“The Ethicist” Does A Faceplant

As longtime followers here know, I have critiqued the ethics advice offered by whomever was in charge of the Times Magazine “The Ethicist” column for years. By far, the best of these has been the current holder of the title, Kwame Anthony Appiah, a real ethicist who teaches teaches philosophy at N.Y.U. Thus his most recent descent into bias and rationalizations to answer a recent query was profoundly discouraging.

“Name Withheld”(of course) complained,

My daughters grew up in a very progressive household, they have embraced the opposite political side from me. My granddaughter hears all the talk in her family, and I feel sure she believes she is hearing the truth. One of my daughters also does not believe in the vaccine and did not have my granddaughter vaccinated. I do not discuss politics with them any longer. They get all their information from the internet and don’t read the mainstream press. The worst thing of all to me is that they believe the election was stolen.

She asks The Ethicist if it would be ethical to disinherit them for their evil beliefs (my words, nor hers, but clearly her meaning) and give her accumulated wealth to “a good cause.” The simple answer is two-fold: “Name Withheld”—can I call her NW for short?—can do whatever she wants with her estate. There is no obligation to pass on wealth to one’s children. However, slapping at them from beyond the grave because Mom was unsuccessful in indoctrinating them in her woke value system is inherently petty and mean-spirited, if she would not have wanted to do so as long as they expressed sufficient sympathy for abortion, the Green New Deal and science-based incursions on liberty. To my surprise, however, Appiah lets his own biases trample his ethical training. First, he denigrates the daughters’ non-conforming beliefs without having sufficient details to know what their positions are. (“The Presidency was ‘stolen'” has more than one meaning, for example.) “[T]hese beliefs are badges of identity — the regalia of our tribes or teams — and come together with other beliefs and values,” he writes. Well, that’s an assumption and an unwarranted one. Beliefs don’t have to cluster around political “tribes,” and if people are thoughtful, informed and indulge in critical thinking, they won’t.

Then “The Ethicist” goes full on in his bias, writing, “A whole media apparatus aims to persuade people like your daughters to adopt mistaken views.” No, a whole media apparatus aims to counter the propaganda of media like “The Ethicist’s” employer, and thank God for that. Indeed, some, indeed many, of those sources are just as unreliable as the Left’s propaganda organs, and that’s a terrible problem. Seeing it as a problem on only one side of the political divide, however, is not only unjustified, it is foolish.

He continues,

What’s clear is that your errant offspring have acquired the views that accompany certain identities or group allegiances, and that, by trusting unreliable sources, they have been led into error.

Who says their beliefs are “in error” compared to NH’s positions? Obviously Appiah does because, he adds, “I’m on your side.” That explains a lot, including his worry that “people with their views are doing a great deal of harm…Even if your daughters are, in some sense, more sinned against than sinning, you could reasonably worry that putting resources in their hands will allow them to support destructive causes.” Appiah writes this shortly after cautioning NW that “people tend to regard those who disagree with them on these factual matters as not simply wrong but wicked…[your daughters’ beliefs] make them wrongheaded; it doesn’t make them wicked.”

But apparent they can’t be trusted to use an inheritance for non-wicked purposes. So Appiah recommends a false framing device to make the disinheriting of the woman’s daughters for their “wicked” political opinions less of a burden on Mom’s conscience. After suggesting that she put some money away for the granddaughter when she reaches adulthood (after all, “she might very well defect from her mother’s political orientation” and no longer be danger to society), “The Ethicist” suggests that the mother “give the rest to causes you care about, perhaps including ones that are working to fortify voting participation and strengthen effective public health education…[b]ut don’t think of your updated will as a way to punish them for their mistaken beliefs. Think of it as taking measures to prevent your assets from being used to bad effect.”

Rationalizations are lies we tell ourselves to make it easy to regard our unethical conduct as ethical, when we know, or should, that it isn’t. “The Ethicist” in this instance encouraged a rationalized deception, so a mother could disinherit her daughters for not following her political views in sufficient lock-step.

14 thoughts on ““The Ethicist” Does A Faceplant

  1. Maybe my response to a mother like this is unethical, but it would be simple – you’re dead to me. Stay away from my family and I. There is absolutely no way I’d want anything from someone who thinks it’s ok to try force me into their world view for the sake of an inheritance or anything else. What a rotten way to think.

  2. Based on what I’ve read here, it seems “The Ethicist” isn’t so much concerned with actual ethics as he is with political agendas. I’d agree that this woman can do whatever she wishes with her money, though not with his position that her not leaving it to her daughters because of their political differences is somehow “righteous”, as he implies. One of my own children (all are grown) doesn’t agree with me on such matters, so we simply don’t discuss them. I would never treat her differently from the others over such an issue, nor look to someone else to excuse doing so. She’s my child, and will be as long as I breathe and beyond. If this woman truly believed that her money would be used for some “bad” purpose, she wouldn’t need to seek advice on the issue. She’s being dishonest, and he’s aiding her in that. Nothing ethical about that.

    • You’re exactly right – this woman wants to punish her kids for straying from their indoctrination, but knows that’s unethical. She’s looking for rationalizations, and Appiah happily provided some. What an ugly scene all around.

    • People have replaced religion with a lot of weird and sad allegiances. This Name Withheld is in a cult, and not even the fun kind.

  3. “Error!” A contemporary person actually used the word “error” to describe someone’s views on something? Is this guy a reincarnation of Cotton Mather? John Calvin? “Error?” I guess John McWhorter’s calling wokism a religion isn’t metaphorical. “Error?”

    Forgive me Father Kwame, for I have sinned….

    • They’re a cult. Note the hand-wringing over the daughters not adhering to “mainstream sources.” Time to excommunicate!

      • Liberal politics is the new religion. It has filled the void once religions were obliterated. Faith, Hope and Charity have been replaced by Social Justice, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Heaven on Earth. The perfection of mankind. Humans are imperfect? There’s a government program (and an app) for that! A fool’s errand.

        • It’s a horrible religion, for a number of reasons. First and foremost is these new religions (social justice, environmentalism, etc) are outward focused–they’re not about helping you as a person live a more socially just or environmentally friendly life, they’re about teaching (or forcing) others to live that kind of life. In fact, they explicitly exonerate the believer from needing to individually change:

          An in-law of mine finished a bachelor’s degree in some kind of environmentalism, and she made sure we understood that her professor explained that there was no use in individuals making the lifestyle changes that her education (and “faith”) taught were necessary to save the world, because we couldn’t make a difference on an individual level. Therefore, she could continue driving her SUV around and using single-use plastics because they wouldn’t help anyway.

          Another in-law has replaced her traditional Christianity with social justice. Her exoneration is different in that she’s been taught to believe that being socially just means being unjust (at least for “a while”). White men have been in charge for millennia, so it’s time for them to be discriminated against, in the name of justice.

          Secondly, neither has any hope of ever succeeding (most likely because of the first point). Religion succeeds by changing the individual and giving them the assurance that what they can control (their own actions and behavior) is all that matters. Society may be decaying around them, but if they’re living by the precepts they believe, all is well. These religions are just the opposite. Neither will either succeed, because the success would be the death of the religion, and also because they seek to change human nature on a societal level.

          I don’t see how any of these new religions will ever make anyone anything other than miserable, angry, and unpleasant people. And the naked hypocrisy bothers me–they’d laugh at a Christian who believed that lying, cheating, stealing, etc., didn’t matter because their own choices didn’t make a big enough difference in the grand scheme of things, but they truly seem to believe that this standard applied to their own new beliefs is totally acceptable.

    • a la Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, standing up in Parliament, referring to the truckers descending into Ottawa, “holding unacceptable views.”
      I’m not well-informed about interpretations of the mushy Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms, but freedom of thought doesn’t appear to be unalienable.
      My reading is that there are no unalienable rights in Canada, but my judgment is impaired by the US Constitution.

  4. Going forward no one should trust this guy for ethical advice on anything. He has just shown without a doubt that his mind is polluted with wokism and he is there for incapable of being objective.

    Oh, and as for the letter writer? It would serve her right if her children never spoke to her again. They say if you want to know what people are really like, you should share an inheritance with them. I guess if you want to know what your parents really thought of you, you should wait until the will is read.

    I wonder what his advice would have been if the politics of the people involved were reversed and a conservative grandmother was afraid of leaving money to her liberal daughters. Would he be scolding her and saying that he hoped she died before she could change the will, because it would serve her right to see her wealth go to helping illegal immigrants evade law enforcement, making it that much harder for law abiding citizens to defend themselves, and making sure that every vote is manufac…sorry, counted?

  5. This is not surprising. Even if The Ethicist wasn’t warped by the leftist ideology of hate before, this cements that. It is no wonder, the MSM and the government have been training the entire nation to hate who they are told to hate for the last 2 years. How many embraced a hatred of people who didn’t want to wear a mask (that the research showed was useless or nearly useless) or didn’t want an experimental vaccine that has been shown not to work well or at all? I saw news media on-air describe unvaccinated people as ‘dirty’ How many embraced firing people and banning them from working in their profession for no logical reason especially when that reason is immoral and possibly illegal? What about banning them from stores and all public life despite no evidence this benefits public health at all? After decades of duping people into thinking they were ‘tolerant’, the left has now warped people into believing the word ‘tolerant’ means ‘hate who we tell you to hate’.

    Let’s see how effective that has been. How long did it take the people in this country to hate everything Russian after they were instructed to? Within days of being told that Russia was bad, people were fighting to outdo each other in Russia hatred. They banned dogs and cats from shows. They tried to boycott a restaurant that has operated in the US for almost 100 years because it has the word “Russia” in it. How long before they put everyone who ever bought Russian Salad Dressing on a watch list? After decades of ‘Hate the government, not the people” mantra, how long did it take people to be able to hate at the drop of a hat?

    It isn’t even logical hate. When China released a biological weapon on the world that killed untold numbers of people, we were admonished to not hate the Chinese people OR its government and people complied. Now, when they are told to hate ‘Russian’ things (like Polish vodka) and all Russian people, the brainwashed immediately fall in line. The EU is putting all Russian nationals under financial surveillance and over 1/3 of the US is willing to have a nuclear war against Russia. That is some fantastic hate there.

    Is it any wonder The Ethicist thinks it is OK for this woman to hate her daughters? Nothing can get in the way of state-sanctioned hate, not even family.

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