Tag Archives: Consequentialism

World Series Ethics: His Decision Didn’t Work, But Mets Manager Terry Collins Was Right

KC wins

The end of the baseball season is traumatic for me, except for those few years that ended in Boston Red Sox championships, and those two golden glow seasons (1967 and 1975), when the team lost at the end but fought such a good fight that it felt like they had won. In my house we refer to the days between the end of the World Series and the beginning of Spring Training as The Dark Time.

On the plus side, I have about three more hours every day to do something productive.

For the second consecutive year, baseball ended with an ethics conundrum in its final game. Last night, as the Kansas City Royals battled back from a late deficit again (they had done so in the previous game as well) to take the Series four games to one,against the New York Mets at Citi Field, the topics were trust, courage, leadership, and most of all, consequentialism. The latter is to baseball as apple pie—or baseball— is to America.

Let me set the stage. The Royals, having stolen the previous game from the Mets’ grasp by an unlikely 8th inning rally (the Mets lost one game all season when they were leading in the 8th; they lost two such games in this five game series). With their backs against the wall (on the short end of a 3-1 game tally, the Mets had to win last night to avoid elimination), the New York sent their ace, the remarkable Matt Harvey, to the mound to do what aces do: win. Harvey had it all last night. After eight innings, the Royals hadn’t scored.  Harvey looked fresh in the eighth, and got the Royals out without surrendering a baserunner.

All season long, with a close game after eight innings, Mets manager Terry Collins would tell his starter to take a seat and let his closer finish the game. This is standard practice now: complete games by starting pitchers are a rarity. Once, not too long ago, the league leader in that category would be in double figures. Now the top is usually about five. Moreover, nobody cares. The best teams have 9th inning specialists who almost never lose one-run leads, much less two, and the Mets had a great one, Jeurys Familia.

After Harvey’s dominant eighth, the Fox cameras recorded the drama unfolding in the Mets dugout. Collins’ pitching coach told Harvey that his night was done and Familia, as usual, would close out the game. Harvey pushed past the coach to confront his manager, passionately. Let me finish it, he insisted. The game is mine. Continue reading


Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Popular Culture, Sports

My Reply To Eric Turkewitz’s Criticism Regarding “The Worst Aunt Ever”

This guy would have given The Bad Aunt the right advice...

This guy would have given The Bad Aunt the right advice…

Eric Turkewitz is a New York trial attorney, by all accounts a terrific lawyer, by the evidence of his writing an ethical and astute one, in our brief encounters a very nice guy, and the proprietor of “The New York Personal Injury Law Blog.” In a recent post, he defends the decision of Jennifer Connell to sue her young nephew for a four-year old injury she received when he hugged her too enthusiastically at her birthday party. He notes, correctly, that the decision to sue was based on the client accepting a “bad call” by her lawyer. He also includes a lot of information not mentioned in the early posts on the matter, including mine. Still, he defends Connell. He also specifically criticizes my post. Eric writes,

And this is from Jack Marshall, who says he actually teaches ethics and has a blog called Ethics Alarms (coded “no follow“):

“What’s going on is that Aunt Jennifer is pure hellspawn, a mysteriously animated pile of human excrement that embodies the worst of humanity.”

This is what happens when people elect to post stuff on the web based on an initial news report that was, shall we say, very selective on what it chose to report. This site is getting quite a bit of traffic, most likely from many who never knew it existed. So let me answer a question some of you may have: Yes, I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of lawsuits, and they weren’t nearly as benign as this run-of-the-mill kind: On Suing and Being Sued.

Yes, I “actually teach ethics,” and I could, in fact, teach Eric some things that he would find useful and enlightening. I’m not going to get in a pissing match with him, in part because, as I learned from another tiff four years ago (in which I was wrong, and duly apologized), he has some very, very nasty pals, and I don’t want to throw blood in the water. This is, however, an excellent example of how lawyers often end up seeing the world, and in fact I may use his post, unattributed, in seminars to show where legal ethics and ethics diverge. It is wise for lawyers to be atuned to both.

Here was the response I made to Eric on his blog: Continue reading


Filed under Character, Childhood and children, Family, Law & Law Enforcement, Love, Professions

A Lesson In The Dangers of Wise-assery, Hindsight Bias, And Moral Luck


Once upon a time, a fat, spectacled, pleasant amateur song parodist sold millions of records with what middle-aged college grads thought were witty musical critiques of Sixties life and culture. His name was Allan Sherman, and one of those witty songs was this:

Therein lies some useful lessons which we all should absorb:

1. What seems like a valid opinion today might well seem incredibly stupid to virtually everybody later.

2. Venturing outside your expertise is always risky.

3.  Everything seems obvious in hindsight. In most cases, it was anything but.

4. Yesterday’s wit is tomorrow’s ignorance.

5. Whether your opinion is going to make you look like a prophet or a fool is often nothing but moral luck.

6. Criticizing someone for views proven invalid by subsequent developments no one could have foreseen is consequentialism, and unfair.

7. People will do it anyway.

8. We are all Allan Sherman. We just don’t know how.

It’s hard to imagine now that John, Paul, George and Ringo are icons and deserving ones, but back in 1964 it was considered wise and clever to make fun of their hair, their fans and pronounce them untalented hacks. At the beginning of the British invasion, many sophisticates regarded the Beatles as indistinguishable from the legendary Dave Clark Five, and a passing fancy no more significant that the hula hoop.

Mock them now at your peril. Your time will come…in fact, it probably already has.



Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Popular Culture

The Aftermath: Final Observations On The Papelbon-Harper Incident

Jonathan Papelbon in another career highlight...

Jonathan Papelbon in another career highlight…

More on the aftermath of the incident that has the baseball world talking and the sports ethics world cogitating…

1) The Nationals punished the right player, suspending reliever Papelbon for four games, which combined with the three games the league suspended him for intentionally throwing at a player in an earlier game, ends his season in embarrassing fashion. The four lost games will cost the closer about $280,000 in salary, and his total loss, with the additional three games, will be close to a half-million dollars.

2) The word out of the Nationals clubhouse is that many players agree that Harper was dogging it to first base (the impetus for the criticism that started the fight) and that Papelbon was within his rights to call Harper on his lack of hustle. This indicates that Papelbon was reacting to a perceived lack of leadership on the team. In fact, the team does lack leadership, as manager Matt Williams is neither respected nor listened to, and this was one of the reasons the heavily favored Nats collapsed down the pennant stretch. Thus it seems that Papelbon, a recent acquisition who was new to the Nats culture, may have been trying to fill a leadership vacuum and botched it. Still, he engaged in his unethical conduct for an ethical reason; that only places him in “the ends justify the means” territory, however.

Moreover, any team whose leader is Jonathan Papelbon is in big, big trouble.

3) Incredibly, manager Matt Williams, who left Papelbon in the game after the fight to pitch the ninth and get clobbered, claimed that he wouldn’t have done so if he was aware of what happened. Williams said that he was at the other end of the dugout, and didn’t understand the import of the commotion that had players shouting and separating two combatants, including his best player and his current pitcher. Wow.  The Nats dugout isn’t that long. He wasn’t curious? Didn’t he feel, as the man in charge, a need to investigate? Worse still, none of his coaches felt that he needed to be informed, even considering that this was happening in full view of the fans and TV cameras.  Continue reading


Filed under Character, Leadership, Sports

Boehner, Leadership And The Consequentialism Exception

At the end of John Beohner’s press conference responding to his sudden resignation, there was this exchange:

QUESTION: Can you talk about what you think your legacy is as you’re leaving? What are your most important accomplishments, and what are you going to do on November 1st? Are you moving to Florida?

BOEHNER: I was never in the legacy business. You all heard me say it, I’m a regular guy with a big job. And I never thought I’d be in Congress much less I’d ever be speaker. But people know me as being fair, being honest, being straightforward and trying to do the right thing every day on behalf of the country. I don’t need any more on that.

I will frequently inveigh here against the fallacy of consequentialism, the mistake of believing that whether conduct is ethical or not can be judged by its results. This leads inexorably to an “ends justifies the means” orientation and a misunderstanding of ethics. The ethical nature of an act can only be weighed according to how it was arrived at, its intent, and whether the conduct itself meets the tests of one or more ethical systems. Then moral luck takes over: an ethical decision can have catastrophic consequences and still be ethical, and the most unethical conduct can have wonderful results.

In life, however, and especially in some fields, ethics isn’t enough, and we all know it, or should. This is why consequentialism can’t be snuffed out of our thinking. There are fields of endeavor in which results are the primary standard by which we can—and should— judge whether someone was competent in the role he or she took on for themselves when others could have done the job better. In these fields being ethical isn’t enough, and often is grossly inadequate.  If one is a leader, for example, it cannot be right to lead those behind you to disaster, indeed to fail. In a field that is defined by the successful completion of a task that affects others, failure and ethics are incompatible. A failed leader is a bad leader. The objective in leadership is not just to “do the right thing,” but to succeed at ethical objectives in the right way. Continue reading


Filed under Character, Government & Politics, History, Leadership

A Brief, Depressing Follow-Up On The Iran Deal


I have been reading a lot about the Iran deal, hoping against hope that I just don’t understand it, and that it might be more responsible than it seems, because it seems to be astoundingly irresponsible.

Comes the Washington Post editorial board, reliably supportive of the President—any Democratic President, really–and a good bet to find the silver lining in any cloud. Surely, if this agreement isn’t the crowning, most dangerous incompetence on the mountain of incompetence that is the Obama Presidency, the Washington Post will move that mountain aside to show why.

Here are some direct quotes from this pro Obama, pro-Iran deal editorial by a liberal media standard bearer:

If the transformation of Iranian behavior the president hopes for does not occur, the deal on its nuclear program may ultimately prove to be a poor one — a temporary curb that, when it lapses, will enable a dangerous threshold nuclear state that poses a major threat to the United States and its allies.

In other words, the deal does not ensure this “transformation” will occur, the U.S. has no control overwhwether the “transformation” does occur, and the treaty doesn’t have anything in it that will compel such a transformation. Keep your fingers crossed.

 Its most immediate effect will be to provide Tehran with up to $150 billion in fresh assets from sanctions relief over the next year, funds that its leaders will probably use to revive the domestic economy but also to finance wars and terrorist groups in Iraq, Syria, the Gaza Strip, Yemen and elsewhere.

Gee, what a great deal.

Though Mr. Obama has promised to mitigate that outcome with new support for Israel and U.S. Arab allies, one effect of the deal may be an increase in the sectarian bloodshed wracking the region, as well as the conventional threat to Israel. When embargoes on arms and missile sales to Iran expire in five and eight years, that threat could further escalate, and Tehran could seek missiles capable of striking U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf or reaching the U.S. homeland.

That’s what the treaty allows, mind you.

These strictures, according to the administration’s experts, will keep Iran a year away from producing a weapon during that time — provided that it does not cheat by secretly conducting nuclear work elsewhere.Because Iran twice has been caught in such clandestine work, that is a critical concern — and the provisions for deterring and detecting violations are the areas in which Tehran fought for, and won, some troubling compromises. International inspectors seeking access to a suspected Iranian site could be delayed by a 24-day, multi-step process ultimately requiring five votes on an eight-member committee; at a minimum, the United States and four European representatives would have to concur. While a U.S. president could, in theory, unilaterally determine that Iran was cheating and force the reimposition of U.N. sanctions, it could take 65 days and might prove politically unworkable.

Wow! I see another Peace Prize!

 Mr. Obama settled for terms far short of those he originally aimed for.

This is what happens when you want a deal of any kind, and don’t have the guts to walk away.

Whether he is right in claiming that his successor in 10 or 15 years “will be in a far stronger position” with Iran will depend on whether his hopeful theory about its political future proves correct.

No, we can only judge the competence and reasonableness of an agreement at the time it is made. “We might get lucky” is no defense.

I’m convinced, and by The Washington Post: this was a craven, inept, dangerous agreement made by a foolish, desperate, deluded man and an tragically incompetent leader. The American people have an obligation to the entire world, and their children and grandchildren, to insist that Democrats join Republicans in killing it.

Later they can explain why they would again hand the nation over to a party that placed the fate of civilization in the unqualified hands of a President like this.


Filed under Around the World, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Leadership, War and the Military

A Lesson In Moral Luck And Consequentialism


If I accomplish nothing more through Ethics Alarms than to cure some intelligent readers of the seductive fallacy of consequentialism and the insideous influences of moral luck, then the long, aimless trail of squandered opportunities, under-achievement, diffuse focus, quixotic quests, Pyrrhic victories and lost causes I call my life will not have been entirely in vain.

Last week I was again in the throes of consequentialism hate. The Boston Red Sox, in the midst of a terrible start to their season, brought up minor league prospect Eduardo Rodriguez for a spot start. He was spectacular, allowing no runs and looking like the team ace Boston has been searching for all season. Immediately after the game, articles popped up in the baseball media excoriating the team for not bringing him up from the minor leagues long before. It was obvious back in Spring Training, said unnamed scouts, that he should be with the big club. It was negligence and stupidity, said other pundits, that it had taken this long to promote him. Strangely, there had been no published arguments to this effect before his impressive debut. And would any of these “I could have told you so” pieces have been written if Rodriguez had been bombed out of the game in the early innings, as literally any starting pitcher may be in a given game?

No. That’s the marvel of hindsight bias, the human tendency to presume that what could have been known should have been known after it is known.  Consequentialism is its more destructive cousin. These same analysts will conclude that the decision to bring up the pitcher was a brilliant one, if tardy, because he performed well. If he had done badly, the decision would have been, in all likelihood, decreed ” a mistake.” This was the fallacy that Jeb Bush was recently pilloried for not embracing regarding his brother’s decision to invade Iraq.

And moral luck? That’s the phenomenon that makes hypocrites and fools of us all, pointing us to the suffocating arms of Dame Consequentialism. If two decision-makers take exactly the same course in exactly equivalent circumstances, the one who is the beneficiary of good fortune—moral luck—will be hailed as a genius. The unlucky soul whose identical plans are derailed by unpredictable misfortune will be handed the mantle of an incompetent failure.

Situations where reasonable decisions and actions are declared “mistakes,” or, as is more germane here, “unethical” according to how uncontrollable events and contingencies occur subsequent to the conduct itself are legion. I am always looking for the counter example, where wrongful conduct has a good result, and is there for forgiven, ignored, or even praised. Well, I found one, and it just happened to me.

I had an important though brief client meeting scheduled this morning, and I had managed to forget the exact time. It was either at 10:45 or 11:00, and I had to be on time, because he was on a tight schedule. My wife was annoyed at me for my scheduling, since she had to use the car to get to a long scheduled appointment of her own at noon and my meeting was 30 minutes away. To make things worse, I couldn’t reach my meeting partner to determine the right time ( a postponement was impossible). To complete the fiasco, I misplaced the car keys, delaying my departure until after 10:30. I was informed, as I left the house with my newly discovered keys (never mind where they were; it is too embarrassing), that if I didn’t have the car back by 11:45, I was dead.

I assumed I would be dead. Continue reading


Filed under Daily Life, Family