Chad Perrin: SOB

17 January 2009

ethical, unethical, and ethically excusable behavior

Filed under: Cognition,Liberty — apotheon @ 06:46

I recently wrote 6 jillion will die. You get lawn chairs. I’ll get popcorn.

In the comments, Mina said:

I’m not really sure what you mean by ethically excusable, does that mean you won’t get punished for it?

It’s a fair question — I didn’t really explain my meaning. The answer, if I’m limited to “yes” and “no”, is “sorta”. Basically, I mean that there are three kinds of action with regard to ethics:

  1. ethical: You have behaved in a manner that is not unethical. Others are not justified in acting against you, though they may be excused under coercive influences.

  2. unethical: You have behaved unethically, and others would be justified in acting to prevent you from behaving unethically in the future, or to prevent you in the performance of the act without having to resort to any excuses of coercion. An example of an unethical act would be shooting someone to take his money just because you want a new iPod. Others would be justified in shooting you to prevent this from happening, and to otherwise abridge your rights to prevent you from performing similar unethical acts in the future if there’s danger that you might do so. The justification for that is a little complex, so I won’t get into that here, though I may address it in a separate SOB entry later.

  3. ethically excusable: You are subject to coercion, such that your ethical rights are abridged — and acts taken to restore your own rights may be excusable, so that you are not subject to being ethically restrained after the fact to protect the rights of others even if your only means of restoring the sanctity of your own rights is by violating those of another. In short, an ethically excusable act is one that would normally be an unethical act — i.e., is not ethically justified — when you are subject to coercion that effectively reduces or eliminates your personal culpability in the act. An example of such an act might involve a person named Foo cutting the brake lines on the car belonging to a person named Bar, and Bar starts driving it. When Bar tries to stop the car before running you over, (s)he discovers the brakes don’t work. The ethically excusable act in this case would be using your eye-lasers to blow up the car and save your own life, even at the expense of Bar’s, because you are subject to the consequences of Foo’s coercive act. In short, you act in self-defense, even though your act is actually against the person who is not culpable for the threat to your life.

What . . . you don’t have eye-lasers too? Is that just me? Damn, I have to rethink my level of normalcy.


  1. So if Bar then tosses up his reflecto shield before my eye lasers hit him, and my eye lasers reflect back onto me and incinerate me, is that also ethically excusable?

    Comment by Mina — 18 January 2009 @ 01:09

  2. Yep. Bar’s just defending h(im|er)self.

    Comment by apotheon — 18 January 2009 @ 02:40

  3. Heh. That’s a bit strange, but it’s consistent. Gonna go think about it some more.

    Also, how do you get a nifty icon while posting here?

    Comment by Mina — 18 January 2009 @ 03:18

  4. I got mine by getting an account at and setting an icon there.

    Comment by apotheon — 18 January 2009 @ 04:20

  5. […] talked to Mina (of Smushee fame) about good economics reads. In the course of the discussion, she mentioned her Books I need […]

    Pingback by Chad Perrin: SOB » not my reading list — 20 January 2009 @ 02:26

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