So I just discovered that Chuck Klosterman is now ‘The Ethicist’ for the NYT! I expect readers of this blog are familiar with this regular column in the Times, and maybe familiar with Klosterman, who writes really cool, funny, smart essays on popular culture. But an ‘ethicist’? In his last column– http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/02/magazine/can-i-use-the-same-paper-for-multiple-college-courses.html–Klosterman argues that there is nothing unethical in submitting the same paper for multiple classes. More interesting than his position here is his response to the backlash by readers who find this practice objectionable on the grounds that it is lazy and/or dishonest, readers who go on to impugn Klosterman’s ‘credentials’ for writing the column in the first place. Klosterman attacks the whole idea of ‘ethical expertise,’ or the idea that the writer of a column titled ‘The Ethicist’ should need anything more than your average (ok, maybe slightly above average) share of intelligence, sensitivity, humanity, and good sense. Reader responses, along with Klosterman’s reaction, are discussed here:
I disagree with Klosterman, and think that his treatment of the double-submission issue shows his limitations as an ‘ethicist.’ I posted a comment which may or may not have posted by the time you read this, but I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the broader issue in play here. Do philosophically trained ethicists have a bona fide form of ethical expertise when it comes to analyzing ethical issues, and, if so, what does this ethical expertise consist in? (The bold font is meant to distinguish the kind of expertise at issue from more general intellectual skills that go along with philosophical training.)
UPDATE: Here’s my comment.
On Klosterman’s view, the double-submission practice does not harm other people, provide anyone with an unfair advantage, or engender an unjustified reward. THEREFORE, Klosterman reasons, the practice is ethically innocent. But Klosterman’s reasoning here is highly questionable, and it’s not unreasonable to expect an ‘ethicist’ to know that. For instance, what about harm-to-self? Plausibly, most students are taking the easy way out when double-submitting, and thus depriving themselves of an educational opportunity. Also, Klosterman is too quick to dismiss the appeal to institutional rules and codes of conduct. He’s right of course that creating a rule against X does not in itself render X unethical, but that’s a simplistic understanding of the point being made. The point is that institutions are rule-governed, and members/participants within those institutions commit themselves, if only implicitly, to conforming with the institution’s rules/codes OR seeking to revise those rules/codes through appropriate channels. Assuming we are not dealing with manifestly unjust institutions, anyone who flouts a rule simply because they don’t agree with it or ‘see the point’ is generally speaking acting unethically. At least, the ethical status of that behavior is not as straightforward as ‘The Ethicist’ seems to think–and if he were an ethicist by training, he would know that.