A colleague of mine was recently overpaid $7000 by our employer. Naturally the money was responsibly spent by snorting blow off of strippers’ legs, cheap cocktails, and partying in a hotel room with a dwarf rabbit named Fredrick. After he woke up, terrified and coming down in a bathtub full of ice he noticed Fredrick was missing with the briefcase of money. In an attempted to piece together his past 24 hours I sifted through a handful of $50 notes that were scattered throughout the bed sheets, interwoven with rabbit fur and an 8-inch stiletto, and I started to wonder about free money.
Everybody knows a story of a couple kids who stumbled across a briefcase stuffed with cash and did the noble thing by handing it into the police . What would you do? Would you hand the money into the police? Would you hand in the whole amount? Because hey, who would notice if few thousand dollars went missing from the briefcase by the time you handed it into the police? Surely the money is drug money, so it’s not really stealing, is it? But what if the drug dealers stashed the money because they knew the bills were marked, so when you go to purchase that 100inch plasma TV, the Tactical Response Group will come repelling down the side of the building and ram your head through the glass counter, arresting what they believe to be Australia’s biggest dope dealer?
Making decisions for yourself can be hard, mainly because there is no one else you can blame when those decisions end up with awful results. Luckily men, bearded men, have thought it wise to write down their theories on how to make decisions, and the best thing is when you’re using other peoples logic you can pass the blame onto them.
Let us ask, “What to do if we found a large sum of money?” by throwing it into a steel cage match of Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance vs Mill’s Principle of Utility. Without the worry of self-blame we are sure to find an answer where we always end up the winner…
What is Mill’s Principle of Utility?
‘Seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number’
Mill’s Principle of Utility states, when considering an ethical situation, one must try to make the decision that will benefit the most number of people in the most positive way. When making an ethical decision one must figure out who will be affected by that decision and how strongly they will be affected by that decision.
It is not only about the greatest number with Mill. If a large number people are only slightly benefited by an act and a small number of people are greatly disadvantaged, then the decision is not ethically justifiable as, the pain felt by the few outweighs the joy felt by the many.
How can it solve our problems?
Those who would be the most affected by your decision, whether to keep the large sum of money you found, would be yourself and the person/s who hid the money.
Using Mill’s principle you could justify the potential happiness of deciding to hand in the money outnumbers the potential sadness of not handing in the money.
The sadness and happiness of the person/s who hid the money will remain fairly constant because with whichever decision you make they end up without the money.
The deciding factor then becomes the sadness experienced by going to prison for a few years, due to the police having marked the money, and how that would far outweigh the joy of getting to freely spend bulk money for a couple months.
Even though possibility of being caught by the police is not as high as having an amazing time, blowing through a large amount of money with a dwarf rabbit named Fredrick, the potential sadness of years in prison with giant bear of a man named Fredrick is far greater.
Ethics is for ‘tards, you’ll never take my money!
Not happy with the decision about deciding to hand the money into the proper authorities? Well the brilliance of using ethical principles to make hard decisions is you can decide to ignore the ethical principles that go against the decisions that you really want to make and find one that will.
Let’s take a look at Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance.
What is Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance?
‘Justice emerges when negotiating without social differentiations’
The idea behind Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance is the notion that, when considering an ethical dilemma, one must consider the reactions of everyone involved in the situation. One must consider how they would react as, if they were, any one of the people who would be affected by the ethical dilemma.
How can it solve our problems?
Using Rawls’ veil of ignorance with the situation of discovering a large sum of money first we must consider who are in the interested parties involved with the large sum of money.
If we decided to keep the money those involved would be:
The person/s who found the money – If you found the money and decided you wanted to keep it then you would have bulk cash to buy shiny things.
The friends and families of the people/s who found the money – If your friend or family member suddenly came upon a large amount of cash they would, unless of course you were always a jerk to them, buy you lots of awesome presents.
The person/s who hid the money – You would be pretty bummed to go back to your hiding spot after waiting till you were definitely sure the fuzz was finally off your arse and discover the money had gone missing.
The people/s who created the reason for hiding the money –If you had been tailing a criminal and your whole investigation was dependant on linking the large of amount of money with that criminal you would be pretty disappointed in your wasted time, but at least you got paid for it.
The Australian Government – If you were a member of a Federal Government who was trying to take claim for the state of the economy a sudden increase in retail spending might give you an opportunity to claim that you are responsible due to the finding of stimulus checks that had gotten wedged at the back of couches across the homes of battling Australian families.
If we decided to hand the money into the police those involved would be:
The person/s who found the money – If you had discovered a large amount of money and decided to hand it into the police, for the rest of your life, you would beat your self up thinking of all the awesome things you could have spent the money on. This will of course spiral into depression, which could only possibly end by throwing yourself off of the tallest building you know, which unfortunately for you is your parents 2 storey house, thus adding suicide to the ever increasing list of things you suck at.
The person/s who hid the money – If you were the person who hid the money you would be pretty happy because even though you didn’t end up with the money you’re pretty sure the police were onto you and now they have no evidence to send you to prison.
The people/s who created the reason for hiding the money – If you had been tailing a criminal and you knew this caused them to be so paranoid they virtually volunteered to hand the money into the police themselves you would be able to sleep fairly soundly at night knowing the work you are doing is really making a difference.
What does Rawls want you to do with the money?
With Rawls’ veil, when deciding an ethical dilemma, one must think how they would react as anyone of those involved. Using this theory you should keep the money, because deciding to hand the money could lead to life suffering with depression and failed suicide attempts and nobody would ever choose that option for themselves. The worst possible outcome for any of those involved, if you decided to keep the money, is for the people who hid the money because they end up without any.
Learning how to use ethics for those big questions can save much time and anguish because always remember if you don’t want to make a decision for yourself there are plenty of other people out there who are happy to make one for you.