Philosophy

Unethical Ethicists Go to the Library

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A philosophy professor at UC-Riverside crunches some numbers and find that ethicists have stickier fingers than their colleagues:

Ethics books are more likely to be stolen than non-ethics books in philosophy (looking at a large sample of recent ethics and non-ethics books from leading academic libraries). Missing books as a percentage of those off shelf were 8.7% for ethics, 6.9% for non-ethics, for an odds ratio of 1.25 to 1.

Do these numbers reflect book thieves in search of a cure for their compulsion? Or could the explanation be a rash of ironical practical jokesters trolling university libraries? Read more here.

Via Marginal Revolution

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  1. The ghost of Abbie Hoffman?

  2. Would someone who does studies like this be referred to an an “unethicist?”

  3. didn’t K. McCarty tell a version of this joke in Slacker?

  4. ROFLMAO! Reminds me of a joke (perhaps now extinct) at the Command and General’s Staff College where someone from almost every class would post an “Ethics Papers $10” note on the bullitin board.

  5. I’ve always been amused at the notion that some people are held forth as ethics “experts” in the first place.

    No one is capable of empirically proving that his (or her) concept of what is ethical is correct.

    Such things are inherently a matter of personal opinion and unprovable.

  6. Gilbert,

    I think you’re misunderstanding what “expertise” in their field is.

    Think of the Arts – no one can every prove objectively that a certain song is better than another. But one can know the history of music, and influence of such and such on the such and such.

    It’s expertise in the philosophy of ethics, not in the practice.

  7. “It’s expertise in the philosophy of ethics, not in the practice.”

    Philosophy – that’s something else that no one is an expert in.

    LOL

  8. I guess you can tell which ethics books are the best because they were returned after being stolen.

  9. No one is capable of empirically proving that his (or her) concept of what is ethical is correct. Such things are inherently a matter of personal opinion and unprovable.

    So an individual who considers it not the least bit unethical to rob and murder your mother will be let off the hook because his opinions on murder may differ from yours or society’s? Wow.

  10. “So an individual who considers it not the least bit unethical to rob and murder your mother will be let off the hook because his opinions on murder may differ from yours or society’s? Wow.”

    Did I say anthing about anybody getting off the hook for anything?

    I think not.

  11. Sounds like the makings of another Dr. Szasz thread.

  12. Woohoo! Shout out for UC Riverside! Go Highlanders!

  13. “So an individual who considers it not the least bit unethical to rob and murder your mother will be let off the hook because his opinions on murder may differ from yours or society’s? Wow.”

    Depends if the guy who does it works for the government.

    He who has the guns makes the rules.

  14. What’s my problem? Punks like you, that’s what. You think this is all a big joke, don’t you? You think because you’re an ethicist that somehow the law doesn’t apply to you, that you’re above the law? Well, let me tell you something, funny boy. Y’know that little stamp, the one that says “UC-Riverside Library”? Well that may not mean anything to you, but that means a lot to me. One whole hell of a lot.

    Sure, go ahead, laugh if you want to. I’ve seen your type before: Flashy, making the scene, flaunting convention. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. What’s this guy making such a big stink about old library books? Well, let me give you a hint, junior. Maybe we can live without libraries, people like you and me. Maybe. Sure, we’re too old to change the world, but what about that kid at the local university library, eager to learn about ethics, and finding that all the books on ethics are missing? Doesn’t HE deserve better?

    Look. If you think this is about missing books, you’d better think again. This is about that kid’s right to read a book without getting his mind warped! Or: maybe that turns you on, Mr. Ethicist; maybe that’s how y’get your kicks. You and your good-time buddies. Well I got a flash for ya, joy-boy: Party time is OVER.

  15. Library Investigation Officer? No, I think you are Lt. Bookman using a cheap disguise! Look copper, your cover is blown. We know who you are . . .

  16. “Philosophy – that’s something else that no one is an expert in.”

    Sure you can. You can understand the logic, presumptions, and implications of the writings from various schools of philosophy, and how the field has changed over time.

    You seem to think that “expertise” is the equivalent of “ability to accurately describe the world.” Not everything is a hard science.

  17. joe,

    No science is hard, it just takes longer to do the math for some of it 🙂

  18. Lt. Bookman: Best. One-Episode. Character. Ever.

  19. I’ve always been amused at the notion that some people are held forth as ethics “experts” in the first place.

    You said it. Every time NPR does a story using a “medical ethicist” as a source (usually denouncing some sort of patient reproductive choice) I’m always left wondering how he/she got the job?

  20. I own a used bookshop and we’ve found that philosophy in general is the most swiped from category after art books. Some of the former we don’t even bother shelving to try to sell locally but just list them online.

  21. I am not surprised. My study of philosophy made me less certain of popular morality. Fortunately, I never took an ethics class, but I could imagine that after reselling a semester’s books for about a six pack, I could well wonder if it was truly I who was stealing from them. Every time some philosopher tried to explain to me why I should be a good Christian (or whatever,) it only seemed to call attention to ungrounded assumptions.

    I like to think that I do the “right” thing because biology and society have conditioned me to do so. I like studying philosophy, but a lot of it just sharpened my critique of the intended messege.

  22. Here’s what people who study ethics are good for and (ideally) good at:

    A: [gives some reason for holding some view]

    B: That reason you just gave commits you to the view that it’s morally permissible to torture old people to death.

    A: Oh yeah, crap.

  23. Another way of making the same (or at least a similar point):

    People are naturally going to do ethics. There’s going to be discussions on right and wrong, and people are going to give reasons and appeal to general principles to back up their views. And opponents are going to try to point out the unacceptable consequences of those reasons and principles. And people are going to try to show how those consequences don’t really follow, or that the original reasons or principles can be slightly revised so as to avoid the unacceptable consequences.

    People are going to do ethics, but because they’re dumb or unreflective or unexposed to other positions, they’re not going to be very good at it. So it’s nice to have people that are good at it, who can point out all the ways an ethical line of thought goes wrong, and point out possible ways of fixing it.

    Same goes for philosophy.

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