Delaware Valley Regional High School Ethics Bowl

The third annual Delaware Valley Regional High School Ethics Bowl  will take place at Villanova University on Saturday, November 18, 2017 starting at 7:30 a.m. We anticipate that 14 teams will participate.

Here is a short video from a high school ethics bowl, including additional information about the origins of ethics bowl.

Students can find a video here of Villanova professors, going over three cases from the 2012 competition. This will give students an idea of the intellectual tenor of the ethics bowl.

Coaches can access a video here produced in June 2012 when Villanova professors conducted a training session. Be attentive to the changes to the ethics bowl competition noted in this memo that may clash with what is said in the training. Where there are differences between the video and this memo, the memo is the authoritative source of information.

For additional information on high school ethics bowl, please visit the official National High School Ethics Bowl website: http://nhseb.unc.edu/.

Final round of 2016 Delaware Valley Regional High School Ethics Bowl can be found here.

COACHES register here.  Deadline for registration is October 1, 2017.

 

National High School Ethics Bowl
Regional Cases 2017-2018
Case Committee Chair: Dominique Déry
Case Authors: Miguel Cisneros, Ian Pierce Cruise, Dominique Déry,
Ramona Ilea, Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, Clare LaFrance, Chris Ng,
Samuel Reis-Dennis, Keshav Singh, Robert Smithson, Steve Swartzer,
Brian Wong
Please do not reproduce without credit to the NHSEB and case authors.
1. Bodily Identity Integrity Disorder1
Since she was a young child, Jewel Shuping dreamed of being blind. “When I was young my mother
would find me walking in the halls at night, when I was three or four years old,” she says. “By the time I was
six I remember that thinking about being blind made me feel comfortable.” She would stare at the sun for
hours, hoping that it would damage her eyes. As a teenager, she began wearing thick black glasses and
carrying a white cane. By the time she was 20 years old, she was fluent in braille. Shuping describes her
desire to be blind as a “non-stop alarm that was going off” in her head. Finally, at nearly 30, she found a
psychologist willing to help blind her by putting a couple of drops of drain cleaner in each eye. Though the
process was painful, she remained hopeful: “all I could think was ‘I am going blind, it is going to be okay.’”2
The drain cleaner severely damaged her eyes but did not render her completely blind, so she is not totally
satisfied with the result. Nevertheless, she has said she is happy to be “much further along her path to
blindness.”3 She explains: “I really feel this is the way I was supposed to be born, that I should have been
blind from birth. When there's nobody around you who feels the same way, you start to think that you're
crazy. But I don't think I'm crazy, I just have a disorder.”
Bodily Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) is a rare condition where there is a conflict between a
person's actual, physical body and their idea of how their body should be. It usually involves an able-bodied
person who believes that they should be disabled in some way.4 The most common manifestation of the
disorder is a desire to have a specific body part amputated. Getting such procedures done does not cure BIID.
However, for many who have BIID, the desire to make their bodies match how they feel they are meant to be
is so strong that they are willing to take desperate measures to make it happen. Such measures might include
putting drain cleaner in their eyes like Jewel Shuping, cutting off their own limbs, or jumping off of cliffs in
order to paralyze themselves.5
A doctor cannot amputate a healthy limb without risking his or her license. A Scottish surgeon who
performed two such surgeries in the late nineties was banned from performing any more. He had given the
issue considerable thought, consulted his professional organization, and received written permission from his
hospital's chief executive. His patients were convinced that surgery was the only relief for their condition and
were completely happy with the results of the procedures.6 One such patient says he finally feels like “a
complete person” now that he is an amputee.7
Study Questions:
(1) In absence of a more effective way of managing BIID, is it in the interests of BIID patients to give them
the body modifications they want?
(2) If BIID patients are likely to resort to dangerous measures to modify their bodies, is this a good enough
reason to allow doctors to perform these modifications?
(3) Do BIID patients harm themselves when they modify their bodies to give themselves disabilities?
1 This case is adapted from a 2016 Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl (IEB) case, with permission. Please visit their website for
more information about the IEB: http://appe-ethics.org/ethics-bowl/
2 http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/real-life-stories/psychologist-blinds-woman-drain-cleaner-6552282.
3 http://www.snopes.com/2015/10/02/jewel-shuping-blind/.
4 http://biid.org, 2016.
5 http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/22/health/psychology/at-war-with-their-bodies-they-seek-to-sever-limbs.html
6 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMCl 127127/; http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/625680.stm.
7 http//news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/632856.stm
2. Best Man or Worst Man?
Bijan doesn’t get along with his best friend Mike’s girlfriend, Yasmin. When she and Mike
began dating, Bijan had a bad feeling about her almost immediately, but tried hard to give her the benefit
of the doubt. However, as months went by and they all spent more time together, Bijan started to catch
Yasmin in small lies that she wouldn’t admit to, noticed that she’d sometimes make petty and meanspirited
remarks about mutual acquaintances, and felt uncomfortable with what he perceived as her
subtle contempt for those less privileged than her. It also seemed to Bijan that Yasmin was slowly
attempting to separate Mike from some of his friends and even family members, each of whom she
seemed to have some small problem with. In his most cynical moments, Bijan speculated that Mike was
only interested in Yasmin for her good looks and hoped they would break up. At other times, though,
Bijan told himself to have more faith in his friend’s judgment. “They seem happy, after all,” he thought.
“Maybe I should just let this go.”
Now, Mike and Yasmin have just gotten engaged, and Mike has asked Bijan to be his best man.
Bijan feels torn about what to do. He is not sure whether he should be fully honest with Mike and reveal
his feelings about Yasmin. On the one hand, Bijan is almost sure that Mike will be devastated if he
shares his misgivings, and he highly doubts that his remarks will change Mike’s mind about her or the
engagement. Mike is so head-over-heels for Yasmin, in fact, that Bijan suspects that saying something
would be far likelier to lead Mike to cut off contact with him than with Yasmin. On the other hand,
Bijan feels that it might be his duty to speak up. “If I don’t do this, no one will,” he thinks. “I’m Mike’s
best friend. How could I live with myself if I say nothing and he ends up in a miserable marriage to a
bad person?” He also wonders whether if he doesn’t speak up, he should agree to be Mike’s best man.
On one hand, it would seem dishonest to agree given his feelings about Yasmin; on the other hand, it
would be difficult to turn Mike down without being able to give his true reasons for doing so.
Study Questions:
(1) If Bijan decides to speak up, what would be the morally best way for him to confront Mike?
(2) If Bijan doesn’t speak up, and Mike’s marriage goes poorly, should Bijan blame himself?
(3) Would Mike be justified in being angry with Bijan if Bijan shared his concerns about Yasmin? If not
angry, how might he reasonably feel?
3. What Morals Should Drive Driverless Cars?
Cars of the past required us to do everything manually, from shifting gears to locking doors and
rolling down windows. Now we have cars that “can adapt their speed to the surrounding traffic
automatically, maintain a safe distance from the vehicle ahead, keep within their own lane, and even
park themselves.”1 Tech companies like Google, Apple, and Uber are aiming for the ultimate
autonomous driving experience—cars that can drive themselves—and driverless cars are already being
tested on the roads. Even though we may be years away from their release to the public, concerns about
driverless cars are already surfacing.
Driverless cars are poised to make life much easier and more convenient. Elderly people who
have difficulty driving could regain freedom and independence using driverless cars. Busy parents
would no longer need to drop off their children at school or take them to after-school activities. People
with long commutes by car could use that time to focus on rest or work instead. Even more significantly,
driverless cars could be much safer than human drivers. According to the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration, 94% of traffic accidents are attributed in part to human error.2 Driverless cars are
designed to follow all traffic laws, including obeying speed limits and completely stopping at stop signs.
If human drivers are taken out of the equation, we can imagine that our roads could be much safer. If
driverless technology becomes reliable enough, we might even decide that human drivers should be
outlawed and removed from the roads for the sake of overall safety.
In addition to the question of whether the aim of such technology should be to get rid of human
drivers entirely (along with their dangerous potential for error), the question of what counts as safety
also arises. What happens when there are no good options for a driverless car to choose? For example,
imagine that a van with a family of five ahead of you suddenly brakes, and your driverless car can either
brake but potentially hit the family of five, or it could swerve to the right where there is a school bus full
of children, or it could swerve into the median rail on the left—in each case potentially endangering
your life as well as or instead of the lives of others. In such situations, human drivers react in
unpredictable and generally uninformed ways. Driverless cars, on the other hand, potentially allow us
the capacity to be more intentional about how to react to unexpected accidents or emergencies on the
road, but there is much disagreement about how to best use this new power.
Study Questions:
(1) Given the choice between endangering 5 lives or your life, should a car in which you are the sole
occupant be programmed to endanger you?
(2) What moral principles should guide us as we decide what to do about the possibility offered by
driverless cars to be more intentional than ever before about reacting to unexpected dangerous
situations?
(3) Would people be morally permitted to drive at all if driverless cars become on the whole safer and
more reliable?
1 http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21722628-forget-hype-about-autonomous-vehicles-being-aroundcornerreal-
driverless-cars-will
2 https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812115
4. Breed-Specific Legislation
Breed-specific legislation (BSL) is a term for legislation or policies that ban or otherwise restrict
certain breeds of dog for the stated purpose of reducing dog bites and attacks. BSL might involve bans
on owning or breeding certain dogs in certain places. It might involve banning certain breeds from
being imported into particular countries. Some people might even include under the heading of BSL
policies such as increased insurance premiums for owning certain breeds.1 Among the breeds most
frequently targeted by BSL are Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Chow Chows, and Doberman Pinschers.2
Advocates of BSL point to the fact that over 75% of deadly dog attacks are committed by some
of the breeds frequently targeted by BSL. Part of the issue, these advocates claim, is that many of these
dogs were bred either for fighting or for protection and so they are both powerfully built and
unpredictable, and thus potentially dangerous. One advocate for BSL compares it to car recalls.
Suppose that we discover that a certain kind of car is disproportionately likely to malfunction and result
in the death of the passengers. We would, of course, call for a recall, the immediate discontinuation of
the production of such cars, and a ban on anyone still driving those cars. The same can be said for
certain breeds of dog. If we discover that certain breeds of dog are disproportionately likely to attack
people, then (the argument goes) we should call for the discontinuation of breeding that kind of dog and
a ban on people owning that kind of dog.3
Opponents of BSL, in contrast, think the risk identified fails to justify the legislation. First, they
point out that the dog attack statistics fail to represent the actual likelihood that any particular dog of any
particular breed is likely to attack people. Although the statistics do indicate that Pit Bulls are involved
in more dog attacks than other breeds, the reason might simply be that Pit Bulls are particularly common
dogs in the areas in which the attacks occur, or are disproportionately trained as guard dogs.4 And even
leaving the statistics aside, opponents argue that BSL is a form of morally problematic discrimination.
Imagine what we should think, they suggest, were we to apply similar policies to human beings.
Suppose we discover that members of certain racial or gender groups are statistically more likely to
commit certain crimes. Would that mean that we should ban, quarantine, or otherwise place certain
restrictions on members of those racial or gender groups? Such a proposal, opponents of BSL argue,
would be morally abhorrent precisely because it failed to take account of the difference between the
characteristics of groups and those of individuals, in effect blaming the latter for the former.
Study Questions:
(1) Is BSL morally permissible? If so, when? If not, why not?
(2) If acts of discrimination are morally wrong when committed against human beings, are structurally
similar acts of discrimination morally wrong when committed against animals?
(3) Are some versions of BSL more morally acceptable than others? Which ones?
1 http://bslcensus.com/, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breed-specific_legislation;
https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/insurance/expert-faq-pit-bull-increase-homeowners-insurance-premium/
2 https://www.aspca.org/animal-cruelty/dog-fighting/what-breed-specific-legislation
3 https://dogbitelaw.com/breed-specific-laws/arguments-for-and-against-breed-specific-laws
4https://web.archive.org/web/20150411211206/http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/images/dogbreeds-a.pdf
5. School Choice
Gilbert and Anne have a five-year-old, Fred. Anne and Gilbert were the first of their families to go to
college and want to make sure that they give Fred as many advantages as they can. They have been reading
to him since birth and have spent a great deal of time working with him on numbers and letters. Fred is very
bright and is well-prepared to begin school soon.
When deciding where to send Fred for kindergarten, they toured a local traditional public school and
a nearby publicly-funded charter school. There were clear differences between these schools. The charter
school had computers for the students, a great music program, and an enriched science program—even the
kindergarteners had a science lab! The traditional public school, in contrast, did not have any enrichment
programs—its classrooms had little beyond books and desks. The differences did not end there. The charter
school classrooms had fewer students. As a result, they received a considerable amount of individual
attention. These students generally seemed engaged and motivated. Gilbert and Anne also noticed that there
were a number of parents helping in the classroom, suggesting that parents were highly involved. In the
traditional public school, in contrast, the classrooms were crowded. The teachers seemed dedicated but
overworked. While there were additional teaching assistants present, they were primarily there to help kids in
need of additional behavioral support. There were no parent helpers to be seen.
Given what they saw, Anne and Gilbert believe that Fred is likely to get a better education if they
send him to the charter school. However, they are torn about whether this is a good enough reason to take
him out of the traditional public school system. Anne and Gilbert are strong supporters of public education.
Even though traditional public schools are often far from perfect—especially in lower-income
communities—Anne and Gilbert believe that a strong public education system is vitally important for
society. They worry that charter schools are undermining this socially-critical institution from within. For
instance, they are concerned that charter schools often divert funding away from traditional public schools
that are already stretched thin financially.1 Additionally, while lower performing students do better in
classrooms with higher performing students, it seems that higher performing students are leaving traditional
public schools for charter schools at higher rates. While Anne and Gilbert want what is best for their child,
they do not want to contribute to these trends that they see as problematic. They don’t want to participate in
something that they believe could ultimately hurt other children and leave them further behind. At the same
time, they know that these are systemic problems, and one child is not going to have a large effect—so why
should they limit their child’s educational prospects if their choice ultimately won’t make much of a
difference when it comes to these larger trends?
Study Questions:
(1) In what ways and to what extent (if any) is it morally (in)appropriate for parents to put their child’s
interest first, over the interests of other children?
(2) What is the value of having a strong public education system? Do charter schools undermine or
strengthen it? Explain.
(3) How should one feel about participating in larger social trends that one finds morally problematic, when
opting out would not likely have made a significant difference to those trends?
1 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/01/09/a-disturbing-look-at-how-charter-schools-are-hurtinga-
traditional-school-district/?utm_term=.1277fe5e63c8
6. The Case of the Missing Serial Number
Cora is an avid cyclist. For the past year, she has been saving money to upgrade her bike. One
day, she discovers an amazing deal on Craig’s List. The bike she finds is just what she has been looking
for but much cheaper than she was expecting to have to pay.
Cora and the seller agree to meet at a park near Cora’s workplace, so that Cora can try out the
bike. The seller, Megan, helps Cora adjust the bike to fit well. Megan points out some scratches on the
frame, but Cora agrees that these are minor cosmetic issues.
Cora loves her new bike, but she receives troubling news 6 months later. A mechanic notices that
the clear-coat serial number glued to the bottom of the frame has been stripped off. Cora’s stomach
sinks: the missing serial number almost certainly indicates that the bike was stolen.
If Cora had known that the bike was probably stolen, she would never have bought it. But she
realizes that there is little chance of getting her money back. She never learned the seller’s actual
identity beyond her first name and no longer has record of the email conversation planning their initial
meeting, and she also knows that stolen bikes are almost impossible to trace.
Cora needs to decide whether to turn the bike over to the police. If she does, there is at least a
chance—however unlikely—that the police could find the bike’s original owner. In addition, she feels
guilty that her purchase might have made it worthwhile for a thief to steal the bike. Indeed, the very idea
that her prized possession is potentially stolen property is depressing to her.
On the other hand, Cora does not think that she was irresponsible in making the purchase
(although it is true that she never checked for the serial number). And Cora worked hard for a whole
year to save money for this bike. And again: it is at least possible that the serial number was stripped off
accidentally. Cora doesn’t want to risk losing her bike, especially since she did nothing wrong. Why
should she suffer negative consequences if her bike turns out to be stolen property? She wishes the
missing serial number had never been brought to her attention.
Study Questions:
(1) Should Cora report the bike to the police?
(2) What should Cora do if she did have the contact information for the seller after all?
(3) How, if at all, does the monetary value of the (allegedly) stolen property affect the case?
7. Smokers Need Not Apply
While tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, the country has
undergone a substantial cultural shift in regard to smoking.1 Due to recent changes such as the banning
of cigarette vending machines, the creation of no smoking policies, and increased education about the
health impacts of tobacco use, the prevalence of smoking has decreased substantially. The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention estimate that smoking-related medical care costs $170 billion dollars
annually.2 In the interests of employee productivity, as well as saving on the cost of employees’ health
insurance, some employers will no longer hire smokers.3 Hospitals in particular have taken the lead in
adopting such policies, but they are not the only employers making this change. Some states have laws
that prohibit this kind of discrimination against smokers in hiring but many others do not.4
While the prevalence of smoking has declined, it has not done so evenly across groups.
Prevalence is higher than average among non-Hispanic multiple race individuals, American
Indians/Alaska Natives, and Blacks. Prevalence is also higher among populations with low
socioeconomic status, within the LGBTQ community, and among those who have not graduated high
school or who have a GED.5
As mentioned above, supporters of anti-tobacco employment policies cite both health insurance
costs as well as employee productivity as important factors. In addition, healthcare professions and
healthcare settings note that healthcare workers who smoke are setting a terrible example and sending a
very bad message to patients. Advocates also argue that such policies create an incentive for prospective
employees to quit smoking.
Detractors point out that policies that exclude employees who smoke infringe on employee
freedom by dictating their behavior even when they are not at work. Moreover, to the extent that
smoking is addictive and difficult to quit, these policies punish smokers for their addiction no matter
their efforts to stop smoking. Another worry is that these policies have a disproportionately negative
impact on poor and disadvantaged populations. This exclusion is especially worrisome given that many
of these populations already struggle with employment discrimination and are already underrepresented
in many professions, including those in healthcare settings.
Study Questions:
(1) Is there a morally significant difference between anti-tobacco employment policies in a healthcare
setting as contrasted with other kinds of employment?
(2) When, if ever, is it morally permissible for employers to discriminate on the basis of tobacco use? Is
it morally permissible to exclude applicants that engage in other health risk behaviors, such as eating
unhealthy foods or drinking alcohol?
(3) When and to what extent should employers be allowed to exert control over employees’ lives?
1 http://www.npr.org/2016/05/24/479349619/cdc-report-reveals-decline-in-american-smokers
2 https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/index.htm
3 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/11/us/11smoking.html
4 https://www.workplacefairness.org/smoking-rights-workplace
5 https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/adult_data/cig_smoking/index.htm
8. The Cull
In August of 2015, the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, implemented a deer cull.1 The cull aims to
decrease significantly the population of deer in an effort to reduce automobile accidents, to mitigate the
damages to local flora, and to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease, a neurological disease that
affects elk, moose, and deer.2 To achieve this, the city hired sharpshooters to hunt deer until the
population was reduced to a target number. Though the deer cull was intended by city officials to
promote the good of the public, it has been highly controversial. Soon after it began, a lawn sign
campaign was launched with the message “Stop the Shoot”.3
Those who oppose the cull argue that the deer’s damage to property and local flora is not a
weighty enough consideration to merit the killing of innocent animals. Another argument made against
the cull is that deer have only become a nuisance in Ann Arbor because of human encroachment on their
natural habitats. Some “Stop the Shoot” advocates have even argued that the deer have become
“refugees” due to human activities. Besides concerns about the rights of the deer themselves, many
residents are also concerned with the safety of lethal methods of reducing the deer population, worrying
that due to the proximity of deer to residential areas, sharpshooters might endanger residents of those
areas.
Supporters of the cull argue that deer overpopulation poses a significant enough threat that
culling deer is a necessary cost. They claim that deer have significantly damaged residents’ property,
including causing automobile accidents. Furthermore, they argue that the deer population’s damage to
local flora is not just a nuisance, but a serious threat to the local ecosystem, as deer feed on native plants
that are essential habitats and food sources for other wildlife. The cull, supporters say, is the only way to
make the city safer and restore balance to the local ecosystem.4 In addition, since 2015, they have
introduced non-lethal but potentially more expensive methods of population control, such as
sterilization, to complement their original methods, and attempted to address concerns about danger to
humans by increasing the distance between residential areas and target areas for culling. However, many
residents are not satisfied with these steps—as the cull enters its third year, the “Stop the Shoot”
campaign continues to advocate against it.
Study Questions:
(1) What is the moral relevance of the fact that humans have encroached on deer’s natural habitat?
(2) When, if ever, do benefits to humans outweigh harms to non-human animals like deer?
(3) Is culling the most humane way to address overpopulation problems? If not, what is?
1 http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2015/11/06/ann-arbor-winter-deer-cull/75283900/
2 https://www.michigandaily.com/section/faceoff/roundtable-should-deer-cull-be-stopped
3 http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2016/01/backlash_against_ann_arbor_dee.html
4 https://www.michigandaily.com/section/editorials/daily-u-involvement-deer-cull-necessary
9. Questions of Loyalty
Singapore is an island nation in Southeast Asia that has managed to achieve great economic
success in the fifty years since its founding. However, due to its small size and lack of natural resources,
it is economically and strategically vulnerable to larger nations and global events, and relatively more
reliant on skilled human capital for its economic survival. In 2002, the Prime Minister at that time cited
a news media report in which several Singaporeans were quoted as saying they would “run at the drop of
a hat”, and that they felt “no sense of belonging.” He called them “fair-weather” citizens and “quitters,”
asserting that their loyalties were fickle, only willing to remain part of the country when times were
good, and would quickly abandon it in times of hardship or crisis or if better prospects arose elsewhere.1
The Prime Minister’s speech naturally generated a fair amount of debate among Singaporeans.
The more patriotically minded largely agreed with the Prime Minister’s implicit moral judgment of
those who chose to leave Singapore. Singapore, like many developed nations, provides its citizens with
education, protection, infrastructure, and a host of other public goods and services. Like any nation, its
success was only made possible by generations of people who stuck it out through hard times. In
accepting citizenship and all the benefits that follow, one might argue, its citizens also incur a duty to
“give back” and to remain loyal to their nation in the event of crisis or economic hardship, especially
because a mass exodus of the people most able to leave (the rich, professional, or educated) would
severely inhibit the nation’s ability to sustain itself during, and recover after, any such crisis.
On the other hand, many of the more cosmopolitan argued that the Prime Minister’s remarks
were an unfair characterization of those who might wish to seek better opportunities elsewhere or to
avoid danger or economic hardship. They argued that while they might not feel the degree of patriotic
loyalty that would motivate them to stay in Singapore, to brand them quitters and claim that they were
wholly disloyal people was a step too far. Some might have simply wanted to give their children better
prospects or a more stable environment in which to grow up. Furthermore, many feel that nations are not
relevant moral categories in this highly international and globally interconnected age and find it archaic
to think that a person’s character might be judged by whether she feels any sense of loyalty to one
particular group of people.
Study Questions:
(1) What, if anything, is good about having a sense of loyalty or belonging to one’s nation?
(2) How is loyalty to one’s nation similar to or different from loyalty to one’s friends and family?
(3) Do we have moral duties to contribute to our nation, even at our own expense?
1 http://www.todayonline.com/more-sporeans-overseas-brain-drain-concerns-dissipate
10. Appearances at the Office
After graduating from college, Maria had a hard time landing her first job. Eventually, her
perseverance paid off. After months of searching, and countless applications, she managed to find a fulltime,
entry-level position in a company she likes. After a couple of months on the job, though, Maria is
convinced that her boss does not like her. It seems as if he often doesn’t recognize her abilities or
accomplishments. Additionally, she feels that several of her co-workers share a similarly unfavorable
opinion of her.
When discussing her professional concerns with her parents, their response surprised her. They
argued that she should start by trying to look more professional—if she dressed nicer and wore some
make-up, maybe she would be taken more seriously. They also advised her to spend more money on
cutting and styling her hair, and buying more expensive shoes. Maria’s parents argued that immigrants
like them often need to put in extra effort to look polished and professional in order to be seen as
professional.
Maria finds this advice frustrating. She has little money to spend on expensive clothes, shoes,
make-up, and haircuts. She has even less interest in these things. She believes that she should be judged
by her work performance, not by how she looks. She also resents the gender roles that govern the way
women dress and look. She often hears disparaging comments about how her female co-workers dress,
no matter how much effort they put in; yet, two of her male co-workers who wear the same shabby
clothes every day, and who don’t regularly cut (or even wash) their hair, have reputations as geniuses.
Their style (or lack thereof) seems to work in their favor by reinforcing the perception that they are too
smart and too focused on their work to be concerned about appearances. Just thinking about this double
standard makes Maria annoyed. She has no desire to follow unfair gender norms, put effort into
challenging people’s stereotypes about immigrants, “look like a grown up” (as her parents put it), or
spend a significant amount of her salary (which would be better spent paying down her student loans) on
her appearance.
At the same time, Maria secretly agrees with her parents. She thinks that if she followed their
advice, her boss and co-workers probably would take her more seriously. If she wants to increase her
chances of receiving a promotion or of getting a strong reference, maybe she should just do these things,
even if she doesn’t think she should need to.
Study Questions:
(1) To what extent (if any) is it legitimate to consider personal style and grooming when evaluating an
employee? Does it matter what the job is? For example, does it make a difference if the employee works
in an office or if they work with the public?
(2) How far is it appropriate for an individual to go when modifying their behavior to follow norms that
they consider unjust or otherwise objectionable?
(3) Should Maria follow her parents’ advice?
11. Science Unfair
Valentina’s high school biology teacher has paired up students for a project and announced that
the partnerships are final. The assignment involves crafting and executing an experiment and will take
each group approximately a month to complete. At the end of the term, each group will be responsible
for writing and delivering a report of their findings. The project will be worth a third of each student’s
grade.
Valentina’s partner is Gerald, one of the worst students in the class. Gerald doesn’t care about
biology and only signed up for the class because he was required to do so. All year long, he’s put in the
bare minimum effort and, as a result, has fallen behind. Valentina, on the other hand, is an unusually
good biology student. She is also highly motivated, driven by a desire to attend a prestigious college.
Despite her excellent scores on every test so far, however, Valentina knows that the group project will
determine her final grade in the class.
When Valentina and Gerald meet to design their experiment, it quickly becomes clear that after
almost a full year of slacking off, Gerald has neither the knowledge nor the skill to contribute to a
successful project. He gamely offers to help, but both he and Valentina know that he would almost
certainly be a hindrance if he got involved; Valentina would just have to re-do everything he did!
Ultimately, Valentina decides that the assignment is too important to leave to chance, and tells Gerald
not to attempt to make any significant contributions. Gerald feels guilty, but also relieved—he hadn’t
fully appreciated that his laziness might affect any other student negatively, and he’s glad that he won’t
be responsible for bringing Valentina’s grade down by doing substandard work. To be honest, he’s also
at least a little bit happy that his grade will get a boost because of Valentina’s excellent work.
Study Questions:
(1) To what extent, if any, is academic laziness ethically problematic? If it depends, what does it depend
on?
(2) Suppose Gerald wanted to contribute meaningfully to the project. Would Valentina have been
morally obligated to risk her grade by allowing him to take on major responsibilities? Why or why not?
(3) Should Valentina tell the teacher that Gerald did not contribute to the project? Why or why not?
12. Contributing to Gentrification
Dave is a recent college graduate who has just started working his first career-track job in the
city. His commute from the suburbs to work is over an hour, and he wants to live in the city to be close
to work and to enjoy an active night life with his friends who live in the city. Rent in most places in the
city is too expensive, but there is an up-and-coming urban neighborhood that he can afford.
Historically, this had been a relatively impoverished neighborhood with a high crime rate which made it
undesirable to young professionals like Dave. But now it’s undergoing gentrification.1 New coffee
shops, bars, restaurants, and independent clothing boutiques have moved into the neighborhood, and
these have attracted people willing to pay higher rents to move in. As these new, wealthier residents
have moved into the neighborhood, along with the higher-end businesses that serve them, rents have
increased; now, many residents and businesses that have been part of the community for decades can no
longer afford to stay. Dave dislikes how gentrification can disrupt established communities, but he
knows that he would also very much enjoy a shorter commute and a fun and vibrant yet affordable life
in the city.2 “Would it be wrong of me to move into this neighborhood and thus contribute to the
problems of gentrification and displacement?” Dave wonders. Dave feels dejected wondering about the
right thing to do. Torn by the issue, he posts his dilemma on social media to gather the opinions of his
friends.
In response to Dave’s social media post, Angelie replies, “I love living in the neighborhood.
Thanks for pricing me out…” Jonas replies, “Haha, you’re a gentrifier!” Greg replies, “You’ve got it all
wrong. It’s a myth that gentrification causes widespread displacement. Even though some residents do
move out, many long-term residents actually want to stay and see their neighborhoods improve. Also,
some gentrified areas become more diverse rather than less.”3 Kristina replies, “If you’re not going to
move in, other people will. So, it might as well be you. At least you have a conscience and can address
the problems of displacement and poverty in other ways.” Clearly, gentrification is a complex
phenomenon with many dimensions – moral, social, and political. Dave’s informal poll has only made
him more confused and troubled.
Study Questions:
(1) Assuming that gentrification does directly cause displacement, should Dave feel guilty if he chooses
to move into this neighborhood? Why or why not?
(2) Does anyone have a right to live in a particular neighborhood? Why or why not?
(3) Overall, is gentrification positive or negative? Explain.
1 http://www.pbs.org/pov/flagwars/what-is-gentrification/
2 https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/09/this-is-what-happens-after-a-neighborhood-gets-gentrified/432813/
3 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/five-myths-about-gentrification/2016/06/03/b6c80e56-1ba5-11e6-8c7b-
6931e66333e7_story.html?utm_term=.ea16721c7e70
13. Losing Admission to Harvard
In early June 2017, The Harvard Crimson reported that Harvard had rescinded the admission offers of at
least 10 students who had previously been admitted to Harvard’s Class of 2021.1 Harvard rescinded these offers
because of the students’ participation in a Facebook group devoted to sharing highly offensive memes—including
memes joking about sexual assault, child abuse, and the Holocaust, and memes mocking racial or ethnic
minorities.2 While the Facebook group was not affiliated with Harvard, it was exclusively for members of
Harvard’s Class of 2021, and was formed by students who found each other on the official Facebook group for
students admitted to that class—a page managed by the university’s Admissions Office to help students connect
with each other before arriving on campus.
To some people, Harvard’s decision seems like an objectionable form of censorship or thought-policing.
For instance, one student interviewed by The Crimson thought that as long as people aren’t directly harming or
threatening someone else, they “can post whatever they want because they have the right to do that,” adding that it
was just “people doing stupid stuff.” Moreover, since this Facebook group was not officially affiliated with
Harvard, this may seem like an unwarranted intrusion into students’ private social media lives. Partly due to such
concerns, some colleges shy away from monitoring students’ social media. The University of California system,
for instance, issued a statement that “Social media presence plays no role in our admissions process. […] Only if
an incident is reported to us that purportedly violated our Principles of Community and/or Student Code of
Conduct, will it be investigated in the proper channels.”3
Others defend Harvard’s decision. Students are frequently reminded that their social media activity has
consequences. In fact, the official Facebook group for Harvard’s Class of 2021 explicitly states, “As a reminder,
Harvard College reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission under various conditions including if an
admitted student engages in behavior that brings into question his or her honesty, maturity, or moral character.” In
this case, many people think that the offending students simply crossed the line. “I appreciate humor, but there are
so many topics that just should not be joked about,” said another student interviewed by The Crimson—“those
actions really spoke about the students’ true characters.” Additionally, some people argue that Facebook groups
like the one in question promote a less respectful culture, and undermine colleges’ attempts to establish safe and
welcoming learning environments—especially for members of socially disadvantaged groups that are often
targets of vicious memes. Thus colleges have a responsibility to place a check on their students’ social media
behavior.
But some who agree that the students should not have shared these offensive memes still worry that
having their admissions rescinded was too harsh a penalty. Perhaps there was a better way to make this into a
learning opportunity for these students and their peers. Rescinding admissions offers, it might even be argued,
could have a chilling effect on student speech, and might ultimately scare students away from discussing
important issues openly and honestly in an online setting. But then again, maybe not—there is a clear difference
between engaging in an open and honest debate about sensitive topics, and sharing patently offensive jokes.
Study Questions:
(1) Should students’ social media presence play a role in the college admissions process? If so, what kind of role?
(2) Should offensive social media use lead to rescinding admission? If so, how should we decide what is offensive
enough? And how should the line between public and private social media be drawn?
(3) How should the right to students’ free speech be weighed against colleges’ interest in promoting safe and
welcoming learning environments?
1 http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2017/6/5/2021-offers-rescinded-memes/
2 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/06/05/harvard-withdraws-10-acceptances-for-offensive-memes-in-privatechat/?
utm_term=.8b3418679c83
3 http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/06/06/531591202/harvard-rescinds-admission-of-10-students-over-obscene-facebook-messages
14. HR Confidential
Fatima works in the HR department at a large tech company. She has recently learned that
Travis, a programmer at her company, is applying for a job at a small startup where her friend Alice also
works. In her role in HR, Fatima knows that during his time with the company, Travis has been accused
of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior by multiple coworkers. However, there was never
enough evidence of misconduct for him to be fired or significantly reprimanded. Because the company
never found him guilty of any misconduct, the accusations against Travis are strictly confidential.
Fatima knows that Travis has a great reputation in the field and is very likely to be hired by
Alice’s company, which knows nothing of the past accusations against him. While he was never found
guilty of any misconduct, she is quite confident, given her own review of the evidence, that Travis very
likely sexually harassed his coworkers and may do the same at another company.
Alice’s position with her company is such that she could affect the decision about whether to hire
Travis. For this reason, Fatima is considering telling Alice about the accusations against Travis, even
though doing so would be a violation of confidentiality. While Travis would be unlikely to get away
with future misconduct at his current job given past accusations against him, Fatima thinks that if given
a fresh start at a new company, he may feel he can harass coworkers again with impunity. And he
wouldn’t be going to just any company but one where her friend Alice works.
On the other hand, Fatima’s judgment that Travis is guilty goes against what the company found,
and she is not absolutely sure that her assessment of the evidence is the correct one. She worries that if
he is in fact innocent, she would be unfairly hurting his career. Furthermore, she takes very seriously the
fact that telling Alice anything about the company’s internal investigation of Travis would be a serious
violation of confidentiality. Finally, she realizes that doing it could get her fired or even sued.
Nevertheless, she is not sure she can simply leave Alice in the dark about the situation.
Study Questions:
(1) Fatima obviously doesn’t want Alice to be the subject of sexual harassment. But she also doesn’t
want to damage Travis’s career prospects if he is in fact innocent, and she admits that she isn’t sure if he
is guilty. What should she do? How should we decide what to do, ethically speaking, in conditions of
uncertainty?
(2) Is it morally permissible to violate what we can suppose are morally justified company rules in order
(potentially) to bring about a morally desirable outcome?
(3) Is it fair to change one’s behavior towards someone accused of sexual harassment if that person has
not been found guilty of any charges?
15. Sperm of the Dead
Amy’s husband, Bob, has just died tragically in an accident. Before Bob’s death, the couple had
agreed that they would like to have children together one day, though they never had a conversation
about exactly when they would start their family. After Bob was pronounced dead, Amy began inquiring
about a process called posthumous sperm retrieval, a procedure in which doctors would retrieve Bob’s
sperm, potentially allowing Amy to become pregnant with Bob’s child.
Amy is still committed to the couple’s shared goal of one day starting a family. She doesn’t want
to raise just any child; she wants to raise Bob’s child. She thinks that their earlier conversations about
someday having a family make it morally permissible for doctors to go ahead with the retrieval
procedure.
But some of Bob’s family members are uneasy about Bob fathering a child after his death. They
feel uncomfortable with the fact that the retrieval would occur without Bob’s consent and find the whole
process objectionably intrusive. Amy, they argue, does not own or have a right to Bob’s sperm.
Study Questions:
(1) Would the situation be different if Amy and Bob had never seriously discussed the possibility of
having children? Why or why not?
(2) What moral difference, if any, does the opinion of Bob’s family members about the procedure
make?
(3) What difference, if any, would it make if Bob’s religious beliefs precluded organ donation after
death?