Ethics Town Hall 3
This image is currently unavailable Purpose
Our objective here is to evaluate the extent to which businesses are responsible for the impacts of their products, services, and operations on consumers and their communities.
This image is currently unavailable Directions
The opening statement and rebuttal have different due dates.
This image is currently unavailableDebate Topic:
Our case study for this debate is the Thierer reading on autonomous vehicles (“robot cars”). Suppose that a nationwide adoption of computer-guided driverless vehicles would result in a massive overall annual reduction in road fatalities, saving thousands of lives. But suppose that, in order for this to be possible, individual passengers will have to relinquish control over how vehicles respond to impending accidents, possibly sacrificing the life of one passenger to save a greater number of others involved in the crash. This tradeoff would save many more lives than would be sacrificed. And because the entire system would be automated, no one involved in any crash would be responsible for causing it. Your question is: should society implement this system? Why or why not? Spell out your reasons.
Please read the debate guidelines (Links to an external site.).
Read the tips for debate:
Wilson, J. (2016, August 22). Debate tips: A few tips for those daily arguments you get into (Links to an external site.).
National Speech and Debate Association. (n.d.). Debate training guide. (Links to an external site.)
Respond to the debate prompt. Explain your position on the question posed and justify your stance by providing reasons and evidence in the clearest terms possible. Please add “Opening Statement” in the first line of the post.
Please respond to at least one classmate’s opening statement. Explain and justify your reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with their position and the reasons for it they gave.
Please post your opening statement and rebuttal by clicking the Reply button below. The rebuttals should be posted as replies to other students’ opening statements.
Module 7 Ethics of Consumerism
In this module, we take a close look at the extent to which businesses are responsible for the impact of their products, services, and operations on consumers and their communities. We will find that issues of ethical leadership incumbent upon stakeholders arise on all sides of these relationships.
Upon successful completion of this module, you will be able to:
Practice nuanced dialogue around ethical responsibility in a leading industry.
Begin to reflect from a philosophical standpoint on the role and value of legal regulations on emerging technologies.
Weigh and balance the competing goods of public health, private profit, and consumer rights.
This module focuses on the following major topics:
Ethical problems of risk and responsibility within the insurance industry
Liability ethics around the transformative, emerging technology of automated vehicles
A practical case study raising ethical questions about protecting vulnerable persons from harmful products
Summary of Module Learning Activities
This section outlines the activities that you will complete in this module. It is recommended that you complete the readings in the module prior to submitting the assignments.
All readings below that are listed with page numbers are in our Ciulla et al. reader.
Stanley J. Modic, “How We Got into This Mess,” p. 283
Adam Thierer, “When the Trial Lawyers Come for the Robot Cars,” p. 303
Case 8.2: “Children and Reasonably Safe Products,” p. 306
A basic organizing assumption behind the material covered in this module is that businesses are responsible for their own operations, services, and products. But this starting point only leads to further and controversial questions about what should happen when bad things happen in the course of doing business. It can be tricky to determine the ethically (and legally) appropriate distribution of responsibility between the company, the consumer, and the community at large. This module’s main business (pun intended) is therefore to investigate such questions from a variety of perspectives.
Module 7 is organized around a set of concepts laid out by lawyer Peter Huber in his piece entitled “Liability.” There he addresses what he sees as an ongoing crisis in product liability law. Huber’s call for tort reform raises tough questions about how we should balance the need to hold companies accountable for the damage their products or operations cause to the public against the need to protect businesses from frivolous litigation and to ensure freedom in the marketplace.
One key concept to focus on in Huber’s essay is tort liability. Tort law, Huber explains, “is the law of accidents and personal injury.” It is used to adjudicate the conflicts over rights and responsibilities that arise when things go wrong. Someone has to step in and assign blame for harms caused by some to others in society. Courts provide this service. Tort law therefore aims to protect people’s rights and resolve disputes in a reasonable manner using fair procedures.
So far, so sensible. But Huber claims that this area of litigation has ballooned since the 1960s to such proportions that it has become a massive net drain on our society’s financial and other resources.
As you read and evaluate Huber’s argument, bear in mind the crucial distinction he draws between the concepts of contract/choice (“the realm of human cooperation”) and tort/coercion (“the realm of unchosen relationship and collision”) (p. 279).
Another concept to reflect on as you assess Huber is “safety tax.” This is the tax he makes so much of in his provocative (and polemical) opening remarks. What is the significance of Huber’s decision to frame the impact of tort liability in terms of an invisible but costly tax? It is clearly a bit of a metaphor, since, as he points out himself, the safety-adjusted price attached to products and services under the current tort paradigm is not the result of legislation or public referenda. Is this metaphor misleading
or revealing? The same questions apply to Huber’s rhetorical framing of the transformation in tort law over a few decades since the 1950s as a “violent revolution.”
Huber argues that the “revolution” in tort liability has made itself felt not only around automobiles (perhaps the most obvious venue for costly accident risk) but also in the area of contraceptives, childhood vaccination, workplace safety. Consider each of these areas in turn, being mindful of how risk and benefits enter into people’s dealings with each other in them. How would you map Huber’s distinction between “private choice” and “public choice” legal paradigms onto these areas? Which paradigm seems the best fit for each area?
Another key concept in Huber’s piece is strict liability. Huber locates the early origin of this expanded category of tort liability in a 1962 Supreme Court ruling. He defines strict liability as a “great leap” in the revolutionary “shift from consent to coercion in the law of accidents” (p. 281). Strict liability is a legal standard whereby a party to a dispute is responsible for the consequences resulting from something they make or do even in the absence of negligence or criminal intent. In the area of product liability, which is Huber’s focus here, strict liability means that providers of products or services are held responsible for any injury caused by those products or services without the finding of fault. This means businesses are held liable even in the absence of negligence or explicit or implicit agreement to accept such responsibility. The increasing legal dominance of strict product liability has meant that liability for harm caused by accidents has been increasingly assigned to businesses in a wider range of cases.
As you absorb Huber’s concluding remarks, consider whether you agree with his view that the triumph of the doctrine of strict liability in tort law represents a misstep in how we allocate responsibility for injury caused by accidents.
Ethics Town Hall 3