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According to Objectivism, is this morally acceptable?

A plumber tells an elderly lady she needs her toilet fixed. It will cost her $100,000. She is old and agrees to pay this. Would this be permissable?

Legal? Absolutely. Morally acceptable? Perhaps not. My question to you is this...why on earth wouldn't the old lady just get a cheaper plumber? If she's mentally incompetent then no agreements she would make would stand anyhow and she'd be under guardianship. Presumably her guardian would find a cheaper plumber.

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Legal? Absolutely. Morally acceptable? Perhaps not. My question to you is this...why on earth wouldn't the old lady just get a cheaper plumber? If she's mentally incompetent then no agreements she would make would stand anyhow and she'd be under guardianship. Presumably her guardian would find a cheaper plumber.

Let's say doctors have exaamined her and think she's mentally competent. Thus she has no guardian but she's old, has no relatives and is out of touch with the world, she has no idea about plumbing and is naive. She is far too trusting of other people even strangers.

Edited by Hobhouse22
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So much context is missing the question can hardly be answered. Is this a Victorian-age toilet of special value that can only be fixed by plumbers who have special knowledge of plumbing of the time period? Is she naive with people because she has a billion dollars? How does a person who doesn't know how to spend money properly get to be old and then have $100,000 to spend? And who's to say $100,000 is too much? The ONLY question that can be applied to this situation here is if the plumber lied about the condition of the toilet such that it would seem to be worthwhile to spend a lot of money.

Edited by Eiuol
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So much context is missing the question can hardly be answered. Is this a Victorian-age toilet of special value that can only be fixed by plumbers who have special knowledge of plumbing of the time period? Is she naive with people because she has a billion dollars? How does a person who doesn't know how to spend money properly get to be old and then have $100,000 to spend? And who's to say $100,000 is too much? The ONLY question that can be applied to this situation here is if the plumber lied about the condition of the toilet such that it would seem to be worthwhile to spend a lot of money.

No, no and her late husband left her the money. If the plumber lied would it be wrong to charge her what he did? If the plumber says he really did think it needed all that money spent on it would that justify his actions?

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No, no and her late husband left her the money. If the plumber lied would it be wrong to charge her what he did? If the plumber says he really did think it needed all that money spent on it would that justify his actions?

See, that's what I mean by not enough context. You can keep adding and adding until you're tired. The important thing to do is focus on some general principle when asking ethical questions, and in this case, all you really need to think about is the trader principle. Lying here would be a violation of rights to the extent that it would be fraud, since you are coercing the other person to act in a particular way that is not related to their own evaluation of reality. If the plumber does honestly think that $100,000 is a fine price, he has done nothing wrong.

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See, that's what I mean by not enough context. You can keep adding and adding until you're tired. The important thing to do is focus on some general principle when asking ethical questions, and in this case, all you really need to think about is the trader principle. Lying here would be a violation of rights to the extent that it would be fraud, since you are coercing the other person to act in a particular way that is not related to their own evaluation of reality. If the plumber does honestly think that $100,000 is a fine price, he has done nothing wrong.

The added information about how she got her wealth etc wasn't initially given because it was not relevant to the question at hand. I only provided it to see if you would come back on those points.

So essentally it comes down to what the plumber says, who if he's a fraud would lie to the police anyway and say he really did believe that it was worth $100,000. Is that not far too on the side of the plumber? Why not get the views of other plumbers to see if they agree it was worth $100,000. If so, its' fine. If not, he's a fraud. Why should the plumber get the final say and effectively determine if he's a fraud or not?

Edited by Hobhouse22
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If the plumber says he really did think it needed all that money spent on it would that justify his actions?
Does he say it, or does he really think it? If he really thinks it, then it would justify his actions but only if we ignore the broader context. Generally, if he is mistaken, if that is the best of his knowledge, and if he is acting to that best, then we cannot ask for more within that limited context. It does not make it right, but it would "justify" his actions in the sense that one can only expect people to act to their best moral judgement. I qualified by saying "only if we ignore the broader context". If we're judging people, we cannot simply stop at what they think: we can also ask why they would think it. If the error is enormous, it might point to a deeper flaw. The (slightly) broader context here is to ask: "How can a plumber think that?" The likely reasons for him to be so super-ignorant would point us to a different type of immorality. At least on the face of it, my guess is that he is immoral even to call himself a plumber.

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Does he say it, or does he really think it? If he really thinks it, then it would justify his actions but only if we ignore the broader context. Generally, if he is mistaken, if that is the best of his knowledge, and if he is acting to that best, then we cannot ask for more within that limited context. It does not make it right, but it would "justify" his actions in the sense that one can only expect people to act to their best moral judgement. I qualified by saying "only if we ignore the broader context". If we're judging people, we cannot simply stop at what they think: we can also ask why they would think it. If the error is enormous, it might point to a deeper flaw. The (slightly) broader context here is to ask: "How can a plumber think that?" The likely reasons for him to be so super-ignorant would point us to a different type of immorality. At least on the face of it, my guess is that he is immoral even to call himself a plumber.

Assuming that he really did think it was worth $100,000, does that not mean that his incompetence in failing to evalaute the problem properly saves him from punishment and allows him to keep the money?

Alternatively let's say he really think its worth $100,000 because he thinks he's the best plumber around and that's just what he charges. He knows it alot but he thinks he's worth it. He's not incompetent, he's aware he's charging the lady alot and other plumbers would charge her much less. Is he a fraud? Can he still keep the money?

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Your question reduces to this presupposition: that a person has an obligation to seek a lesser value rather than a greater value, if he believes that his trade partner seeks a lesser value rather than a greater value. That is, a man must act altruistically, as guardian of the interests of another, if he believes the other is not acting selfishly. And clearly that presupposition is false. Maybe you can maintain the skeleton of the hypothetical by an elaboration like "and the plumber told the old lady that this reflects the standard charge for this job by all plumbers" in which case you will introduce fraud into the scenario.

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Your question reduces to this presupposition: that a person has an obligation to seek a lesser value rather than a greater value, if he believes that his trade partner seeks a lesser value rather than a greater value. That is, a man must act altruistically, as guardian of the interests of another, if he believes the other is not acting selfishly. And clearly that presupposition is false. Maybe you can maintain the skeleton of the hypothetical by an elaboration like "and the plumber told the old lady that this reflects the standard charge for this job by all plumbers" in which case you will introduce fraud into the scenario.

So does that mean that your answer to the question is yes, as long as there is no fraud.

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  • 3 weeks later...

The added information about how she got her wealth etc wasn't initially given because it was not relevant to the question at hand. I only provided it to see if you would come back on those points.

Suart Hayashi wrote an essay on "The Argument from Arbitrary Metaphysics." Basically, he shows why strawmen are not real and need not be considered.

In the initial problem, the victim was judged mentally competent by her doctors, but incompetent by her plumber. There is a problem in that. I am 60; my wife is 55. We work with our minds and we are aging. She just went through a four-hour examination that provided a multidimensional profile of strengths and weaknesses, norms and variances. There is no such thing as "mentally competent" (except in a government court of law).

I am sorry not to have the exact reference, but in Isaac Asimov's "Black Widowers" anthologies there is a story. The Black Widowers is a society of amateur sleuths who meet to unravel whatever mystery is brought to them once a month by a dinner guest. One month a man comes with an "unsolvable" problem. They hear him out and offer their insights. Each is deflected in turn with new information. Finally, the butler, Henry (as is always the case) offers the solution: He is lying. The guest was making up reasons not to accept the solution based on the facts given originally. So, too, here, is this a lie. Not that HobHouse22 is evil, but that the situation offered is unreal and each adjustment is required specifically because the inital problem was unreal.

HobHouse22 was only asking a different (and interesting) question: What are the limits of commercial ethics?

You do not need to make up little old ladies and plumbers. My professional hobby is numismatics, the art and science of the forms and uses of money, which most people call "coin collecting." I speak at conventions; I have been granted literary awards. I do this well. The hobby guys think that Home Shopping Network is deplorable, a scam, a ripoff. Many denounce Littleton Coin Company, also. The reason is that those entities charge "too much." To the hobbyist, it is obvious that no one should pay $60 for a $50 coin, when with four or five hours in a coin shop you can find one almost as nice without too many problems for $40. These same guys rave to heaven about the "1804 Dollar" and the "1913 Nickel" which are multi-million dollar auction items whose pedigrees have names. I consider them junk. The genuine 1804 Dollars are only "novodels" a Russian word for special work for friends of the Mint. The 1913 Nickels are all fakes. But that is just my opinion, apparently, as the multi-million dollar price tags prove that the market is always right. These famous collectors are successful businessmen. Can you tell someone with a multi-mega-dollar Beverly Hills car dealership that he doesn't know value?

So, if you want to discuss real cases, there are many. If you want to put a theoretical wrapper around these specifics, we can do that. What are the limits of commercial ethics? Can you cite cases?

Those are real questions.

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