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The 2022 FIFA World Cup is almost upon us. The bid for this year's tournament was awarded to Qatar, a country with a poor human rights record, a record further blemished by reports of deaths and injury to many migrant workers who have been exploited during stadium construction.

Despite this fact, many millions (billions?) of people are expected to watch televised broadcasts of the event. Many of these viewers, if asked, would likely object to the treatment of those who made the event possible and would also likely claim to not condone such treatment and to wish to not further the chances of any such treatment occurring in the future.

Tournaments such as the World Cup attempt to recoup/profit from their efforts largely via the sale of advertising, much of which is purchased by companies who obtain spots during the high-rating match broadcasts.

Watching/listening to these broadcasts contributes to television ratings, which are essentially view counts expected by those companies which advertise during broadcasts; companies which have paid very large sums to the same Qatari organisations which have contributed towards the deaths and maltreatment of thousands of workers.

So, in effect, by watching the tournament, it might be reasonably argued that (if a viewer has considered these matters), a viewer is condoning or ignoring and/or supporting this maltreatment.

When I asked my father if he would watch the tournament despite knowing of its traumatic foundations, he said he would, and he justified his decision by stating that the impact of him not watching would be negligible.

I found it difficult to argue with this fact, but if millions of individuals in the same position declined to watch the World Cup, ratings would decrease significantly and there would be more pressure upon FIFA to in the future award the tournament to countries likely to treat workers with more dignity, and perhaps even pressure the Qatari government to compensate those who have been harmed by their conduct.

This reminded me of an ethical principle I stumbled across a while ago, but can no longer properly articulate or find a source for.

I'm seeking the name and/or work of any philosopher(s) which advocated the principle which states something like:

When an individual decides how to act, they should do so on the basis that their actions accord with the consequences of everyone acting in the same manner.

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    Just a comment, maybe for future questions: you are clearly asking about the name of the philosophical principle that slipped your mind; the example about Quatar is very secondary and really just an example (as shown by your comments in the answers). In such cases, it is often better to leave out the concrete example completely - i.e., make up an example, or at the very least change the names to obviously fantastical ones, to avoid the answerers to fall into the trap of spending a lot of time on the example instead of the actual question...
    – AnoE
    Nov 14, 2022 at 15:31
  • Yep. Fair points. Nov 14, 2022 at 20:39

4 Answers 4

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Kants categorical imperative?

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law

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  • Isn't rule-utilitarianism another candidate ?
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Nov 12, 2022 at 11:40
  • @GeoffreyThomas. Yes, but I'll leave Haxor's answer as the correct one, as once I read Kant's quote, I recognized it as the one I'd been trying to remember. Nov 12, 2022 at 12:20
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    What is the name of this principle? Is it called "Kant's Categorical Imperative" or is it called "Categorical Imperative" and first described by Kant? Is Categorical Imperative a proper noun or just a description of what Kant came up with? Is it the categorical imperative or just a categorical imperative? Do philosophers only refer to it in ways that hide the fact they don't know either? Nov 15, 2022 at 10:16
  • @GeoffreyThomas Ok I see your point one is asking you to follow a universal law (that is presumably utilitarian) the other is asking you to formulate a universal law by which you would want people (including yourself) to act. So there's some overlap despite looking at it from different perspectives deontology and teleology. Though I'd argue it's more about how I should act and less about the formulation of a utilitarian goal so I'd side with Kant but yes that might also be a candidate.
    – haxor789
    Nov 15, 2022 at 12:16
  • @user253751 Sorry English is not my native language so is that a question about linguistics or philosophy? I guess you could use "Categorical Imperative" as a name (proper noun) as it is more of a shorthand of the principle that you should only act upon moral rules of which you could want that they are a categorical imperative. So that they would be unconditional and true under any circumstances and that don't treat others as a mean but as an end in itself. Or do you mean whether the principle itself is also a categorical imperative?
    – haxor789
    Nov 15, 2022 at 12:43
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The Categorical Imperative is the obvious answer, Kant's Ethical Idealism. It isn't very practical though.

What you seem to be talking about is the area of boycotts. Well known examples are, the Indian boycott of British textiles as part of the Swadeshi independence movement that basically ended the British textile industry, the sporting cultural and academic boycotts of South Africa in regard to the Anti-Apartheid Movement, and the more controversial Boycott Sanction and Divestment movement against Israel. Plus the recent corporate withdrawal of engagement with Russia. Boycotts discussed in a philosophical context on here: Are boycotts distinct from force? When are boycotts ethical?

The Qatar World Cup involves a whole set of scandals and controversies, not only modern slavery and worker rights violation allegations, but corruption at each step including willfully ignoring issues with summer temperatures, plus a diplomatic crisis over funding terrorism that saw their three nearest neighbours plus Egypt sever diplomatic ties with them between 2017 and 2021.

The calls for a Qatar World Cup boycott have been significant enough to receive a recent statement by the Qatar deputy prime minister responding to them. Pressure has led to some reform of their exploitative Kafala work system which covers 94% of Qatari workers, but the reforms have been criticised by Amnesty International. Almost no changes have been made over LGBT issues in regard to the event, which there has been a lot of criticism of Qatar about - they still have the death penalty in theory for sodomy between Muslims as they do for any extramarital sex, although it hasn't ever been enforced.

There's a constant tension between political cultural and economic engagement with pressure to change, vs isolating boycotting and condemning what is unacceptable. Russia has posed new challenges, violating international political and military norms, and cheating outrageously in the Olympics, as well as trying to weaponise their supplying of fossil fuels. When there is a near global consensus, like there was over Apartheid, the response can be clear. Qatar poses a bigger challenge, about whether boycotting or engagement with pressure is better, and how to engage with the Middle East and Islamic World more generally. Not buying tickets to the matches is clearly off the table, at least 97% have sold. Other kinds of influence can be sought, like pressuring sponsors to withdraw support, but this has had little impact.

Boycotts are an active area of ethical consideration in applied ethics and political philosophy. See for instance

Boycotts should be understood as part of a wider shift from military to economic and cultural influence over the global order. Being able to engage with the largest economic blocks and fully participate in the scientific community, ultimately are increasingly critical to wielding military force in the last resort, in an evermore interconnected world. Withdrawal of cooperation with China over semiconductor supplies may reveal in the long-term we have become a monopolar world, time will tell.

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  • Yes. I realise that to take such a stance against the World Cup does not insulate me from hypocrisies which emerge from my failure to participate in boycotts of many other instances of my consumption, such as my resort to very cheap clothing, unnecessary use of energy etc. Nov 12, 2022 at 12:35
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    All this nonsense about not the question...
    – user10479
    Nov 13, 2022 at 18:50
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Ignoring the FIFA context and concentrating on the actual question, your principle is sometimes called superrationality.

The term was coined by Douglas Hofstadter, who you may or may not consider a philosopher.

Wikipedia:

In economics and game theory, a participant is considered to have superrationality (or renormalized rationality) if they have perfect rationality (and thus maximize their utility) but assume that all other players are superrational too and that a superrational individual will always come up with the same strategy as any other superrational thinker when facing the same problem. Applying this definition, a superrational player playing against a superrational opponent in a prisoner's dilemma will cooperate while a rationally self-interested player would defect.

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There is a fault in logic here: disagreeing with Qatar's treatment of foreign workers, does not imply that one should support a specific policy aimed at correcting it. One may disagree

  • that the boycott is effective (that it forces Qatar change its policies)
  • that it can be implemented at all (that millions of people do follow the suit)
  • that boycotts are morally acceptable (that they do not do harm to those who are innocent or to the very victims that they intend to protect)
  • that one is sufficiently informed to be sure to support a good cause and that singling out Qatar for boycott is not biased/racist/politically motivated (e.g., US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have resulted in half a million of deaths in each of these countries, but I haven't heard of anyone seriously suggesting boycotting Hollywood productions.)
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    I think I get the gist and I certainly admit to hypocrisy in my boycott of some products but not others. Most are guilty of this. My use of Qatar was intended less as a definitive comment on whether or not to boycott the World Cup than a means via which to discover what turned out to be Kant's Categorical Imperative. The points you raise are fair, which is why I generally try to use qualifiers in my questions; to avoid absolutes. Nov 14, 2022 at 8:51
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    @Futilitarian A closely related question is whether one's vote matters in elections - you might find more information by looking in this direction.
    – Roger V.
    Nov 14, 2022 at 9:06

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