Torturing animals is bad

Last month the New York Times Magazine ran a gut-wrenching article exploring the relationship between animal cruelty and human-on-human violence.  A taste:

The link between animal abuse and interpersonal violence is becoming so well established that many U.S. communities now cross-train social-service and animal-control agencies in how to recognize signs of animal abuse as possible indicators of other abusive behaviors. In Illinois and several other states, new laws mandate that veterinarians notify the police if their suspicions are aroused by the condition of the animals they treat. The state of California recently added Humane Society and animal-control officers to the list of professionals bound by law to report suspected child abuse and is now Continue reading “Torturing animals is bad”

The competitive spirit

Christopher Hitchens takes to the pages of Newsweek to publish a glorious anti-Olympics rant.  The subtitle is the thesis:  “How the Olympics and other international competitions breed conflict and bring out the worst in human nature.”

Hitchens is too quick to declare the issue settled, but he’s on to something interesting.  What should moral philosophers– especially virtue ethicists– say about the character trait of competitiveness?  Hitchens is making the “vice” case:  excessive competitiveness can, indeed, bring out the worst in us.

There’s no doubt that the competitive spirit, allowed or encouraged to run amok, can have the terrible consequences Hitchens catalogs.  But the same can be said of uncontroversial virtues.  Generosity, allowed or encouraged to run amok, can lead to terrible outcomes.  Consider the excessively (or exclusively) generous person who might help a jonesing addict buy his next dose of heroin, or help a struggling thief carry a heavy painting away from a museum.

But what of a competitive spirit bounded by virtues like kindness, generosity, and perspective?  It seems to me that, bounded by other virtues, a competitive spirit might be revealed as a virtue.  It is, or can be, a major driver of self-improvement.  It is, or can be, the competitive spirit that drives the violinist to stay up late practicing in hopes of winning first chair.  It is, or can be, the competitive spirit that drives the inspiring sorts of achievement we sometimes see in events like the Olympics.

Related articles:

Kantian Virtue
By Anne Margaret Baxley, Washington University in St. Louis
(April 2007)
Philosophy Compass

Contemporary virtue ethics
By Karen Stohr, Georgetown University
(February 2006)
Philosophy Compass

Bonus payments: A special form of greed?!

GeizGreed is nowadays most often associated with money and courtesy to the recession, now mainly with bankers. A simple definition of greed is that those who are greedy want more of what they already have. And studying ethics, we know that greed is a vice and therefore wrong.  Since the recession bankers are portrayed as greedy and as acting against their clients, and therefore against society at large. For the past weeks a new “problem” in the world of banking has cropped up: the payment of bonus payments. By definition bonuses are paid for extraordinary work. If employees really outdid themselves, they receive a special reward. Only that this definition does not seem to be valid anymore. Bonuses have become a part of employment contracts and of employment deals. They are seen as something the employee is entitled to. Therefore bonuses seem to bring about a new form of greed. It is not only greed about the money it seems, but also about the gratification. Bonuses are more than sheer payments, they give the employee perceived job-security. But the problem now is that if bonuses are paid to bankers from banks that have received money from the government, that same government de facto gratifies bankers for making mistakes in the first place. The clients that were mistreated are, via their tax money, now rewarding the bankers. The bankers on the other hand claim that they earned the bonuses and will be motivated to work more successfully, which is then beneficial for the client. It is a vicious cycle!?!

A times article dealing with the bailout is here, and a whole plethora of articles about the topic at large is here.

$1.99 - small Business Ethics: An Overview
By Jeffrey Moriarty, Bowling Green State University
(Vol. 3, August 2008)
Philosophy Compass