Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mock The Ethicist: 3/25/2007

Honestly, is he trying to make my head explode?

Legal concerns aside, you may ethically report this. Doing so would simply restore matters to what they would have been had the police done their job to begin with: that off-duty officer should have been cited for D.W.I., which is a matter of public record.
Hey Randy, ever heard of the phrase "two wrongs don't make a right"?

In the above analysis Mr. Cohen assumes that, had the cops not neglected their duty, the off-duty officer's intoxicated state would have inevitably become a matter of public record. This is not necessarily the case; drivers can undergo diversion/counseling to prevent such citations from appearing on their driving records. Its not inevitable that such information would become public, so the MD's dilemma isn't so cut-and-dried as Randy would make it out to be.

Randy's response to the question is, in fact, a sterling example of how not to do ethics. He's asking the MD to base his behavior on the outcome of a counterfactual thought experiment; the outcome of such an experiment is absolutely meaningless, since there's no way to check its accuracy. Ethics is not an elaborate game of "let's pretend"; it has to make reference to things that exist and/or actually happened.

Moving on, I'm not really going to bother with the substance of this week's second question. Whether or not the use of the wheelchair was unethical just doesn't strike me as all that interesting. However, I immediately picked up on the following in Randy's answer:

You also erred by, in effect, telling a lie on wheels — implying through your conduct that you required a wheelchair and then exploiting those who sought to make your life easier.
I happen to agree with Randy; the woman engaged in a lie-by-action. But, Mr. Cohen, how do you square your advice this week with last week's advice? If Mr. Kramer doesn't believe in keeping kosher, isn't he committing a similar lie-by-action by maintaining kosher kitchen implements for his in-laws? In both cases a person asserts, through their actions, a set of facts which they know/believe not to be true. If its a lie in one case its a lie in the other. Which is it?


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