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.

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Human challenge trials

Over 30,000 persons in 140 countries have volunteered for human challenge trials of Covid-19 vaccines, according to the organization 1Day Sooner.  They are willing to be deliberately infected with the Coronavirus after receiving a dose of an experimental vaccine—or a placebo!  Human challenge trials could shave weeks or months off the development time for a vaccine, when reducing it by even one day could save thousands of lives.  Yet, are such trials ethical?

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Masks and freedom

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of states and cities require customers who enter a store to wear a mask. Yet there is resistance.  Some view these rules as an attack on their freedom and may even assault store employees in response.   When a Target security guard in Michigan asked a family to wear masks, one of the family members shot him dead.  The mayor of an Oklahoma city had to rescind a mask-wearing order one day after it was enacted due to threats against store proprietors.   There are many other incidents like this.

While we can agree that assaulting employees is wrong, do the resisters have a point?  They see mask rules as just one example of government oppression that freedom-loving people must resist.  One letter to a Pennsylvania newspaper refers to mask-wearers as submissive “sheep,” a sentiment that many share, particularly in conservative regions of the country.  Are they right?

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Warning labels on tweets

Twitter recently posted warning labels on some high-profile tweets, on the ground that they incite violence or spread harmful misinformation.  Is this ethical?  Is it obligatory?

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When to reopen the economy?

People are saying that we are “past the peak” with Covid-19.  Given this, when is the right time to reopen the economy?

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Allocating scarce medical resources

The Covid-19 pandemic is forcing us to look again at the ancient dilemma of triage.  Which patients should get priority when there is a shortage of medical equipment and personnel?

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Is home stay an ethical obligation?

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, sheltering at home when possible is a government mandate in some areas, and voluntary in others.  If it is voluntary, is there nonetheless an ethical obligation to remain at home when possible?

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Eavesdropping through Alexa

Thousands of third-party contract workers have been poring over private conversations recorded by Alexa-enabled devices (for the purpose of improving Alexa’s speech recognition systems). Is this ethical? How can AI software be trained while respecting privacy?

Posed by a journalist.

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Collaborating with evil to avoid greater evil

In September 1935, the Nazi Party asked Bernhard Lösener to draft a large portion of the infamous Nuremberg Laws, which deprived Jews of citizenship rights and eventually led to the Holocaust.  Lösener was clever enough to convince party officials that a person should be considered Jewish only if he/she had at least three, rather than two, Jewish grandparents.  Lösener later argued that by collaborating with the Nazi regime, he was able to save thousands from the Holocaust by reclassifying them as non-Jews.  Indeed, by one estimate, he saved as many as 100,000 lives.* If Lösener had not collaborated, someone else would have written the Nuremberg Laws, and they would have been even worse.  Does this justify his actions?

*Robert Nelson, Revolution and Genocide, University of Chicago Press (1992) p 324.

Thanks to David Goldman, founder of FASPE, for suggesting this dilemma.

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What can we do about hate?

I pass the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh every day, on my way to and from work.  Yesterday, a gun-wielding assailant entered the synagogue and murdered 11 participants in a Shabbat service, shattering the peace of the richly multiethnic community of Squirrel Hill.   The killer had posted messages online expressing his hatred of Jews and immigrants.  Here was the full horror of hate, in my own neighborhood.

There is a temptation to dismiss the seemingly endless hate crimes we have endured in recent times as the work of isolated psychopaths.  But we all know this is a mistake, because we all know about the rising tide of hatred that underlies these acts.  What can we do about it?

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Virtue ethics

Virtues (in the Aristotelian tradition) are qualities that humans alone bring to the world — and therefore explain, in some sense, why we are here.

Classical virtues include courage, honor, loyalty (to other people), applied intelligence, aesthetic sensibility, and sophrosyne (an ability to find the right balance when virtues conflict).

You act inconsistently with your purpose as a human being if you sacrifice one of the virtues.  Virtue ethics says that you should compromise a virtue only when necessary to preserve another virtue. 

Integrity is (literally) wholeness.  You lose integrity when your actions are not virtuous, because they conflict with who you are as a human being.

For a fuller explanation, watch the video Rational choice II (or read the transcript).  It is part of an online ethics tutorial that consists of the following 30-minute sessions: