Many of the ethics papers I've read are predominantly concerned with greater questions like killing or saving lives.

One thing I was wondering was whether things that might be beneficial to oneself while being a minor nuisance to others would be considered ethical? An example would be telemarketers.

I was wondering if there is any literature or thought on that topic

1 Answer 1


One way to rationalise the concern is that a moral debt is incurred whenever we help ourselves at the expense of others. A certain shared level, or quota, of self-interest is assumed for everyone, and staying within this quota cancels out collectively; but going significantly over puts one in moral debt to those harmed.

A reasonable solution would be to give back -- preferably to those harmed, but at minimum to society or existence overall. From a public policy perspective, a nuisance tax could be applied.

An important point of contention is intent. Presumably a strictly consequentialist perspective would view all intents equally, while a more modest view might distinguish, for example, between burden from disability or sickness versus harm from greed.

  • Thanks, that's a good point! I also considered the "harm principle" but wasn't sure how sensible its use is in this case because I've seen it described as "The harm principle is not designed to guide the actions of individuals but to restrict the scope of criminal law and government restrictions of personal liberty."
    – Jim stoke
    Mar 21, 2022 at 16:11

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