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Is it morally permissible to jump the queue? The situation is: Ken wanted to take a mini-bus. When he reached the bus stop, he found that his friend was in the first position of the queue. His friend let him jump the queue. In fact, there were only ten people waiting for the bus. That is, no one missed the next bus because of Ken's jumping the queue. Have Ken and his friend acted wrongly? Is it possible to prove that it's morally permissible?

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    In the UK this is so morally wrong that people may start tutting and tapping their feet. It's that bad. Pretty much everywhere else it'll be fine.
    – Alex
    Oct 17, 2017 at 11:59
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    @Alex you lie, the british would not be so bold
    – user28660
    Oct 18, 2017 at 10:37
  • Intent is always important in morality. Why did Ken jump the queue? To chat with his friend until the bus arrived and sit with his friend when it did? Or to increase his chance of boarding the bus in case it was overly full? Or was it a social experiment? Or were Ken and his friend deliberately provoking the queue by violating social convention?
    – user935
    Oct 18, 2017 at 11:34
  • Karen Stohr's philosophical treatment On Manners (Thinking in Action) is relevant here. From the Introduction, "Consider how many unwritten rules govern an ordinary and comparatively simple activity, like buying a drink at a busy Starbucks. There are conventions about standing in line, deciding what to order in advance of one's turn, moving out of the way while waiting for one's camel macchiato..."
    – DJohnson
    Jun 9, 2018 at 19:19
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    Is this a HW question? Could you provide some context and offer some of your own reasoning? "Is it morally permissible?" is a meaningless question without an implied ethical framework.
    – Conifold
    Jun 9, 2018 at 23:18

8 Answers 8

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Just because no-one missed the bus because of Ken jumping the queue doesn't mean it couldn't happen. The bus could've been unexpectedly near-full by the time it arrived, which perhaps could've lead to Ken making it in, while others could be forced to wait for the next bus, despite arriving early at the bus station (at least earlier than Ken).

In fact, when Ken jumps the queue, Ken is doing it precisely because they are aware that a scenario like above could occur and want to maximize the probability of them getting in. Or, they want to maximize their probability of getting a better seat by getting in first, but, again, that too is imoral, since the others in the queue probably have similar wishes, and decided to show up early so they could get their seats. So, my point is, from both a consequentialist viewpoint and a deontological viewpoint, this action is morally suspect.

Ken's friend is of course acting just as amoral, if not more, since the friend puts Ken in an awkward position: do you turn down a friend's offer, or do you do the ethical thing and stand last in line? The argument that they both just want to stand together doesn't hold either: in that case, Ken's friend could just go towards Ken and stand with them last in line.

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I'm not a big fan of defining definitions. However to draw line to present a captured concept, maybe I should. a) Morality could only be applied when there are more than oneself present. b) In gross morality defines an act that preserve others interest, or increase others interest.

In such case Ken's jumping the queue can never be morally permissible. If they want to sit together or get on the same bus, why can't his friend jump out of the queue?

His friend let him jump the queue

His friend has violated others' rights, he is just the component of the queue, his sequence relative to other members that doesn't give him possession the position in the queue, therefore he doesn't have the right to insert new member to change the sequential relativity.

But this type of minor hiccups that we act in convenience and amiability are common in the world, that's what made life lively, the beauty of ambiguity, giving chances people to experience their emotions and minds. For example, there could be someone being upset in the queue while some wouldn't bother, some may even go and pull Ken out.

Looks like the UK people are the most ardent flocks in dispelling moral ambiguity :), according to the comment.

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You are way too narrow in your focus. "How can we decide if this is moral?" It completely depends on your moral beliefs. How can I answer this for you? Only you know exactly what you believe. What does your moral framework say? If it says to pursue self-interest, then Ken was morally correct. If it says to maximize the well-being of as many people as possible, then he probably did not (because more people would have been well if he had waited than jumping the line as far as we can tell from the information).

TL;DR You are the only one who can answer this question for yourself.

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  • You could argue his actions did maximize happiness, no-one was late for the bus, and Ken and his Friend got to have a good conversation.
    – JeffUK
    Oct 17, 2017 at 18:31
  • Does not matter. It depends on your moral system. If that's your moral system, then great, you can answer the question.
    – larkwiot
    Oct 18, 2017 at 3:47
  • Even if you assume that morality depends on culture, in this situation it appears to me that all the participants are on the same level of insight into the culture: in particular, Ken does understand he is jumping the queue. So, for your argument to stand, you have to argue that moral beliefs are not just dependent on culture, but arbitrary, or that Ken reasonably holds moral beliefs cardinally distinct from the surrounding society. May 15, 2018 at 14:43
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Rights can be transferred. If Ken's friend, who had the right to get on first, relinquished his position to Ken and himself went to the back of the queue, none of the other queuers would be disadvantaged, relatively or absolutely. The friend would merely have transferred his first-position right to Ken. It's unusual but morally unobjectionable.

What would be morally objectionable would be the friend's inviting Ken to take his own position at the front of the queue and himself moving to second place. This reduces the chances of others in the queue getting on the bus, and the friend had no right to do this. (What could support such a right ?) The fact that there was room for all - an optimific result - was a mere contingency.

Appealing to utilitarian consequentialism doesn't help. Act utilitarianism requires us to act on our best assessment of probable consequences, which is all we can do; and there is nothing in the situation as described to justify a probability-belief that everyone would be able to get on the bus.

As for rule utilitarianism, it is hard to imagine conditions in which the practice of altering the relative or absolute advantages of others at will produces an optimific result.

Switching to Kantian deontology, the maxim on which the friend acts - 'Always relatively or absolutely disadvantage others in the interests as a friend' - involves no contradiction in conception. It is logically possible for it to be universalised. But it does involve a contradiction in the will, the second categorical-imperative test : no-one could rationally prefer a world in which everyone followed this maxim. I assume.

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Well it always feels unfair to those who didn't know his friend. And imagine the situation had his friend also known 10 others who could join him at the front of the queue. This is not acceptable unless every other person in the queue also offers Ken the position. They have after all been forced to give up their current position without consent or compensation. But it gets tricky, if his friend had prearranged to be early in order to hold the position for both of them. Even then I think it is not acceptable.

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You tagged it with "consequentialism." Let's look at consequences.

If Ken and his buddy pulled this on some street in London, UK, the most severe consequence likely is somebody ruffles a newspaper, or harumphs quietly. Maybe somebody's knuckles briefly go white in a suggestive manner. If Ken and his buddy pulled this at the shuttle bus stop where guys leaving the mine after their shift are trying to go home, the consequences are likely to be a bit more drastic.

Now note that in the previous paragraph you didn't boggle at the phrase "pulled this." Either time. What does that imply? You implicitly accept the idea that there is something being pulled. Your instant evaluation of the situation is that Ken and his buddy are out of line. Literally.

Yes, it's immoral. Very mildly so, but still. An appropriate response would be some kind of shaming comment. "If you two really need to be joined at the hip you can do it at the back of the line." It would not be appropriate to apply lessons using mining equipment.

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If I could add an interesting anecdote... In Dubai people can line up for hours, even overnight, to have first rights to snap up newly launched apartments or villas. But what rich, fat cat is going to stand in line overnight? None, of course, it's beneath them. So, they will pay $20-30 for a laborer to stand in line for them. Then, as the fat cat's turn draws near, he'll replace the paid laborer and succeed at getting a chance for the purchase. Is this moral? The fat cat isn't pushing anyone back further in line. But he's disadvantaging a less rich guy who also wants a chance at the property, who instead has to personally stand in line and lose a day at work, rather than relying on a proxy.

In Dubai this had become quite an issue. When the government wanted to make available "affordable housing" to the less well-off, they had to restrict this practice of proxy queueing, as real-estate brokers would tend to use proxies to snap up as much "affordable" properties as possible and then resell them to the highest bidders. So the question is, is proxy queueing moral?

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Extending the other answers which are not wrong, but incomplete:

In a situation where all others would have done the same (in particular all others in the queue) and Ken and his friend would also have agreed to let this happen, and everyone involved knew this, it is not immoral according to the categorical imperative. Something cannot be immoral if everyone would do it or accept it.

However even in many cultures that's not the case, and it is immoral in a very minor way.

While individuals may never strictly know what all others think, it is at risk of being immoral, but in cultures where this happens all the time without complaint, the assumption that everyone else is agreeing seems reasonable.

In terms of formalizing this rule, we can imagine Ken and his friend already queueing, but his friend needing to leave the queue for a moment, to come back later, and Ken keeping a token for the reserved queue position. In many asian cultures it is viable even without friend to drop a personal item on the floor to keep a queueing position reserved.

Meeting up with a friend in the queue is then like a special case of this, the friend can be seen as having carried a queue token for their friend from the start.

It is relevant whether due to this behavior other people in the queue became disadvantaged, such as not getting good seats, but that was not mentioned in the question. Trivially, if there are 4 people queueing for a bus with 60 similar empty seats, it would be a parody to complain if the 4th guy moves up to the second guy.

In practical terms, buses often fill by keeping adjacent seats empty, except for people travelling in pairs, and it makes sense for pairs to boards together to sit next to each other.

Similarly, when queueing for restaurant tables, a single person when being called may get a full table with 4 places, so if there were 3 others of that group outside the queue, them joining the queue in the position of the first group member changes nothing to the outcome, and the bus situation can also be likened to this, due to adjacent seats being usually taken by pairs as mentioned above.

Also the triviality of immorality can be considered. If i jump into the ocean, do sea levels rise globally? Technically yes, but by such a small amount that for all practical purposes, this can be neglected. The same may be applied to morality.

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