his sales quota, but even a freshman in business school knows that this is not a wise investment for a 65-year old. Wasn’t it unethical of him to take advantage of my grandmother’s trusting nature?

Contributed by a business student.

To comment on this dilemma, leave a response.  For anonymity, omit your email address and website, and use a screen name.

Lying to parents

I overheard two girls I know having a discussion. One girl, whom I will call Maria, wanted to go out on the town alone. This was against her parents’ wishes, due to the risk involved. The girls agreed to tell their parents they were going to a mall together. Should I tell Maria’s parents what the girls are planning? If I do, the parents might ground Maria as well as lose trust in her.

Contributed by a high school student.

To comment on this dilemma, leave a response.  For anonymity, omit your email address and website, and use a screen name.

Selling laptop with tired battery

Mohammed wants to sell his old laptop, which he has owned for a year and a half. Having bought a new one, he took the old laptop to a reseller. The laptop is in good condition, but there is a problem in the battery. The laptop will only work for two hours before a recharge is needed.  Mohammed didn’t mention this problem to the reseller, so as to sell the laptop at a higher price.

Contributed by a business student.

To comment on this dilemma, leave a response.  For anonymity, omit your email address and website, and use a screen name.

Is street protest ethical?

Protests such as those of Black Lives Matter often disrupt the lives of others and may incite violence, even when a peaceful demonstration is intended.  They may also break the law and lead to arrests.  Does the cause justify these negative outcomes?

Contributed by an engineering student.

To comment on this dilemma, leave a response.  For anonymity, omit your email address and website, and use a screen name.

Card counting in casinos

“Advantage players” use card counting and other techniques to boost their winnings in casinos.  Card counting is the practice of memorizing which cards have been dealt so as to predict better which cards may be dealt next.  Other techniques include statistical analysis or simulation of the game beforehand, exploitation of weaknesses in shuffling procedures, and so forth.  A recent New York Times Magazine article tells the story in detail.

Advantage playing is usually legal, even though casinos frequently eject advantage players when they can be identified.  But is it ethical?  Is it cheating?  Is it fair?

Essentially the same question arises in a more serious context.  Professional financiers are “advantage players” in the investment markets, relative to ordinary investors.  Their ability to analyze data and construct optimal portfolios gives them an edge.  Is this ethical?  Is it cheating?  Is it fair?

Contributed by a finance professor.

To comment on this dilemma, leave a response.  For anonymity, omit your email address and website, and use a screen name.

Labor abuse at Amazon

Amazon requires warehouse workers to wait in long lines, without pay, to be searched for stolen goods before they are allowed to go home. The company has been repeatedly sued for this practice, only occasionally with success. Given this and other labor abuses at Amazon, is it ethical to buy merchandise from the company?

Contributed by anonymous

To comment on this dilemma, leave a response.  For anonymity, omit your email address and website, and use a screen name.