Category Archives: Problems

Query: Should the US defend Google?

So, another query: Should the US defend Google?  Why or why not?US to protest formally to China over Google ‘attacks’

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humanitarian intervention question

A question: do people think international humanitarian intervention (or any international intervention, for that matter; perhaps even any intervention at all) has to be coercive?  That is, as a conceptual issue, is intervention necessarily coercive?

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Credit Cards and Exploitation

PBS‘ Frontline this week aired an interesting episode on the credit card industry, which began with a discussion of some of the controversial practices initiated by Providian and soon adopted by the bulk of its competitors. I think the episode raises some interesting philosophical questions about the nature and moral force (to borrow Alan Wertheimer‘s term) of exploitation.

For instance, one of the practices Providian is said to have developed involved substituting what they called “stealth pricing” for explicit annual fees. Instead of charging all its customers a flat fee of, say, $50 per year, Providian offered cards with zero annual fee but with steep penalties for late payments, going over your credit limit, etc. To many customers, Providian’s cards thus appeared to be free. But Providian knew that many of its customers – especially the low-income, high credit-risk customers it was targeting – would wind up paying much more in penalties than they would have with a flat annual fee, even if most customers (wrongly) believed the opposite to be true.

So, at least at first glance, it looks like Providian was exploiting several kinds of vulnerability on the part of these customers.  First, the customers were vulnerable insofar as they were likely to do the things that would incur penalties. And secondly, they were vulnerable insofar as they tended to underestimate the extent to which they would do this, and hence underestimate the true cost of the cards Providian was offering. Providian took advantage of these vulnerabilities to enhance its own profit (which, at its peak according to the documentary, were around $1 billion per year).

Is this a case of wrongful exploitation? It might be, but the story raises a few questions in my mind.

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Should Laura Dekker be allowed to sail around the world?

What do people think about this case?  Should the Dutch have interfered with her and her parents?

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Vote Buying and Selling

Here are some questions I’m thinking about, and I wonder what you think.

Suppose, for the sake or argument, I’ve established that voters have a duty to vote for candidates or policies which they justifiedly believe will promote the common good.  Otherwise, they have a duty to abstain from voting.

Suppose that vote buying and selling are not illegal.  Now, suppose when Alf votes, he only votes for candidates whom he justifiedly believes will serve the common good.   So long as Alf does that, is there anything wrong with him selling his vote?  Is there anything wrong with paying him to vote that way?


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Recommendations for readings on human rights

Hi everyone,

A graduate student of mine is interested in doing some research on the topic of human rights.  I was wondering if anyone could recommend a good review article that presents the main debates in the contemporary literature on human rights, or a book that does the same.  I am not interested in a book that primarily offers its own distinctive take on the issue.  Rather, I would like something to help this student start to navigate the literature.

Thanks a lot for any ideas.


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