An Ethical Gamble

This morning, I’m making a $100 bet that my students are ethical.

I got to class early, as I usually do, and left my things on the front table, again, like normal. I pushed my phone and wallet to the edge of the table, until the wallet fell to the floor, and the cash fanned out. A crisp $100 is there for the taking.

I’m curious about who will be the first to walk in the room and see it. I’m certain that none of them would actually take it, but depending on the person, they might really think about it.

We’re talking about Virtue Ethics today, my favorite way of thinking about ethics. Virtue Ethics denies the presumption that ethics is primarily about actions – this action is right, this action is wrong. Instead, it says that ethics is primarily about the virtues people hold. The right action is determined by acting in character with deeply held virtues. In this case, I think most of the students will say that they didn’t take the money because … well, they’re honest. They possess that virtue.

They didn’t do some complicated math about greater benefit to human happiness, they didn’t stop and consider God’s commands, they didn’t pull out their handy notes on Kant’s categorical imperative to only act in ways that are can be reasonably made universal. Instead they acted out of habit. Out of virtue. Out of a learned and cultivated perspective that values integrity.

We’ll see. I may be $100 short, and a little less idealistic, in about 10 minutes.

28 thoughts on “An Ethical Gamble

  1. Leonard

    I would try to be ethical for even…let’s say 75 bucks if you want to mail it too me. I also take credit cards.

  2. Cerise

    Students can generally tell when you’re experimenting with them and will subsequently find some way to seriously eff with you and your Benjamin. If they care, and/or have the energy, that is.

  3. michael lee Post author

    I overshot it. The guy who came into the room first knew right away that it was a setup. His comment was that $100 was way too much. If it were just $20, it would have been more of a temptation.

    They did seem to get the point though; they realized I wasn’t trying to “trick them” to see if they were ethical, but I was trying to get them to think about why they choose to act ethically.

    It led to a really great discussion of Virtue Ethics.

  4. corey

    Maybe next time you can leave my ebow out to see if somebody would grab it. Oh wait. You did. And they did. And then I blew your reimbursement on some other piece of gear that I’ve already forgotten and already sold. And now they don’t make ebows anymore. Virtue Ethics sucks.

  5. michael lee Post author

    Don’t blame Virtue Ethics for the fact that you find it impossible to pass up on things like a guitar made of Formica, or a $650 pedal that’s only trick is to make your guitar sounds like a wookie.

    That’s the GAS talkin’

  6. Chad

    Corey IS a serious gear whore. The gig with Taylor is not going to help things.

    If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to retreat back to my glass house with my rocks.

  7. Bobby

    I have one… an ebow that is. Not $100. Come borrow it any time.

    (Except next week when I am tracking guitars on the band’s new album)

  8. harmonicminer

    Good thing you didn’t drop the c-note in a faculty meeting. Though the resulting fist fight might have been fun to watch.

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