Tag Archives: ethics

Have A Happy Thanksgiving Everyone, And Don’t Forget To Review The Ethics Alarms Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide Before The Annual TV Screening!

It’s right here!


Filed under Business & Commercial, Popular Culture, Law & Law Enforcement, Family, Leadership, Love, Romance and Relationships, Character

The Unlikely Ethics Dunce, And Why Nobody Pays Attention To Ethicists And I Don’t Blame Them

Wait, how can the nation's most famous ethicist be an Ethics Dunce? It's not easy...

Wait, how can the nation’s most famous ethicist be an Ethics Dunce? It’s not easy…

Ethicists have managed to make ethics nearly invisible in our cultural debates, and nearly useless as a decision-making tool, when it ought to be the most useful tool of all. They accomplished this over centuries of work, making the discipline of ethics abstruse, elitist, abstract, and worse of all, boring. Nobody should be bored with ethics, hence my statement, “Ethics isn’t boring, ethicists are.” Once ethics was pigeon-holed in the realm of philosophy, however (it belongs with “crucial life skills” and “critical thinking”) and philosophy became associated with scholarship, advanced degrees and academia, the jig was up.

The problem is that academic ethicists teach and write about abstract ethics, and life is not abstract. Their quest is for one formula to determine right from wrong, and life and human beings are more complicated than any one formula can encompass. When I started this blog, I got a lot of grad students writing me who demanded to know whether I was a Utilitarian,  Kantian Deontologist, a follower of Natural Law Ethics,  a Virtue Ethicist or a devotee of Stakeholder theory. My answer was “all of the above and none of them.” All of these and more are useful tools of analysis, but none work all the time, and the amount of words loaded into jargon to explain and debate the nuances of any of them render them all useless except for  writing scholarly papers.

The ethics that the public learns, as a result, are what pop culture and society teach them, and most of that isn’t ethics at all. For example, in the cable series “The Affair,” a well-educated older man was advising a young woman, the mistress in the affair, about how to think about the illicit relationship that broke up he lover’s marriage. Wise and thoughtful, he described his own adulterous affair, and then said, “What you did wasn’t wrong. You didn’t kill anybody. You didn’t break any laws.  Don’t be so hard on yourself.”  There is no ethics in that statement. Itis just employs two popular and facile rationalizations (#4. Marion Barry’s Misdirection, or “If it isn’t illegal, it’s ethical,” and #22, the worst of all, #22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”) with another lurking but unspoken one, the Cheater’s Special, #23. Woody’s Excuse: “The heart wants what the heart wants,’ underlying the whole scene.

That’s ethics, I would guess, to about 90% of the population. Scary. This is, however, where ethicists have taken us. They could be so important to the culture, if they would get their heads out of their asinine models and explain ethical principles that are relevant to real lives in a manner that doesn’t make normal people become hostile to the subject.

This brings us to Peter Singer, Princeton’s acclaimed professor of bioethics who has been called the most influential ethicist alive. It is admittedly faint praise, but probably correct. Continue reading


Filed under Bioethics, Character, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Health and Medicine, Professions

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

For Your Labor Day Ethics Edification: “The Science of Persuasion”


Making better decisions is essential to making ethical decisions, and a lot of what we discuss here relates to overcoming impediments to unethical thinking and decision-making. This 2012 video is germane to Ethics Alarms; it also includes some of the ideas in Dr. Z’s Rules, which I presented here.

This animated video describes Dr. Robert Cialdini ‘s “six universal principles of persuasion” that people and organizations tend to use to influence the thinking, values and opinions of those of us who are not willing or able to reason in an orderly and unbiased fashion. (Dr. Zimbardo las a somewhat different six). It reflects the research in Dr. Cialdini’s book, “Influence” The Science of Persuasion.”

As those who come here often know, I like to use a variety of approaches and tools. Cialdini’s framework is just one of them, but one worth understanding.

The video is a bit over 11 minutes.



Filed under Science & Technology, Research and Scholarship

29 Reasons Why “81 Things Mike Huckabee Has Denounced” Should Be Denounced


Republican National Convention

Political reporter—not humorist, not feature-writer, but reporter—David Farenthold of the Washington Post wrote a long feature (it is a hit piece, disguised) called “81 Things Mike Huckabee has denounced.” It doesn’t matter to me which politician this kind of junk is written to trash: Huckabee’s as deserving a target as anyone. On my rapidly growing list of candidates I would take a hacksaw to my neck before voting for, he is filed somewhere among Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal and The Donald. Farenthold’s  article itself would be unethical if it was written about The Green River Killer. It is in that horrible abuse of journalism category known here as “Making Readers Dumber and Less Ethically Astute Than They Already Are.

Here are the 29 reasons why I am denouncing “81 Things Mike Huckabee has denounced.”

Reasons #1-7 It is dishonest.

It’s pretty obvious what the post is about, but the author doesn’t have the guts or the honesty to admit it. The real title should be, “Mike Huckabee opposes gay marriage, so it’s okay for me to trash him about everything I can think of whether it’s fair or not.”  After correctly noting in his reasons 3 (“Same-sex marriage”) and 4. (“The Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.”) that Huckabee is not a fan of gay marriages,  Farenthold also devotes 68 though 79, plus 81, on his list of his  “things” directly to this, and in deceitful fashion  places the last 13 of them at the end of his list. Many are misleading in the context of his stated purpose, giving me seven reasons to denounce his list:

  • #68. claims that Huckabee “denounced”  “Homosexuality, in general” when he referred to it as  “a sin” 41 years ago in a Baptist newspaper advice column.  That’s not a denunciation. To a Baptist, that’s a statement of fact.  (Reason #1 )
  • In #70,  Farenthold says that Huckabee denounced “Homosexuality, in general” is this quote: “I’ve had people who are gay that worked on my staff. It’s not like I’m some homophobe. If you ask me is it the normal pathway? I don’t think so.” “I don’t think homosexuality is a normal pathway” is a “denunciation”? No, it’s an opinion, and not even an inflammatory one. Gays comprise less than 10% of the population: that alone is sufficient to justify “not normal.” (Reason #1)
  • In #71. Farenthold accuses the Republican of “denouncing”  gay parents by saying, “The children…really cannot, get critical early-life lessons in how a heterosexual family functions successfully.” OK, maybe, and so what? And adopted boys raised by a lesbian couple can’t get critical  early-life lessons in how to use a urinal. (Reason #3 )
  • For his 72nd  item, Farenthold calls this statement…

“Of the seventy-three sex scenes shown that week…two involved male homosexual couples.”

…a denunciation of  “Same-sex couples in TV shows.” Pointing out a statistic is now “denunciation”? (Reason #4)

  • #74 alleges that  “It actually became easier to get out of a marriage than to get out of a contract for the purchase of a used car!” is a denunciation of “Allowing heterosexual couples an easy path to divorce. ”  In fact, he was talking about divorces generally, in a book about strengthening families,  marriage, and commitment. (Reason #5)
  • The stretching gets absurd in #75. Huckabee  declared that citizens should engage in civil disobedience after the Supreme Court’s decision declaring same sex marriage a right. He did not, in any way, denounce “States allowing same-sex couples to marry, after the Supreme Court said they could.” He said that he would do something else.  (Reason #6 )
  • For his last “denunciation,” the Post’s Congressional beat reporter cites this question—“Do you want a president who follows? Or do you want a president who leads?” as one encompassing “President Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, for changing their minds and embracing same-sex marriage.”I could make this one about three reasons for an ethical denunciation , so dishonest is it, but I’ll be kind. Farenthold is spinning. Everyone in D.C., and most out of it, know that both Clinton and Obama based their public views on gay marriage on the polls and the opinions of the Democratic base, and didn’t have sudden epiphanies. Huckabee was quite accurately and fairly criticizing political cowardice and a lack of integrity on the parts of both Democrats, not the fact that they “changed their minds.” Just because a political reporter is playing in the sandbox of the Post “Style” section doesn’t mean that his blatant display of partisan bias is any less disturbing, or that it implicates his trustworthiness as a journalist any less.  (Reason #7 )

We get it, Dave. You really, really dislike politicians who don’t support gay marriage and believe it should not be made a right. You could make that point legitimately rather than grossly mischaracterizing the nature of the arguments of one of them who disagrees with you. Continue reading


Filed under U.S. Society, Arts & Entertainment, Popular Culture, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Religion and Philosophy, Leadership, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Romance and Relationships, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee

Gay Marriage Combat Flashback: “When A Boycott Is Unethical”

Prop 8

Prolific commenter Steve-O suggested that my previous post, Planet Ethics To Earth’s Gay Marriage Combatants: “You’re Mean, You’re Disgusting, And You’re Embarrassing The Human Race”, would have done more good if I had written it a few years ago. That’s hindsight bias, of course, but I did point out the unethical nature of similar tactics more than a few years ago, when gay marriage advocates announced a boycott against the state of Utah. ( I also, more than a decade ago, explained why this debate would be intense and emotional, and suggested the only chance, admittedly a faint and likely futile one, that the anti-gay marriage forces had to prevail.) Steve’s suggestion is also fanciful, in that Perez Hilton’s inane pronouncements on a Lindsay Lohan Instagram carry about 100,000 times more weight and influence than anything written here, and probably more than anything written about ethics issues anywhere, by anyone.

With that sad fact noted, the renewal of the problem of punitive and unfair boycotts as well as the escalation of brutal tactics in the gay marriage wars justifies a re-print of this essay from the Ethics Scoreboard from 2008, shortly after Proposition 8 was voted into law by Californians. As an aside, I note with some nostalgia the sober style in which Scoreboard posts were written. Therein lies the difference between an ethics website that posted essays composed over several days, and an ethics blog that attempts to keep up with multiple issues a day. The former is certainly more professional in tone; the latter is more personal and unfiltered, and, as a result, more read.

In the wake of California’s popular vote to over-ride its Supreme Court and establish marriage as restricted to heterosexual couples, gay rights advocates are urging an economic boycott of the state of …Utah.

Why Utah? Well, the Mormon Church, based in Salt Lake City, encouraged its members to work for passage of California’s Proposition 8. Thousands of Mormons worked as grass-roots volunteers and Mormon contributors gave tens of millions of dollars to the campaign. “At a fundamental level, the Utah Mormons crossed the line,” said gay rights activist John Aravosis, whose AmericaBlog.com is urging the boycott. “They just took marriage away from 20,000 couples and made their children bastards. You don’t do that and get away with it.” Continue reading


Filed under Ethics Scoreboard classics, Ethics Train Wrecks, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Religion and Philosophy, Rights, Romance and Relationships, U.S. Society

Harry Reid Hatred And The Tit-For-Tat Addiction

mob enforcer

Once again, the ethically disabled in conservative punditry are forcing me to come to the defense of one of the most loathsome politicians extant. Senator Harry Reid’s announcement that he is leaving the Senate after his current term expires in 2016 has inspired a spate of baseless speculation that the serious facial injuries he sustained on New Years Day were not the result of an exercise equipment mishap, and may have been the souvenirs or a beating by Vegas mob goons to teach “Dirty Harry” to deliver the goods when the Godfather ask a favor.

As Basil Fawlty would say, “Oh, thank you! Thank you so VERY MUCH!” I love wasting a good hour of sock drawer organization explaining why its wrong to mistreat the likes of Harry Reid. Continue reading


Filed under Government & Politics, The Internet, Etiquette and manners, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee