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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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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