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In the fall 2009 semester philosophy students enrolled in Dr. Dixon’s PHI 104 “Moral Problems” course learned how to analyze an ethics case. At the end of the semester students were invited to write their own case study about a moral problem that emerged from their own experiences. The class voted to include the following four cases on the final exam.
Joseph and Dan are juniors who met each other their first weekend of freshmen year at Plattsburgh State. Since then the two have been inseparable. However, they are quite opposite. Dan is on a sports team, drinks a lot, is very outgoing, death defying, and an individual who believes in living in the moment and not caught up in the future. On the other hand, Joseph is a religious, conservative, family and school oriented person. In short, Dan is the life of the party, the person who consumes alcohol excessively and always has alcohol in his dorm. Joe is the opposite, but the two have grown to become great friends.
In the fall semester of junior year the two decided to live together in a suite but in separate rooms. The weekend before Columbus break, Dan decided to stock his room with alcohol. He bought two bottles of vodka, a 30 rack of beer and proceeded to concoct various alcoholic treats for him and his friends. Unable to stash all his treats in his room, he proceeded to Joseph's room to store the 30 rack in Joseph's fridge with several bottles still open. Joseph was not around. Dan knew Joseph’s code, so he punched in the code to his room and placed his 30 rack in the refrigerator without telling Joseph.
The next day Joseph decided to play a game of Mario. Joseph's roommate, Timmy, who is an exchange student here, was also playing with him. While playing the game Joseph left his room door open. Minutes later his RA came into the room and asked him to store a surprise cake he had bought for the RD in his refrigerator. Joseph did not want to stop playing the game, so he told his RA to go ahead. The RA opened the door and was surprised at the alcohol, Joseph himself was shocked. Subsequently, Joseph’s RA informed him he would be written up, as well as his roommate. They both denied they knew about it.
Timmy began to cry, because his scholarship had a clause that stated if he was to be in any form of trouble, he would lose his scholarship and any other chance of getting another from his country. Joseph was angered as well but did not blame Dan because Dan would lose his spot on the team and the scholarship which he desperately needed to finance his education. The three friends were in panic because of what was at stake. What is the morally right thing to do for each person in this case?
Ever since I entered High School, I played soccer for the varsity team, the Lakeshore Leopards. My High School was very small so there weren’t many people to choose from when trying out for the team. In fact, because of this, the team had never won a sectional game. Since 9th grade I had been dreaming of winning a sectional game for the first time, as had the rest of my teammates. The opportunity came our senior year in the fall of ’05 when we won our first sectional game; five to one. The wins kept coming until we made it all the way to the double c state semifinals with the next game at home. All that week we practiced until twilight or until it became too cold to practice anymore.
Now the reader must understand that we liked to fool around before practice as most high school kids do. Some of our favorite activities before practice included racing in our cars to the field, doing doughnuts on the gravel parking lot or skidding out on the gravel. On the day of the second to last practice before the big game, we were all in good spirits. We all raced each other to the field, narrowly avoiding accidents like usual. When we arrived at the field each of us did our own version of a skidding stop and a few did their own doughnuts on the gravel in celebration. We were all having a good time, laughing and fooling around when we noticed the new kid, Spencer, watching us from across the field. At the time we absolutely despised this kid because he always told on us for fooling around in the parking lot before practice. I think he told on us about five or six times and had gotten several teammates detention for their actions.
When we saw him watching us we immediately assumed he was going to tell the coach after practice. I guess we just didn’t want him to spoil our good spirits that day; several kids on my team started to talk about getting him back. Soon most of the team was gathered around talking about how to get Spencer back for ‘ratting us out’. The discussion continued on for several minutes until we saw Spencer crossing the field. We all stopped talking as he came closer because we figured he had heard us talking about him. He didn’t stop to talk to us but continued on to pass us and enter the port-a-john across the parking lot.
As soon as this happened Ryan, one of the best players on the team, had an idea to tip the port-a-john over while Spencer was in there. A few of my fellow friends and teammates loved the idea and enthusiastically volunteered to help. The others, including myself, didn’t like the idea too much, mostly because we thought it would get us into a lot of trouble. We decided not to participate but we also didn’t stop him from doing it. We just watched. Sure enough Ryan and two others (both of whom were starting players) jumped into his pickup truck. Ryan backed the car out while the other two stood in the back truck bed. He backed his truck into the rear of the port-a-john while the other two pushed the on the top of it and tipped it over onto its door side, preventing Spencer from getting out. By the time he kicked the side wall out and crawled out of the mess, everyone had run back to their cars and was acting like nothing happened. Spencer was covered in urine and feces, throwing up everywhere. Nobody admitted anything. The coach arrived saw what happened to Spencer and immediately asked what had happened. Everyone said they didn’t see anything until it was tipped over. Basically no one got into any serious trouble. We had to run all practice but that’s it.
That night I stayed up thinking about what had happened. I felt guilty that I didn’t stop it from happening and considered telling my coach the next day. But then I thought about what would happen to Ryan and the others if I told on them. I knew they wouldn’t be allowed to play for the rest of the season and probably would even get suspended from school. If they couldn’t play in the semifinal game, we would surely lose. It was our senior year and I was thinking about their college future. All three would be playing division-one soccer for their college teams the next year. I decided not to tell on them because I wanted to win and didn’t want them to get into trouble but that decision has been nagging at me ever since.
Should I have told my coach what really happened?
FYI: We went on to win the semifinals and went to the finals.
This past summer Susan had a job at the local mall as an employee at Bounce-Around. The Bounce-Around has different bounce equipment ranging from different bounce houses, a slide, a bounce obstacle course and a little kid section full of different inflatables. Her job included working the front desk, making sure that people paid as they entered, also informing the patrons of the rules of Bounce-Around, hosting birthday parties, watching the children while they are on the inflatables and cleaning the inflatables.
One rainy Saturday when Bounce-Around was particularly crowded, a mother and her mentally disabled son came to Bounce-Around. Bounce-Around does not discriminate and all children are allowed on the inflatables as long as they meet the height requirements. However, adults are not allowed on the bounces because they are not covered by Bounce-Around’s insurance. The mother was informed about the rules verbally by Susan as well as by the posted lists of rules.
This woman disregarded the rules and chose to follow her son onto the bounces. This is dangerous and against the rules because there is the possibility that an adult could slip and fall, and if either she or another child got hurt due to her actions the insurance would not cover it. This woman believed that her son needed special attention and constant supervision. Keep in mind that while it is the employee’s responsibility to watch the children while they are on the inflatables, they cannot afford to give one child special attention. The employees are also not allowed on the inflatables while there are children on them unless there is an emergency.
When it came to Susan’s attention that the woman was on the inflatable, Susan told the mother that she would have to get off, however, her child could stay. The woman responded by yelling at Susan, telling her that her child had every right to be on the inflatable as any other child. Susan agreed and reminded the woman that she had not told the child to get off but only the mother herself. The woman then responded by saying that she had to stay with her son in order to help him. At this point Susan left the woman to get the manager. The manager reiterated everything that Susan had just said. At this point the woman was very worked up, yelling at both Susan and the manager. The manager told the woman that it was for the safety of the other children that she was not allowed on the inflatables. This was not a satisfactory response. The woman accused both Susan and the manager of discriminating against her child. She went on to involve her lawyer and make legal threats to Bounce-Around.
Should children with special circumstances or needs be afforded special rules or a modification of the rules even if doing so increases the liability of the benefactor?
Jacob is a teenage student and a senior at Green Hill High School. After going to smoke a joint with friends in the woods as usual, he walked towards his home. With his parents always still at work by the time he returns to his house, Jacob is typically given about an hour to get rid of the evidence and straighten up before they walk through the door. Last week, however, his father unexpectedly arrived home early and found Jacob with a lighter and a dime bag sitting there on the coffee table. Jacob’s father, Arnold, was shocked. He told his son how disappointed he was in him and provided what he thought was an appropriate punishment. He gave him the strict orders to return home directly from school from then on. One day, Jacob arrived at his door to find his mom on her way out. Since his father was coming home within the half hour, Jacob’s mother trusted him enough to be home alone for the short period of time. Unable to find a ruler in his room that he needed to use for one of his school assignments, Jacob ventured into his parent’s room. Opening one of his father’s drawers, Jacob came upon not only a bowl, but also a fair amount of marijuana. While Jacob stood there in disbelief and anguish, he decided to take the items out of his father’s drawer and keep them for himself.
The next week Arnold came home early and caught Jacob smoking again. Just as Arnold was about to punish his son once more, he recognized the bowl sitting on the coffee table. Jacob sat there staring at his father. Should Arnold punish his son Jacob for smoking weed, when he does it himself? Is it morally right for him to punish Jacob if he believes that he is looking out for his son’s best interest?
For more information about the philosophy program at SUNY Plattsburgh please contact
Dr. Charles List, Chair
Office: Champlain Valley Hall 302
Phone: (518) 564-2833