Ethical Inquiry: The Ethics of Job Choice


At around noon every Thursday, the smell of curry and steaming plates of rice wafts out of Wilson 101. While Kabob and Curry may be the incentive for some, in reality, most come for the discussion–vibrant, student-led, philosophical, discursive and oh-so-very Brown. The room was tightly packed with newcomers and regulars alike. I arrived at 12:05 and much to my chagrin, there was a dearth of Kabob and Curry. A regular told me, “You gotta get here at 11:50 for that.”

“Ethical Inquiries” are hosted weekly by the Philosophy DUG on a wide variety of topics, including the ethics of hip-hop discussion last month. This week’s topic hit particularly close to home, especially for juniors and seniors who are all attempting to escape the inevitable question, “what are you going to do post-grad?”

The discussion aimed to ask slightly more (but only slightly) unanswerable questions:

1. What ethical considerations should there be when choosing a career?

2. Do we have a duty to leave the world better than (or as good as) it was when we entered it?

3. What does our choice of career say about our idea of the ‘good life’?

After a short introduction by members of the Philosophy DUG, we were off. The discussion began in a typical liberal arts fashion, with a member of the group answering question #2 with a decisive, “Locke would say, yes, we do,” citing his belief that while you can take some things and claim them as private property, you cannot take so much that would prohibit access to those same things for others.

The commenter also invoked notions of intergenerational justice, the idea that if you are to act rationally, you need to leave the world a better place than it was when you found it because you would want the same done to you. In other words, it’s the golden rule–on a macroscopic level.

But Locke’s credentials for making moral rules–and their application to employment ethics–were quickly contested when someone pointed out that “Locke was also a slave trader.” It was the first acknowledgement of what was to become the ultimate dilemma identified throughout the conversation: lofty ideals vs. practicality and one’s actions.

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